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Alaphilippe has nothing to lose as Tour enters Pyrénées, TT test

The French superstar is realistic about his chances to defend the yellow jersey as the race finally tilts into the longer climbs looming in the Pyrenees and the TT challenge

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) is relishing his run in the yellow jersey just as he realizes it could end very soon.

The French phenomenon enjoyed Tuesday’s rest day at the Tour de France soaking up the vibes that come with leading cycling’s biggest race.

Following a wild and eventful first half of the race — which included a stage win and two stints in yellow — Alaphilippe is trying not to look too far down the road.

“The Tour is already a success for me,” Alaphilippe said on Tuesday. “I’m going to enjoy being in the yellow jersey. Whatever comes now is a bonus.”

Alaphilippe will carry yellow in the climb-heavy second half of the Tour with a promising lead of 1:12 to Geraint Thomas (Ineos).

Following Monday’s unexpected surprises, which a half dozen major GC riders losing time in echelons in stage 10 to Albi, not only bolstered Alaphilippe’s GC position but served as a reminder that the Tour can always serve up the unexpected.

“I will defend the yellow jersey as long as I can,” Alaphilippe said. “I feel good, fresh, but the hardest is yet to come. I hope to surprise even myself, but I am not dreaming. I know there are the Pyrénées and the time trial.”

How far can Alaphilippe defend yellow?

On paper, Wednesday’s transition stage to Toulouse should see a bunch sprint. Thursday dips into the Pyrénées for the first time, with two first-category climbs with about 20 kilometeresof climbing between the two of them. A breakaway will likely contend for the stage victory, but the GC favorites will be attacking to test their legs in the Tour’s first major climbs. If Alaphilippe could hang on, he could start Friday’s 27.2km individual time trial at Pau in yellow.

Alaphilippe met the media on Tuesday’s rest day and proudly displayed his yellow jersey. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

With defending champion Thomas and Ineos breathing down his neck, Alaphilippe is trying not to unrealistically raise expectations.

“The longer I keep the yellow jersey, the longer the dream lives on,” Alaphilippe said. “I have seen the time trial course and it’s not easy. To keep the jersey would be a surprise.”

The 27-year-old is downplaying growing hype that he might somehow be in the running for overall victory.

Though he is an accomplished climber, many expect Alaphilippe to fade on the longer climbs with efforts of up to 30 minutes or more that loom in the Pyrénées and Alps. This is only Alaphilippe’s third Tour start. Last year, he won two stages and won the King of the Mountains jersey, yet finished 33rd overall at 1 hours, 28 minutes in arrears.

“When the Tour started, I was focused on the first 10 days on trying to do something special,” he said. “It’s gone better than expected. That’s why I am not thinking about what happens now.”

Alaphilippe might not be expected to hang on with the top climbers in the longest climbs, he’s also no slouch. So far he’s shown tremendous form and determination. That will go a long way toward carrying the yellow jersey into the Pau  time trial.

After that, as Alaphilippe said, he’s got nothing to lose.