VALLOIRE – Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe cracked at the top of the ascent to the Col du Galibier on Thursday, but a high-speed final descent in the 18th stage helped him regain contact with most of the big guns and retain the overall lead in the Tour de France.
The world number one sustained the pace in the climbs up to the Col de Vars and the Col d'Izoard, both culminating at more than 2,000 metres, but then lost ground when his compatriot Thibaut Pinot accelerated to rein in defending champion Geraint Thomas.
Deceuninck-Quick Step rider Alaphilippe, however, dug deep to limit his losses at the top and he took all the risks in the downhill where speeds reached 100 kph.
The gamble paid off as he regained contact with most of those challenging for his yellow jersey. Only Egan Bernal managed to narrow the gap with Alaphilippe as the Colombian leapfrogged defending champion Thomas into second place in the overall standings and is now 1:30 minutes adrift.
"I'm wounded, but not sunk," said Alaphilippe, who is hoping to become the first Frenchman to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985.