NÎMES, France (VN) — Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) promises to give everything he can to keep the yellow jersey all the way to Paris on Sunday.
The Frenchman lost time on the way to Prat d’Albis on Sunday, but with one week to race, he still maintains a 1:35 lead over 2018 champion Geraint Thomas (Ineos).
“As we get closer to Paris, the more the feeling is different, the more it’s special. But with regards to the difficult stages coming up, I’m realistic,” Alaphilippe said. “The hardest part is still ahead. I don’t want to dream, but I’m going to give it everything.”
It has been an incredible dream for Alaphilippe so far. A rider known more for his one-day race exploits, the 27-year-old has gained momentum from the cheers of an entire nation as he rides through France.
This spring, he won Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo, and then Flèche Wallonne. He began the Tour de France with the goal of wearing the yellow jersey for a day and maybe taking a stage win. Thus far, he has collected two stage wins and has spent 11 days in cycling’s famous maillot jaune.
“I’m very happy with what I’ve done so far,” said Alaphilippe.
“It has just been an added bonus to hold on to it every day now,” Alaphilippe continued. “I want to continue to do so. I’m going to give everything right until the end.”
Most pundits and rivals did not believe he had a chance to hold onto yellow until Paris. However, after he held on to the jersey at the top of the Tourmalet on Saturday — and actually gained 36 seconds on Thomas — many conceded it was a real possibility.
Only when he lost time on Sunday at Prat d’Albis did Alaphilippe mania begin to waver.
“And the hardest is yet to come,” Alaphilippe said. “A minute and a half is a lot, but a little at the same time. Just faltering on a 15- or 20-kilometer climb, and it’s over.”
The stage to Nîmes on Tuesday will likely end in a sprint, while Wednesday’s stage to Gap could see an escape win. Then the Tour heats up again for a final push into the big mountains, featuring three Alpine stages.
“The climb of Val Thorens [on Saturday]… It will be terrible to the top,” Alaphilippe said. “When I look at the profile of these Alpine stages, I tell myself that my jersey is hanging on by a thread.”
In his favor, and in the favor of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) who sits in fourth place, is that the pair have the support of a nation. They are both playing for the home victory, something France hasn’t seen in 34 years.
“The big cheers just encourage me, they give me wings,” Pinot explained today. “It also helps Julian. It’s like in a stadium, we’re always stronger when it comes to playing at home. We rely on the support of the public to push us as high as possible.”
Alaphilippe, for one, will need the support as he tries to become the first Frenchman to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985.