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PAU, FRANCE - JULY 19: Julian Alaphilippe of...

Geraint Thomas believes Julian Alaphilippe can win the Tour de France

Geraint Thomas and other GC riders now believe Julian Alaphilippe is a serious threat to win the Tour de France overall

PAU, France (VN) — Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) has what it takes to win the 2019 Tour de France, says last year’s champion Geraint Thomas (Ineos).

The Welshman tried to put time into Frenchman Alaphilippe Friday in the stage 13 individual time trial, only to cede 14 seconds to the current race leader.

“Yeah, for sure the way he’s riding,” Thomas said of Alaphilippe and his chance to win in Paris on Champs-Élysées.

With his gains, Alaphilippe now holds a 1:26-minute lead over Thomas. Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) trails in third at 2:12, Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick Step) at 2:44, and Thomas’s Colombian teammate Egan Bernal at 2:52.

Alaphilippe had blasted away all of his rivals, even those who might have been better in time trials like Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First) and American Chad Haga (Sunweb).

Thomas finished a close second to Alaphilippe on the hilly time trial course. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

“If he can keep that up then he’ll win,” Thomas said bluntly. “But there’s a long way to go and a lot of hard stages to come.”

The hard high-mountain stages start tomorrow. Alaphilippe lodges in Pau with his Deceuninck-Quick Step team. Out on the horizon, the Pyrenean mountains rise with the Tourmalet pass among the peaks.

On Saturday the peloton will tackle the 14th stage, a short 117.5 kilometer route that finishes high atop the Tourmalet. The hulking pass was one of the first to be included by Tour organizers, and made its debut in 1910. The pass rises 2,115 meters above sea level, and is one of the major ascents that gives this Tour de France its unique flavor as the edition with the most trips above 2,000 meters.

Conventional wisdom holds that the race’s best climbers— Egan, Bernal, Thomas, Rigoberto Urán, and others—should distance Alaphilippe before the finish line. But thus far, Alaphilippe’s run in the yellow jersey has been anything but conventional.

“I will try to stay at the front as long as possible in the front, but if this lead ends tomorrow, it’s OK,” Alaphilippe said.

“Today was a bonus and tomorrow would be a bonus too. I don’t want to know when this yellow-run will end, I want to just go as long as possible.”

Alaphilippe ruled some of the biggest one-day races this spring: Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo, and La Flèche Wallonne. However, he has only finished 33rd in a grand tour. Last year, he recorded the result in the Tour de France as well as two stages wins and the mountains classification title.

In his palmarès, he also has the Tour of California title from 2016 and the Tour of Britain title from 2018.

Over the 27.2km today, he clocked a time of 35 minutes. Thomas was just 14 seconds slower.

“Not too bad,” Thomas said after coming to a stop. “I just felt like I was overheating a bit. I was trying to deal with that. That’s not an excuse, it was OK. Yeah, just felt like on that last bit I didn’t really.

“Yeah, I think so [that I could open up the cylinders today]. I felt just like it was controlled.

“Then in the last 8K or so when I felt like I really wanted to step on it, I didn’t quite have that last 5%, but it was still a decent ride, but you always pick apart a TT.”

Dutchman Kruijswijk leaned over his bike nearby, just beyond the finish line in the hot Verdun square that often welcomes the Tour. He too talked of his ride, and Alaphilippe fear.

“You can see that he has wings in this Tour de France,” Kruijswijk said. “And maybe it’s going to be hard to get him out of the yellow jersey.”