PARIS • Julian Alaphilippe surrendered the yellow jersey in the penultimate competitive stage and Thibaut Pinot was left sobbing at roadside as he had to abandon the race in the Alps. Yet this French duo have restored the pride of a cycling nation and revived hopes of a long-awaited home-grown winner of the Tour de France.
Alaphilippe wore yellow for 14 days until he cracked in the Col de l'Iseran and dropped from the podium places on the eve of the parade to the Champs Elysees.
But the musketeer-faced Alaphilippe brought fresh panache to a race which had for years been monopolised by Team Sky - now still thriving as Team Ineos - and with his cavalier approach won the hearts of millions of fans on the road and TV viewers.
"He is the biggest change to the Tour, he's created a ripple effect," conceded Team Ineos manager Dave Brailsford, who celebrated his seventh title in eight editions when Colombian Egan Bernal crossed the Paris finish line in yellow.
"Because of him, we were forced to react to the situation minute by minute."
French riders had long been seen as "a laughing stock" in the peloton, according to Groupama-FDJ sports director Philippe Mauduit, who has worked in foreign teams with the likes of Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali.
Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot, who started the team in 1997, added: "I remember the times where our two team cars were behind the 'gruppetto' (a pack of dropped riders) and I was wondering whether we would make it within the time cut."
For long, his best result was taking Sandy Casar to 10th overall in Paris in 2009. Since then, Groupama-FDJ have grown alongside their leader Pinot, 29, winner of his first Tour stage in 2012 as the youngest rider in the race.
Third overall in 2014, Pinot surged into real contention this year with a dual attack with Alaphilippe in St Etienne, and then writing off time lost in the crosswinds with two awe-inspiring performances in the Pyrenees.
He won atop the iconic Col du Tourmalet and was the strongest the next day at Prat d'Albis, distancing Bernal on both occasions.
Pinot was ahead of the Colombian when he started Thursday's stage to Valloire, but he was already injured. The next day, he climbed into his team car with hands over his face to hide his tears.
On Saturday, he told French TV just before the start of the 20th stage: "It will take time (to recover from the disappointment). They're going for the stage and I'm going home. It's tough."
Pinot, who has stage wins in all three grand tours, promised he would be back to fight for the 2020 title. Should he fail, Alaphilippe, 27, demonstrated he could be transformed into a grand tour rider.
Yet he would probably have to change teams, with his Deceuninck-Quick Step outfit having more of a focus on one-day classics.
While France can only hope for a first champion since Bernard Hinault last won in 1985, four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, 34, of Team Ineos is not quite done yet.
The Briton's recovery from last month's horrific accident - which broke his neck, femur, elbow, hip and ribs - is "ahead of schedule", leaving Team Ineos hopeful that he will be back at next year's Tour. Last week, he tweeted a video of himself pedalling with one leg on an exercise bike.
"He's managed to turn a pedal now with his other leg. He's well ahead of where he was hoping to be," Brailsford told the BBC.
"In typical Chris Froome fashion, he's putting everything into his recovery. Hopefully we'll see him back at the Tour next year."