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VALLOIRE, France (VN) — Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) remains in the Tour de France lead, but Team Ineos is fighting to overthrow him with two testing stages remaining before Paris.
Egan Bernal attacked three kilometers before the summit of the Galibier stage, leaving behind Ineos teammate and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas. It also raised eyebrows, especially when Thomas began to chase with an attack of his own.
With the move, Bernal gained 32 seconds and leapfrogged Thomas to move to second overall at 1:30 minutes. Thomas trails by five seconds behind his 22-year-old Colombian team-mate at 1:35.
“It was G’s decision,” said Bernal after the stage. “He asked me how I was feeling, I said, ‘I’m feeling really good.’
“So he asked me to attack to try to move the race and he tried to come with me but when he saw the other guys on his wheel he just stayed with them. But I attacked because he asked me to attack.”
Thursday was the only non-summit finish in the Alpine stage trio that ends this Tour. Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) descended into Valloire to win solo from an early escape. Bernal arrived in eighth, time enough to stop and look at the time of his rivals – and teammate – coming 32 seconds later.
“Unfortunately we ran out of guys and it didn’t seem quite hard enough so the call was made for Egan to jump,” Thomas explained. “Hopefully that would kick it off – but it didn’t really.”
Thomas attacked soon after Bernal and Alaphilippe faded. However, the star group rejoined Thomas and had Alaphilippe catch on descending into town.
“We were on a nice road, they were kind of just riding tempo again in the group I was in. That’s when I had a little dig to just see what would happen,” Thomas explained of the Galibier move.
“They obviously followed me over the top, but I think it was a good day for Egan gaining some time.”
Even if Alaphilippe cracks, it is unclear who has the reins to drive Ineos to victory. It would be fighting for its seventh Tour victory, and it could be doing so with its youngest ever captain and first non British rider.
“I think that yes, we need to gain time on Julian Alaphilippe, I don’t think about G,” said Bernal. “In the final, he is my teammate, we need to gain time in Julian Alaphilippe first.
“You never know how are the other guys and if you try to do the race hard at the same point Julian Alaphilippe can drop and it’s on. I think that we did a really good race today.”
The race finishes at Tignes on Friday and at Val Thorens on Saturday, but high-altitude stages that may suit the Colombian more. At least in his and Thomas’s advantage, Ineos is the only team with two riders in the tight six-way battle for the 2019 title.
“I think that for the team, I’m second in GC, Thomas is third, but just five seconds to me,” Bernal added. “We’re in a really really good position.
“I don’t [if we can drop him], we need to see what happens but Julian Alaphilippe is really strong. If he continues like today and the other days it will be really difficult.”