The defending champion, Geraint Thomas, gained time on a handful of rivals as crosswinds caused chaos in the peloton in the climax to Mondays 10th stage of the Tour de France
Geraint Thomas seized the initiative as the Tour de France peloton was blown apart in the gusting crosswinds of the Tarn, on the eve of the first rest day in Albi, with Thomas, his Ineos teammate Egan Bernal and the consistently surprising Julian Alaphilippe, distancing many of their rivals.
A sedate 10th stage exploded into life in the closing 30km with the key challengers for final victory hunting each other on the rural roads leading to the cathedral city, and the precocious Belgian talent Wout van Aert, riding his first Tour, taking the Jumbo-Visma teams fourth stage win of the race.
What had looked likely to be a transitional stage tailored to an opportunistic breakaway move, morphed into a decisive one for Thomass hopes of claiming a second yellow jersey in Paris as he moved into a more dominant position before the climbs of the Pyrenees.
I had a really good day in the end, Thomas said. We had a little go a bit earlier but it wasnt quite the right conditions, but we were always attentive and ready for anything.
With the wind blowing across the route, Thomas, Bernal, Alaphilippe and Romain Bardet distanced Thibaut Pinot and others in a finale that was as cruel as any mountain stage. Isolated, Pinot failed to close the gap and dramatically slid down the overall standings, prior to the first mountain stages.
Mikel Landa lost over two minutes to Thomas after he appeared to be nudged onto the verge, before crashing into a group of roadside spectators.
On a day like today youd never expect it really,the Welshman said of his time gains on Pinot, Rigoberto Urn and Jakob Fuglsang. Its just a positioning error from them and theyve lost over a minute and a half. Its great from our point of view.
Thomas said of his teams presence in the front group: We had everyone bar two guys there so we all committed. Behind they went full gas on the climbs and were trying to close it, but because they didnt, then I think the elastic snapped and we got such a big gap.
Of the contenders for final victory, Pinot was the biggest loser, fighting desperately to close an ever-growing gap, with only one teammate able to assist him. As he wheeled to a halt at the finish, his sullen reaction told the story. Nothing to say, it was a shitty day, he muttered to the waiting French media before riding back to his team bus.
Not for the first time, Pinots challenge is wilting in the heat of the south of France, as much due to tactical error and inattentiveness as due to the strength and opportunism of his rivals.
In contrast, the Ineos team of Thomas and Bernal seem to be growing in assurance, even in the absence of four time winner Chris Froome. Were where we wanted to be, Inoess sports director, Nicolas Portal, said.
However Portal acknowledged that his team missed Froomes leadership. Im not saying the other two [Thomas and Bernal] dont make up for it but everyones different we miss him as a person, too. He was the central point for several years.
Even in the peloton, not to have Tom Dumoulin [here] and especially Froome, its a change. Some teams have been taking initiatives and weve taken less, which is good for us. Now were going to see in the mountains are teams going to be active, and trying things, or letting us take charge?
But Froomes absence has also had its upside, Portal said. The fact is that were not being insulted. Its the opposite from last year. Its quiet and it almost seems weird.