Geraint Thomas' smile as he arrived at the Team Ineos bus said it all. His teammates had again used their strength to force a split in the crosswinds, drove hard all the way to finish, and so gained significant time on many of their overall rivals during stage 10 at the Tour de France.
"That wasn't bad, was it?" Thomas said to a fan as he climbed onto his bike on the rollers in the shade of his team bus to warm down after the stage Albi.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) all lost 1:40 to Thomas, teammate Egan Bernal, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and a select group of 28 riders.
Alaphilippe now heads into the first rest day with a 1:12 lead over Thomas, with Bernal four seconds further adrift. Pinot dropped from third overall at 53 seconds to 11th at 2:33.
Asked if it was a decisive blow to his rivals' chances, Thomas was understandably upbeat.
"It is certainly a good blow. You just got to be on it and ready to go at any moment, and that's where we were. But yeah, we race boring anyway, don't we?" Thomas said, hitting back at the critics who often claim Team Ineos are so strong they stifle the racing at the Tour de France.
"It's especially nice on a day like today, where you'd never expect it, really," Thomas continued.
"It was just a positioning error, and then they lose over a minute and a half. It's a great day from our point of view. We were attentive. We knew it was going to be stressful and nothing might happen, but you have to be there. It worked out, it did split, and we were in perfect position. It was a really good day."
Riders were tense and worried at the start in Saint-Flour after seeing the south wind blowing across the fields.
For much of the stage nothing happened, then EF Education First hit the front with 40km to go. But they committed too early and paid for it just five kilometres later when Deceuninck-QuickStep and Team Ineos hit the front and upped the pace even more.
Thomas was in the thick of the action, he and his teammates using their Classic racing skills to snap the strength of any chase and so gain as much as possible.
"We had a little go earlier, but it wasn't the right conditions. EF had a little go and then QuickStep, and we were just always attentive and ready," Thomas explained.
"We had everyone bar two guys, and we were all just committed. Bora were there and plenty of other guys there turning on the front. And behind you could tell they went full gas, especially on the climbs, to try to close it. But then they didn't, they ran out of gas, and that's when the elastic snapped, and we got such a big gap."
Bernal pulls on best young rider white jersey as Team Ineos take control
Thomas and Bernal can look forward to the first rest day in Albi after 10 intense and nervous days of racing, as the overall contenders fight for every second. Thomas showed a flash of his form on the steep finish to La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 6 and has now gained more time, and a more substantial psychological blow, on many of his rivals in the crosswinds.
"I've been saying it since Planche des Belles Filles; you have to expect that anything can happen any day. But on paper, the TT is the next big stage," Thomas said, looking forward to stage 13 on Friday.
With Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) caught in the third group and losing 2:09, Bernal pulled on the best young rider's white jersey. He is third overall at 1:16 down on Alaphilippe but remains cautious on his debut as the joint team leader with Thomas.
"It was a good day for us, but you have to keep our feet on the ground. You don't even know who's where, who's not. Echelons are very hard, totally mad; you have to be very concentrated and very focused," Bernal said.
"I'm just very happy. It's very special to have this jersey for the first time. Today was very hard, but every day in the Tour is hard. We should be happy because Pinot and others lost some time. But this is the Tour; sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. Today we won."
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