Quintana Conquers the Alps to Win Tour de France Stage 18

The Colombian soared to victory while Julian Alaphilippe held strong to his overall lead, losing time only to Egan Bernal.

AFP/Bicycling.com |

  • Nairo Quintana won Stage 18 of the Tour de France with a dominant performance on the race’s first day in the high Alps.
  • Julian Alaphilippe once again defended his race lead, losing time only to Egan Bernal among his overall challengers.
  • Bernal successfully attacked the yellow jersey group to jump to second place on the General Classification, 1:30 behind.

Two Colombian climbers prevailed on Stage 18 of the Tour de France on Thursday, the first of three hard days in the high Alps.

First, Nairo Quintana, who won the stage with a masterful charge that took him over two hors catégorie climbs and down a fast, technical descent with no serious challengers for the victory. He sailed to the line solo, with loads of time to celebrate and what looked like a spilled gel having stained the front of his kit.

Second, Egan Bernal, the 22-year-old who co-captains Team Ineos with Geraint Thomas. Alone among the remaining overall contenders who put in time on race leader Julian Alaphilippe, Bernal attacked the yellow jersey group in the last few kilometres on the day’s final climb, the hors catégorie Col du Galibier.

Though the other favourites made up some ground on the 19K descent to the finish in Valloire, Bernal kept them at bay, finishing the stage in eighth and jumping to second place on the General Classification, 1:30 behind Alaphilippe.

Thomas mounted a defense a few minutes after his teammate’s attack, and the yellow jersey group soon split in the final run-up to the Galibier summit. Alaphilippe was temporarily dropped toward the end of the climb, and it looked as though his 10-day stretch in yellow might have finally come to an end.

However, Alaphilippe is a great descender, and the Frenchman had plenty of time to catch up on the long, winding downhill on the far side of the mountain. The GC favourites (save Bernal) regrouped here, then finished together after the road straightened out in the last 5K.

So Thomas, now in third, remains 1:35 behind. Steven Kruijswijk sits in fourth at 1:47 behind, Thibaut Pinot in fifth at 1:50 behind, and Emanuel Buchmann in sixth at 2:14 behind.

Quintana’s performance boosted him from 12th to seventh in the overall rankings, though he still has almost four minutes between himself and Alaphilippe. The 29-year-old Movistar rider has won both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España in his decade-long pro career, but never the overall title in France. He remains a long shot for the yellow jersey, but proved his dominance in the mountains on Thursday.

Bernal, who currently wears the white jersey in the Best Young Rider competition, entered the day in fifth with a 2:02 deficit. But he was only 12-27 seconds behind the three others in the GC top five, putting him now in the best position to challenge Alaphilippe for the overall win.

The young Colombian – who previously had only competed in a single Grand Tour, last year’s Tour de France – was considered a pre-race favourite, perhaps even more so than returning Tour champion Thomas. But Thomas proved that he wouldn’t cede the Ineos leadership so easily, especially with a strong ride on Stage 6’s summit finish on La Planche des Belles Filles.

But after today, the Ineos team leadership, like the competition for the Tour victory itself, remains up in the air.

Romain Bardet, who had a disappointing Tour this year and saw his overall chances crumble early on, survived in a two-man chase group behind Quintana on the final climb. Determined to win a stage this year, Bardet kept the pressure on and dropped his companion, Astana’s Alexey Lutsenko. But he only managed to take second, finishing 1:35 behind, while Lutsenko crossed the line in third, 53 seconds after that.

Still, Bardet put in an admirable ride, stealing the polka dot jersey from Tim Wellens as leader of the King of the Mountains competition.

As if the long, technical downhill into Valloire wasn’t enough, riders had to deal with rain at the finish line making the course slick. George Bennett, the 29-year-old New Zealander on Jumbo–Visma, crashed on the descent off the Galibier. Though he reportedly sought medical attention afterward, Bennett finished the stage in 27th place and said that he will start the race on Friday.

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