The Tour de France's general classification battle has taken shape after Thursday's summit finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles
The Vosges. It’s a massif that doesn’t share the history of the Alps or Pyrenees, but thanks to La Planche des Belles Filles, it’s now now part of Tour folklore. It’s where we got a true taste of how the GC specialists are going to cope in what has always been dubbed “a climber’s edition.”
Of the pre-race GC favorites, Geraint Thomas is the best placed: He sits in fifth place, 47 seconds down. More importantly, Thomas showed the cycling world that he is, indeed, on top form, as he surged past everyone else in the final 300-meter sprint to the line.
Thomas crossed the line just ahead of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step). The next cluster of favorites came in just five seconds later, with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Mikel Landa (Movistar), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) all crossing together.
Another five seconds later, the final big group rolled across: Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Rigoberto Uran and Michael Woods (both EF Education First), and George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma),
All of these riders should consider Thursday a success, since the time losses to Thomas were small. So, who fell further behind? Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) lost more than 30 seconds to Thomas. For Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Fabio Aru (UAE-Team Emirates) and Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), the gap surpassed a minute.
GC Favorites after stage 6
1. Giulio Ciccone, Trek-Segafredo, 23:14:55
2. Julian Alaphilippe, Deceuninck-Quick Step, at 0:06
4. George Bennett, Jumbo-Visma, at 0:47
5. Geraint Thomas, Ineos, at 0:49
6. Egan Bernal, Ineos, at 0:53
7. Thibaut Pinot, Groupama, FDG, at 0:58
8. Steven Kruijswijk, Jumbo-Visma, at 1:04
9. Michael Woods, EF Education First, at 1:13
10. Rigoberto Uran, EF Education First, at 1:15
11. Jakob Fuglsang, Astana, at 1:19
12. Emanuel Buchmann, Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1:22
13. Enric Mas, Deceuninck-Quick Step, at 1:23
14. Adam Yates, Mitchelton-Scott, at 1:23
16. Nairo Quintana, Movistar, at 1:41
17. Mikel Landa, Movistar, at 1:43
18. Dan Martin, UAE-Team Emirates, at 1:46
20. Vincenzo Nibali, Bahrain-Merida, at 1:56
21. Richie Porte, Trek-Segafredo, at 1:56
22. Bauke Mollema, Trek-Segafredo, at 2:22
26. Romain Bardet, AG2R-La Mondiale, at 2:57
Although he is good, it’d be a bold, brave soul to suggest Giulio Ciccone is going to win the Tour de France in 2019. For now, after 987km and six stages of racing, the Italian who won the King of the Mountains crown at the Giro d’Italia a couple of months ago, is the latest leader of the race.
A yellow jersey is Ciccone’s prize for second place in the stage. He crossed the line only a few meters behind Dylan Teuns, but the difference in time was 11 seconds — that’s 11 painful seconds that the 58kg 24-year-old from Trek-Segafredo will never forget.
Must. Get. To. Finish.
La Planche has seen champions confirmed. It was here in 2012 that Froome first announced to the world that he had the potential to win the Tour de France. It was here in 2014 that Nibali increased his overall advantage. It was here in 2017 that Aru celebrated and shaved a few seconds off his cumulative time on GC, eventually helping him become the only non-Sky rider to wear the maillot jaune a couple of years ago.
It was at La Planche that Ciccone stole Alaphilippe’s yellow jersey.
“For me it is a dream,” he said moments after being pushed by an official while still throwing his victory salute. “It is unbelievable. I still can’t understand it.”
Ciccone is the third leader of Le Tour 2019 and he said the obvious about the honor he earned with an audacious, long range attack: “It is a dream for everyone who loves cycling.”
The runner-up at La Planche des Belles Filles walked through the mixed zone explaining an emotional day, admitting the reality of his place on the American-registered team.
“I am in yellow,” he said. “I will try to keep it tomorrow. But with Richie Porte on the team we will try for him.”
The Italian Tour leader is the domestique for an Australian who finished 11th at La Planche but continues to suffer the ramifications of losing almost a minute to Ineos in the TTT. Porte is clearly in fine climbing form and it’s easy to understand why he remains Trek-Segafredo’s focus.
“Our plan is only for Richie,” said Ciccone. Never mind personal ambition, it’s all about the team and he knows his responsibilities. “We have Richie in good condition so we have to try for him.”
It makes sense. Cycling can be kind but also cruel: a leader one day, a worker the next. But on this day, on that dirt road, up that steep gradient, it was each man for himself.
There have been times when a worker makes the break and is then told to wait come crunch time. That may have been the original reason that Trek-Segafredo sent Ciccone into the break. But stopping while holding an advantage of four minutes with just seven kilometers to go? It wasn’t worth it. What more could he have offered Richie? A little moral support? It was better for him, for his team which hasn’t had the best of seasons, to push on, to test himself. To put on a yellow jersey, to lead the Tour.
It’s a lovely honor but in the days ahead, we’re going to see him again, alongside the Tasmanian 35-year-old who lags behind other favorites but ahead of riders who faltered today.
Valverde and van Garderen were other names uttered before the Tour when referencing possible GC winners, but their hopes took a hit on the dirt.
The longest stage awaits and then the rendezvous in the Alps and some more traditional mountains. It’s a long way to Paris but the pecking order has been established. Thanks for the memories Les Vosges. We will surely see you again in the coming years.