Tour de France
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Alaphilippe, Pinot light up French hopes following electric finale

French fans are celebrating Bastille Day with Alaphilippe in the yellow jersey and Pinot moving up.

Hopes of a French victory in the Tour de France continue to burn brightly following Saturday’s spectacular stage into Saint-Etienne.

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) surged back into the yellow jersey and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) rode his coattails to take small but significant gains on his GC rivals.

With Alaphilippe riding in yellow on France’s Bastille Day on Sunday, France is flying high.

“We knew that [Saturday] was going to be one of the hardest in the Tour,” Pinot said. “There are still two weeks ago. I feel good but the hardest stages are still to come. There is pressure, but nothing bigger than the pressure I put on myself.”

It was all but scripted that Alaphilippe was going to attack on the late-stage climb. Starting the stage just six seconds behind overnight leader Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Alaphilippe wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip by.

“When you have the yellow jersey, you don’t want to give it up,” Alaphilippe said. “So if you lose it, the only thing you want to do is to get it back.”

“It was an incredible day,” he continued. “To be honest, I know I won’t win the Tour. So I didn’t want to just be so close to the yellow jersey [six seconds] and not try. I had nothing to lose.”

The pair of French riders lighting up the stage electrified the French public in ways they haven’t seen in decades.

There have been some lean years. No French rider has won the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985 and no French rider had worn the yellow jersey in five years. Pinot and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) have punched onto the Tour podium the past few years, but this year seems different.

With an injured Chris Froome (Ineos) on the sidelines, this year’s race is more wide open. Bardet is struggling early, but Alaphilippe and Pinot are lighting things up.

By his own admission, Alaphilippe doesn’t expect to be fighting for yellow in Paris at the end of July, so all eyes are turning to Pinot.

Pinot, 29, looks to be riding with newfound confidence and determination. After putting his Tour ambitions aside for a few seasons, the French grand tour is once again at the center of his aspirations. His confidence is emboldened by a strong start that included a solid team time trial and an impressive showing at La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 6.

Pinot was right on Alaphilippe’s wheel when the attack came.

“I had been preparing for the attack from the night before. I knew he was going to attack and I was waiting for the moment,” Pinot said. “I was completely committed. I had interest in working with him, and he had interest in working with me. He took a few big turns that I had trouble going with him.”

Pinot gained 20 seconds plus time bonuses to bounce ahead of his GC rivals to climb from seventh to third at 53 seconds back, and first in the “virtual” GC at 17 seconds ahead of George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and 19 seconds ahead of Geraint Thomas (Ineos).

“Last year, I was watching the Tour on TV and I didn’t like it,” Pinot said. “I am more relaxed now. My career goals were to win stages in all three grand tours and the Giro di Lombardia. Now that I’ve done that everything else is a bonus. We’ll see what happens. I am now third and everything is going perfectly.”

A relaxed Pinot could be a very dangerous scenario for his rivals. With Alaphilippe racing with no pressure, the duo could prove a highly potent combination. The French fans couldn’t be happier.