At the end of the 14th stage, however, it was Alaphilippe who extended his overall lead over the defending champion to give the host nation real hopes of producing its first race winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
It turned out to be a superb day indeed for Frenchmen, since the grueling 14th stage from Tarbes to Tourmalet was won by Thibaut Pinot in three hours, 10 minutes and 20 seconds. He was the first to navigate the final, agonizing ascent of 19 kilometers and crossed the finish line some 2,000 meters above sea level for a third career stage victory in cycling’s most famous race.
Alaphilippe was a mere six seconds behind in second for the stage, while Thomas, of Wales, had to settle for eighth, 36 seconds adrift.
The length of this section of the race, 117.5 kilometers (73 miles), was shortened slightly after a demonstration by farmers that was likely noted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who took in Saturday’s racing.
Alaphilippe had solidified his hold on the yellow jersey with a time-trial win Friday that boosted his advantage to one minute, 36 seconds over Thomas. Now he leads by two minutes, two seconds.
Thomas is now looking behind him, since Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk — who had the same time as Alaphilippe Saturday — moved to within 12 seconds of the Welshman.
Sunday’s 15th stage from Limoux to Foix Prat d’Albis is another draining mountain climb and even longer at 185 kilometers (115 miles).