Yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe of France crosses the finish line during stage 18 of the Tour de France 2019 between Embrun to Valloire (208km), July 25 2019. Picture: JEAN CATUFFE/GALLO IMAGES
Yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe of France crosses the finish line during stage 18 of the Tour de France 2019 between Embrun to Valloire (208km), July 25 2019. Picture: JEAN CATUFFE/GALLO IMAGES

Valloire — Egan Bernal had the edge over the other top Tour de France contenders as France’s Julian Alaphilippe hung on for dear life to retain the yellow jersey at the end of a punishing day in the Alps on Thursday.

Nairo Quintana won the 18th stage, a 208km trek at high altitude from Embrun, but all eyes were on the battle for the title as fellow Colombian Bernal powered away from a reduced pack about 2km from the top of the Col du Galibier with his rivals unable to respond.

His advantage quickly rose to 43sec, but an attack from Ineos teammate Geraint Thomas dented his lead while Frenchman Thibaut Pinot then reined in the defending champion with most of the other favourites on his wheel.

Only Alaphilippe was dropped, but he made his way back to the group in the high-speed descent to the finish.

He leads Bernal by 1:30 and Thomas by 1:35 going into the last two stages in the mountains with the yellow jersey hanging by a thread.

Reuters