Breakaway extraordinaire De Gendt (Soudal Lotto) today tasked himself with a challenging mission of many parts. Initiating the Stage 8 breakaway and drawing companions Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie), Ben King (Dimension Data) and ultimately Alessandro De Marchi (CCC), was just the start.
Victory after launching an attack on the final climb 14 kilometres from the finish was mission accomplished.
"Our goal was to come to the Tour for winning a stage," De Gendt said of his team. "We almost got it yesterday with Caleb [Ewan] yesterday. I’ve had very good feeling already for the whole Tour and I had amazing legs today.”
“From 70km to go, I just kept riding full gas until the last climb. The bunch was coming closer but I had to go solo and stay ahead of them. Our lead went down quickly to 3’30’’, but we didn’t push that much until the climb of the feed zone. That was the moment to get a bigger gap again.
"I almost crashed in a few corners but I made it. It hurts so much but it’s wonderful. It’s also mission accomplished for the team."
The Belgian crested all seven categorised cimbs ahead of his fellow escapees, claiming maximum KOM points for the stage. But on the penultimate of those climbs, the Cote d'Aveize, he upped the pace, shedding King and Terpstra back to the pack 40 kilometres from the finish.
With the break's earlier lead kept in check at five minutes by a peloton driven by Sunweb and Trek at this point, now with just De Marchi and De Gendt at 18 kilometres to go, it dwindled to barely a minute. De Gendt sniffed a chance on the Cote de la Jailliere and took it.
Here, Pinot and Alaphilippe too leapt from the peloton, the Groupama-FDJ rider looking for time on his GC rivals and Alaphilippe looking for seven seconds to take back the maillot jaune. The pair pushed hard, eventually finishing 20 seconds ahead of the bunch, while De Gendt claimed victory six seconds ahead of the chasing duo.
Alaphilippe will be the first Frenchman to wear the yellow jersey on Bastille Day since Tony Gallopin in 2014.
It was nearly curtains for Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) when he was caught up in a crash 15 kilometres from the finish. A bike belonging to one of his team mate's was completely smashed into pieces in the fray, but Thomas was quickly sent on his way with an escort of team-mates.
The Welshman eventually found his way back to the main bunch where team-mate and fellow GC threat Egan Bernal was safely ensconced.
Pinot and Alaphilippe's raid was not quite enough to capture De Gendt, but it bore fruit, with Pinot gaining 28 seconds on his rivals for yellow, while Alaphilippe now holds yellow again with a margin of 23 seconds to the dethroned Ciccone.