France's Thibaut Pinot rides with teammates during the fifteen stage of the 106th edition of the Tour de France cycling race between Limoux and Foix Prat d'Albi, in Foix Prat d'Albi, July 21 2019. Picture: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP
France's Thibaut Pinot rides with teammates during the fifteen stage of the 106th edition of the Tour de France cycling race between Limoux and Foix Prat d'Albi, in Foix Prat d'Albi, July 21 2019. Picture: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP

Foix — Thibaut Pinot emerged as the strongest of the main contenders to win the Tour de France after dominating his rivals for the second successive day in the 15th stage, a 185km mountain battle won by Briton Simon Yates on Sunday.

The Frenchman, who claimed victory at top of the iconic Col du Tourmalet on Saturday, left everyone gasping for air with a brutal attack 7km from the finish in the final ascent to the Prat d’Albis. He crossed the line 33sec behind Yates, who prevailed from the day’s breakaway for a second stage win as his fellow Briton, defending champion Geraint Thomas lost further ground.

France’s Julian Alaphilippe was among those dropped but he retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey going into Monday’s second rest day.

“It’s not a surprise that I cracked against the best climbers at the end of the second week, having given so much since the start,” world No1 Alaphilippe, who has never raced for the general classification, told reporters.

Alaphilippe still leads Thomas by 1min 35sec, Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk by 1:47 and fourth-placed Pinot by 1:50.

Thomas’s Ineos teammate Egan Bernal, of Colombia, who was the last rider dropped by Pinot, is fifth overall, 2:02 off the pace.

“We have a very strong team and our plan worked today, even if Thibaut’s attack was not premeditated,” his Groupama-FDJ sports director Yvon Madiot said. “It was a very good Pyrenean leg. Now onto the rest day and the Alps. We’re not setting any limit.”

No Frenchman has won the Tour de France since Bernard Hinault claimed the last of his five titles in 1985.

Pinot, after some great work from teammates David Gaudu and Sebastien Reichenbach had put some rivals in the red, made his move 7km from the top. Thomas and Kruijswijk were dropped as Bernal crushed the pedals to join the Frenchman, taking Alaphilippe and German Emmanuel Buchmann in his slipstream.

But another burst from Pinot was fatal to Alaphilippe before Bernal and Buchmann eventually also lost the Frenchman’s wheel. Yates’s advantage was, however, comfortable enough for the Mitchelton-Scott rider to take his second stage win this year.

Thomas saved his second place in the general classification with a late acceleration to finish 1:22 behind Yates and 51sec adrift of Bernal. 

Reuters