There was never any danger that Julian Alaphilippe would miss the split. On all terrains and in all situations, the Frenchman has been a hyperactive presence on this Tour de France. Whenever the television cameras show the front of the race, he is invariably somewhere in the shot.
So it was on the windswept road to Albi on stage 10, where the peloton fragmented into echelons with a shade over 30 kilometres to go thanks to the forcing of Alaphilippe's Deceuninck-QuickStep team. Inevitably, the maillot jaune himself provided some of the most vigorous swings of the wrecking ball, helping to cleave a group of 30 or so riders clear of a suddenly balkanised bunch.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Jakob Fulgsang (Astana), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and second-placed Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) were among those left languishing behind. There would be no way back, as Deceuninck-QuickStep found a ready ally of circumstance in Ineos, who had both Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal safely aboard.
By day's end, Alaphilippe's lead atop the general classification had stretched out to 1:12, with Thomas now in second place overall and Bernal a further 4 seconds back in third. Afterwards, he explained that his increased lead was an almost inadvertent by-product of trying to tee up Elia Viviani for stage victory, though the Italian had to settle for second behind Wout van Aert in the reduced bunch sprint.
"It wasn't planned, we were just expecting the race to be nervous and tricky," Alaphilippe said. "We planned to protect my yellow jersey and then stay focused on the sprint for Elia. We knew exactly at which kilometre we had to pay attention to possible crosswinds. All the teams had the same information, so there was a lot of pressure and stress in the peloton. It broke up and after the split, we did the maximum."
Alaphilippe expressed regret that his fellow countryman Pinot was among those to concede significant ground in the race for final overall victory. The Groupama-FDJ man lost 1:40 and drops to 11th overall, 2:33 down on Alaphilippe. They had been allies of circumstance on the road to Saint-Étienne two days ago, but coalitions at the Tour are, by their nature, always ephemeral.
"I'm not pleased about that, because I was happy when we took time together on Saturday," Alaphilippe said. "It's a pity for him. I only found out 5 or 10 kilometres after the split that he was in the group behind. A few kilometres before that, he had been up front with his teammates. He knew there were risks."
Mikel Landa (Movistar), meanwhile, suffered the outrageous misfortune of making the initial split but then crashing out of the group after being accidentally brought down by Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic). The Basque came home 2:09 behind and is now 4:15 behind in the overall standings. Amid the tumult of those fraught closing kilometres, Alaphilippe was only vaguely aware of what had transpired immediately behind him.
"It was a very nervous moment in the race," Alaphilippe said. "I think Warren Barguil touched my wheel and he had to brake. I looked behind and I saw that a Movistar rider had crashed. The race was going very fast at that moment, so I only found out after the race that it was Landa."
Since first taking the maillot jaune at Épernay on stage 3, Alaphilippe has dutifully entertained and batted away questions about his prospects of making an impression on the final general classification in Paris. The time conceded by Pinot in Albi on Monday will do little to diminish speculation about just how far he might travel on this Tour.
"Honestly, I'm only thinking about the rest day. I'm very happy with the yellow jersey," said Alaphilippe. "Today my goal wasn't to increase my lead over the favourites. The hardest is yet to come. It's incredible to be in the leader jersey and I'll defend it as best I can and see what I can do. My plans haven't changed for GC since the race started."
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