Defending champion Geraint Thomas had a scare in a frenetic final 15km of stage 8 of the Tour de France, coming to grief on a descent with several Ineos teammates on a twisting descent just as the final climb neared and Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot were about to launch their attack.
EF Education First's Michael Woods slid out on a right turn and Thomas and teammates Michel Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon rode into him. Thomas went down on his left side but was not hurt and quickly jumped up, found his bike and got going again after a push from Kwiatkowski and Moscon. Wout Poels then paced him back to the peloton on the climb in a moment of panic. Thomas was unable to go after the aggressive duo of Alaphilippe and Pinot and he and all the other overall contenders lost 26 seconds to the two Frenchmen.
Thomas rode straight through the finish area in Saint-Etienne and jumped on the rollers to spin out the lactic acid accumulated during his chase and the tension of knowing he could have lost a significant amount of time.
He confirmed he had suffered no injuries from the crash but was left frustrated after a late chase.
"I'm fine, but it's just frustrating. Obviously, it was a key moment in the race," Thomas said as he spun his legs on the rollers. "Woods crashed, and just took out Gianni [Moscon] and me. I got tangled in Gianni's bike and took some time to get going. I finished on my own bike, there's nothing wrong with it."
Team Ineos' strength in numbers proved vital in the heat of the moment. Joint leader Egan Bernal avoided the crash and stayed in the front group.
"The boys did a great job," Thomas said. "I caught up for the final bit of the climb and slowly moved up through the group. But by the time I was in the first 20 or 15 positions, that's when they sprinted over the top for the bonus seconds. So I was kind of gassed for a bit.
"It's annoying and frustrating but at the same time, to come back like I did shows I had good legs. You just don't want to give any unnecessary time away. If I hadn't have crashed I could have followed, and it's a totally different story today. That's how it goes but there's plenty of racing to come."
Thomas knew Pinot and Alaphilippe were gaining precious seconds up the road but the chase group seemed unable to do anything about it.
"I just didn't want to ride on the front and tow everyone," he explained. "Team Sunweb had numbers and a few others were trying to ride but there was just no speed in it. It's frustrating – I was just sat there thinking 'come on!'."
"The worst thing was that Pinot got time – I'm fine," he concluded. Alaphilippe took back the yellow jersey from Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo and Pinot moved up to third overall, 53 seconds behind his fellow Frenchman and 19 seconds ahead of Thomas, who is fifth. Bernal is sixth, four seconds behind.
"Pinot and Alaphilippe have a good kick and punch, they're riding really well, they're definitely guys to watch and to beat. They've stood out this week. Pinot has been on the podium I think, he's riding really strong, so is a big threat."
When asked by BBC Wales if he expects a similar stage on Sunday, Thomas concluded: "Hopefully not, I hope to stay on my bike."
Thomas and Bernal both warmed down on the rollers under the canopy of the Team Inoes bus, the young Colombian making a point of asking if Thomas was okay and what happened.
He heard about the crash on the team radio but was told to stay in the front group by directeur sportif Nicolas Portal.
"I just heard G had crashed and that he was on the bike really fast," Bernal said, playing the consummate teammate.
"I was thinking he'd come back and I was ready if needed to wait for him but the team didn't say anything, just to stay in the front group, which I did."
There was little to smile about after the late crash and scare for Thomas but Bernal was happy with his day and his Tour de France so far.
"Today was one of hardest stages so far in the Tour, all day we were going full gas. I'm happy because I felt good all stage. I'm happy," he concluded.
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