Perhaps the most surprising name still in the top 10 overall at this year's Tour de France – race leader Julian Alaphilippe aside – is Bora-Hansgrohe's Emanuel Buchmann, who continues to hold sixth place on the GC with just two days to go until the final stage to Paris.
Buchmann has looked extremely comfortable among more experienced overall contenders such as defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) and Jumbo-Visma's Steven Kruijswijk, and still heads a host of others, including the winner of stage 18 on Thursday, Nairo Quintana, his Movistar teammate Mikel Landa and 2017 Tour runner-up Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First).
Twenty-first place overall in the German's first Tour de France in 2016, followed by 15th in 2017, and then 12th place overall at last year's Vuelta a Espana – he didn't ride last year's Tour – shows a positive progression, as does the fact that two of his three victories as a professional have come this season: in stages at the Mallorca Challenge and the Tour of the Basque Country.
On Thursday's 18th stage from Embrun to Valloire, Buchmann proved once again that he deserves to be where he is, coming home second of the group of favourites, behind Kruijswijk, with only Thomas's Ineos teammate Egan Bernal escaping the other contenders' clutches to take an extra 32 seconds on the stage and move himself up to second overall.
Twenty-six-year-old Buchmann had been able to rely on assistance from his teammate Gregor Mühlberger until the higher slopes of the Galibier, where he then kept pace with the favourites once more to retain his overall placing.
"Movistar ramped up the pace on the Col d'Izoard, making the race hard, so it was important to have Gregor by my side," Buchmann said on his team's website. "I'd like to really thank him for his effort, as he managed to crest [the Izoard with us], and then was also helpful on the first part of the Galibier.
"The pace wasn't too hard there, and that could be the reason Alaphilippe could follow us all the way to the top. When Bernal attacked, our plan was to wait for the reaction from Jumbo-Visma. I followed Geraint's attack and, together with Pinot, we were able to catch him.
"I would say that was the hardest part of the race," Buchmann continued. "Alaphilippe was dropped for a short time, but then came back in the downhill. So, overall, it wasn't a day where you could make substantial gains but, on the contrary, you could lose time, which I avoided. My legs are in good shape and I'm fairly positive about the next two hard mountain stages."
Those next two days in the Alps will of course resolve everything, and on paper – and by reputation – Buchmann looks set to retain his sixth place all the way to Paris, which would be a considerable achievement. With a 1:40 buffer back to seventh-placed Quintana, that top-six finish really should be assured, but a lot could still change, and Buchmann could also yet push himself further up the GC, with Pinot, in fifth place, just 24 seconds ahead, while second-placed Bernal is only 44 seconds in front.
"The time differences are still small, the GC is tight, and we were able to save some energy today because, for the climbers, this stage wasn't as hard as feared," Bora-Hansgrohe sports director Enrico Poitschke said. "The race was under control until the Izoard where Movistar accelerated, so it was very important to have Gregor supporting there, but also at the beginning of the Galibier.
"When Bernal attacked, for us it was clear that 'Emu' had to stay with Jumbo-Visma and Geraint Thomas. When Thomas attacked, Emu was able to close the gap, so, overall, he had a really good race," said Poitschke, "and we're still optimistic about the last two mountain days."
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