Romain Bardet leaned over his handlebars and looked sadly at the gravel under his front wheel. A trainer AG2R La Mondiale passed him a towel around his neck then took a step back, fearing perhaps to hurt his disappointment. Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) offered a comforting pat on the back, but Bardet was unconscious, buried in his own distress.
The dust was still to be deposited at the top of the Planche des Belles Daughters, but the kilometer about rough road by the end of phase 6, he had already seemed to offer a clear verdict on Bardet's chances on the Tour de France. The Frenchman lost a little over a minute against defending champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) and is now at 2:08 of the Welsh overall. The slope in the last 300 meters Thursday has blurred the 24%; The path from Bardet to the yellow jersey in Paris is considerably steeper.
In keeping with the recent Tours, the main selection is made on the back of the group of favorites rather than on the front. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who lost 51 seconds against Thomas in the last vertiginous meters, and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), conceding more than half a minute on the same length of the road. Alejandro Valverde's status as a luxury servant at Movistar was confirmed by his work on the front for Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana at the start of the climb, as well as by his subsequent concession of 1:20 in the final .
In advance, the photo was barely sharp. The rise of Geraint Thomas in the last 350 meters has dispelled some concerns about his truncated construction, and the Welsh will be encouraged by the fact that he is the best men GC at the first arrival in the mountains, ranking fourth, Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), winner of the stage, at 1:44.
Thomas also gave nine seconds to teammate Egan Bernal to advance the Colombian general by four seconds – a timely reminder, perhaps, that he is the main associate in their co-direction agreement. He is now the top-ranked overall favorite, fifth overall, 49 seconds behind the new yellow jersey Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo).
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) has confirmed his good start on the Tour by returning to second place behind Thomas, while the majority of contenders for the podium have progressed little. Most of those who finished under Thomas's eyes will have returned relatively satisfied with the work of their afternoons.
The favorites group still had more than 20 riders with one kilometer to go. They were only upset by the extra kilometer of dirt road and steep slopes on which ASO backed this year – the so-called 'Super Board' – and even though this grueling finale was entertaining, it will only be not reproduced again on this Tour. It seems that it would not be wise at this stage to draw too much conclusions from the more minor time differences.
"I've lost a bit on the last steep stretch, but it's a special climb." It's not like the upcoming rises, "said Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), arrived 14 seconds behind Thomas. "It's definitely a form sign, because it's hard to do it during the tour, but it's also a kind of different climb from what we're going to get in the Alps and the Pyrenees."
With some 4,000 meters of climbing, the Thursday crossing in the Vosges was presented as one of the most difficult stages of the whole Tour, although it seems that its dusty attack in the tail has contributed to a more prudent opening phase. The untimely break came loose with little resistance and there was a relatively minor attrition rate in the pack until they climbed the Ballon d'Alsace.
"I think the scene was a lot easier than everybody thought," Martin said. "Everyone was scared of this step because it was very difficult at first, but the first attack stayed out of the way, which made the day a lot easier. easy meant that the last two climbs were a lot harder because everyone was cooler. "
It was striking to note that it was Movistar, and not Team Ineos, who had taken the reins of the pack during the last two climbs of the Col des Chevreres and La Planche des Belles Daughters, a statement of intent. men of Eusebio Unzue.
They opened the way for Mikel Landa, who was the only competitor to dare to attack before the last leg of the track, and the Basque still has the strength to finish at nine seconds from the end on Thomas after his gesture was canceled. Quintana, meanwhile, was just back in front of Landa. In the overall standings, they are now 52 and 54 seconds behind Thomas.
"It was the first opportunity to see how we were watching our rivals," Unzue said. "The best summary is that there is a tie between the favorites."
While Bardet was the most disappointed runner at the La Planche, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was surely the most frustrated. The Frenchman has more than held his share of the market by remaining with the contenders in the general classification on the first mountains of the race, before accelerating over them on the gravel at the last kilometer. Only Thomas and Pinot followed Alaphilippus, catching him in the last 50 meters.
Usually, this performance would have been enough to maintain Alaphilippe in the yellow jersey, but the break of the day has kept an eight-minute lead far too deep in the stage. Even if their booty was falling down during the last climb of La Planche, it could not fall quickly enough for Alaphilippe. He lost his shirt against Ciccone for only six seconds; the time bonus for second place has proven to be a valuable consolation prize for the Italian.
"I'm not disappointed, I appreciated: the last three days have been exceptional," said Alaphilippe.
So exceptional, in fact, that he might want to win the jersey in the Massif Central this weekend. Neither Saturday's stage in Saint-Etienne nor that of Sunday Brioude seem too demanding to excite the contenders in the general classification, but they both include time bonuses during the ascents of the final. If its excitement continues, Alaphilippe could still wear the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees.
"I feel better than I thought [I would], "he says. We will see in the next few days. "