LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES (France) • Defending champion Geraint Thomas gained time on his rivals in a brutal finish in the sixth stage of the Tour de France, as several top guns cracked in the lung-busting ascent to La Planche des Belles Filles yesterday.
As Giulio Ciccone of Italy benefited from a stage-long breakaway to lift Julian Alaphilippe's yellow jersey from the Frenchman's shoulders, the Welshman proved his doubters wrong with a show of strength that surprised his rivals.
The Team Ineos rider had been expected to cede time to his rivals, including his teammate Egan Bernal, yet he proved among the most powerful in the peloton as he caught and passed Alaphilippe in the tough final hundred metres of the rough-surfaced climb.
Dylan Teuns of Belgium out-sprinted Ciccone to win the stage - a 160.5km ride from Mulhouse - but Thomas' move reversed his deficit of five seconds to Bernal, leapfrogging the Colombian into fifth place, 49 seconds behind Ciccone.
Afterwards, he told BBC Sport: "It is one of those climbs where you really have to be patient.
"When Julian Alaphilippe went, pretty early with 800m to go or something like that, I just had the confidence to let him go, ride my own tempo, then really try to drive it all the way to the line from about 350m out.
"I was starting to blow though - it was solid - but it was pretty decent."
The fearsome climb, appearing for the fourth time and extended this year by a kilometre, has always been pivotal in past Tours, with the yellow jersey wearer after the stage going on to win in Paris in the 2012, 2014 and 2017 races.
Twice champion Vincenzo Nibali, who was waiting for the first mountain stage to assess his form after finishing second overall in a demanding Giro d'Italia in May, lost 51 seconds to Thomas, whom he now trails by 1:07 overall.
Today's seventh stage, the longest of the Tour at 230km, returns to flatter terrain as the peloton races from Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saone.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN