Belgian breakaway specialist Thomas De Gendt has won the eighth stage of the Tour de France. More importantly for French cycling fans: French rider Julian Alaphilippe is set to wear the yellow jersey on Bastille Day.
Sunday is Bastille Day, a national holiday in France. One only has to stand next to the Tour de France route to understand why this day is so special for French cyclists.
Even the smallest villages along the course, all the houses are decorated with French flags or old bicycles wrapped in blue, white and red adhesive tape.
Hours before the peloton is expected, people meet in the street, set up tables and chairs, light their grills — all for the few seconds in which the group of riders rushes by. Then they cheer for what the race has to offer.
It's no wonder that the greatest feeling for French cyclists is to win a Tour de France stage on Bastille day — or to ride all day in the yellow jersey. That is exactly what Julian Alaphilippe had in mind.
Man with a plan
At the first mountain stage of this year's Tour de France on Thursday, Alaphilippe had lost the yellow jersey which he had worn for three days to Italian Giulio Ciccone. The French rider wanted to take it back on Saturday during the eighth stage, a 200-kilometer (124-mile) stretch from Macon to Saint-Etienne in eastern France.
The crowd favorite was only six seconds behind Ciccone entering the stage. And this was Alaphilippe's plan, which he revealed in an interview before the start in Macon.
"When the breakaways are captured, I will try to win some bonus points," he said.
These bonus seconds were given for finishing in the top three of the stage as well as for the last climb up the Cote de la Jaillere 12.5 kilometers before Saint-Etienne. There was only one runaway left, Belgian Thomas De Gendt.
Thibaut Pinot (right) looks back at Julian Alaphilippe (left) after finishing the eighth stage of the Tour de France
Pushing for points
Alaphilippe made his proclamation come true. Together with his compatriot Thibaut Pinot, the former soldier attacked the steepest point of the climb and took second place in the stage behind stage winner Thomas De Gendt, earning a five-second time credit.
Shortly thereafter, Alaphilippe took third place in the stage behind De Gendt, who crowned his solo sprint with the day's victory, and Pinot, earning another four bonus seconds. That was enough for the 27-year-old Frenchman to snatch the yellow jersey away from Ciccone.
The Italian finished with the main peloton 26 seconds behind stage winner De Gendt and 20 seconds behind Alaphilippe. Combined with the nine bonus seconds, Ciccone's six-second advantage became a 23-second lead for the Frenchman, who will don the yellow jersey for the ninth stage.
And all that just in time for Bastille day. Cheers from Alaphilippe's fellow countrymen on Sunday are a certainty.