French riders are thriving in the picturesque Pyrenees mountains. Thibaut Pinot has dragged himself back into contention after a major setback, while overall leader Julian Alaphilippe powers on.
Two potentially tricky days on the Tour de France could scarcely have gone better for home favorites Julian Alaphilippe and Saturday's stage-winner Thibaut Pinot.
Pinot's hopes of overall victory appeared to be in tatters earlier in the week as he fell victim of severe crosswinds in Albi, losing almost 2 minutes to the leaders. He steadied the ship with a solid time trial in Pau on Friday, before raising the bar on the legendary Col du Tourmalet climb to conclude Stage 14 on Saturday.
Pinot has recovered to sixth in the overall classifications, 192 seconds off the overall lead. Without his troubles on Stage 11, he'd be second overall.
"There's a huge spirit of revenge," he told French broadcaster RMC Sport after the stage win, still smarting at his setback earlier in the week. "I've got the red mist, I will continue to fight. The Tour is not over. I'll savor this victory."
Pinot also described winning on such a renowned climb as "one of my best wins."
"They're all good on the Tour de France, but when you're a climber and you win on the Alpe de Huez or the Col du Tourmalet, those are the ones that stay with you for life."
Alaphilippe powers on
Yellow-jersey holder Alaphilippe is another solid climber. He demonstrated this in style by rolling in second on the day, just a few seconds behind Pinot, who made his bid for freedom with around 200 meters remaining.
The uninterrupted leader for 10 straight stages, Alaphilippe refuses to miss a beat, most impressively during Friday's time trial in Pau, where he posted the fastest time of the entire field.
Overachieving on two consecutive days has allowed Alaphilippe to stretch his lead over Team Ineos' 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas by 50 seconds, almost doubling his overall advantage against second place. Even against the might of the outfit formerly known as Team Sky, Alaphilippe is fostering genuine French hopes of a first homegrown Tour de France winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
Buchmann stakes his claim in leading bunch
Team Bora-Hansgrohe's German leader Emanuel Buchmann bounced back on Saturday after dropping almost a minute to Alaphilippe's impressive time trial showing in Pau.
Scaling the Tourmalet pass in fourth overall, just eight seconds behind Pinot, keeps him in a group of just six riders within 200 seconds of the leader. Briefly, he appeared set to attempt a late breakaway of his own, before aborting.
"We weren't riding that fast, and then I attacked. But the others were right behind and so I immediately broke it off," Buchmann told Germany's ARD television after the stage. "I felt really super today, had good legs all stage, and I'm optimistic for the coming days."
Buchmann's showing was all the more impressive given the absence of his most important wingman, Maximilian Schachmann, who suffered a bad fall on Friday and had to pull out of the Tour.
Several other front runners endured difficult days amid the breathtaking scenery. Ireland's Daniel Martin, Colombia's Nairo Quintana, Britain's Adam Yates and France's Romain Bardet all fell adrift during the first of four climbs on a short but highly demanding 117.5-kilometer (73-mile) Saturday stage.
A longer ride in the mountains, from Limoux to Foix Prat D'Albis, awaits the field on Sunday.