Julian Alaphilippe is a fearless bad-ass.
With one stage victory in the Alps already in the bag and the polka dot jersey on his shoulders, the Frenchman began tracking down Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) near the summit of the Col de Portillon.
The British rider had opened a gap of roughly 30 seconds as he headed down the backside on a twisty, dangerous descent with a good number of damp spots on the road from an earlier rain.
Alaphilippe is a fast descender and while Yates is no slouch himself, the rider from Quickstep had already cut the gap to 15 second about halfway down the scent.
This was Yates’ chance to salvage his Tour de France after his hopes for a GC podium blew up last week on Alpe d’Huez. A win on the first Pyrenean stage would have restored some confidence and brightened the mood at Michelton-Scott.
Sadly, that was not to be the case.
Alaphilippe was closing fast and the flat run-in to Bagnères-de-Luchon favored his sprint finish. Yates had to take risks and then he took one too many. His front wheel slid out on a sweeping left turn and he went down hard.
In moments, Alaphilippe shot past Yates as he remounted his bike.
Despite the disastrous fall by Yates and the earlier, scarier crash of Philippe Gilbert, who went over the stone barrieron the same descent, Alaphilippe kept his nerve and focus. Butt down on the top tube, using the road right to the edges, sprinting out of the corners, he went downhill at physics-defying speeds.
Only when he knew the stage was surely his, did Alaphilippe back off and play it safe. This is a victory he earned with every skill in his possession — tactics, climbing, confidence, timing, descending and fearlessness.
“Today it was a very crazy day,” Alaphilippe said. “I had a lot of pain in my legs, I think everybody did. I cannot believe I won for the second time today. I knew the finale, especially the last climb and the downhill, because I’d done a recon. I’m just so happy.
Recons are a good idea. Especially when you’re rocketing down a mountain faster than a motorbike. Alaphilippe could have also gone down like Yates but he was willing to roll the dice.
“I will never forget this day. It was extraordinary and perfect. Another day in the polka-dot jersey, and now I’m going to fight hard to keep it. It will be difficult but I will fight every day.”
Chapeau, Mr. Polka Dots.