Geraint Thomas vaulted up to second overall at the Tour de France as crosswinds blew the general classification apart in a chaotic finish to stage 10 in Albi.
As Wout Van Aert took his first career Tour stage win, Thomas and Ineos team-mate Egan Bernal were among those to profit when the peloton was ripped open and French rival Thibaut Pinot was caught in a group that lost 100 seconds.
The 217.5km stage from Saint-Flour had been billed as a long transition day before Tuesday’s much-needed rest, but when riders awoke to see a stiff breeze blowing, they realised it would prove anything but.
Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Julian Alaphilippe finished in the front group to retain the yellow jersey, while Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin were also among those to capitalise as they moved up to seventh, eight and ninth respectively.
“We’re just always attentive and ready,” Thomas said. “It was a really good day in the end.
“We had everyone bar two guys and we all just really committed. (Bora-Hansgrohe) were there, there were plenty of guys turning. Behind, you can tell they went full on the climb to try to close it, but because they didn’t they just ran out of gas and that’s when the elastic snapped.
“On a day like today you’d never expect it really. It was just a positioning error from them and they’ve lost over a minute and a half so it’s great from our point of view.”
The action began when EF Education First put the power down with 40km to go and successfully split the peloton, only to end up in the second group on the road and see their leader Rigoberto Uran lose time.
Ineos and Deceuninck-Quick Step went the long way around a roundabout at a key moment, but having powered their way back to the front, Alaphilippe’s team just kept on going with the yellow jersey himself at the front.
“We didn’t plan to split the bunch,” said the Frenchman, who insisted he still has no intention of contesting the general classification in the mountains.
“Our intention was only to protect my yellow jersey and to focus on a sprint with Elia Viviani. My plans on GC haven’t changed. Anything that can happen from now is just a bonus.”
Team Ineos and Bora-Hansgrohe then lent a hand to ensure there was no way back for Groupama-FDJ’s Pinot, Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, or Trek-Segafredo’s Richie Porte.
The new-look GC sees Thomas move from fifth to second, still 72 seconds behind Alaphilippe and four seconds ahead of Bernal in third, with the 22-year-old Colombian taking the white jersey as the best young rider.
Yates, known for lurking at the back of the peloton, has been caught out in moments like this before but made no such mistake here.
“As soon as it went in the gutter we were there at the front swapping off and doing turns,” said the Bury rider, one minute and 47 seconds down in seventh.
“I’ve never done that before, that’s a new experience. But all in all a good day.”
Martin’s deficit in ninth is two minutes and nine seconds.
“We’ll take it for sure,” the Irishman said. “Anything can happen on any day of the Tour. Everybody has a bad day and for us today was a good day. It’s a nice feeling.”
But Pinot will curse his luck as he dropped from third place to 11th, now two minutes 33 seconds off yellow.
Stopped by French TV cameras immediately after the stage, Pinot said: “We dealt with it like s**t!” and promptly rode off.
Van Aert edged out Viviani to deliver a fourth stage win of the Tour for Jumbo-Visma, who will celebrate all the more given their general classification hope Steven Kruijswijk also got himself in the front group to sit fourth overall, 87 seconds off yellow.
“I’m sorry, I can’t believe that I’ve won a stage of the Tour de France,” said the 24-year-old Van Aert.
“It’s above anything else. I’ve discovered this race in the last 10 days. Winning at my first attempt is incredible.”
But the biggest winners were Ineos, with their co-leaders now in prime position behind Alaphilippe.
“It’s a long way to go, but we stuck one-40 into some good GC riders,” said their road captain Luke Rowe.
“To try in the mountains to get one-40 back on these two boys, who are looking good, it’s a tall order.”