Tom Pidcock became the youngest ever winner of a Tour de France stage on the Alpe d’Huez ahead of a rejuvenated Chris Froome while Jonas Vingegaard defended his new status as race leader as one of cycling’s most famous climbs once again delivered drama.
Pidcock’s first ever WorldTour win was a spectacular one amid the rowdy crowds of this stunning sporting arena, with the 22-year-old riding away from Louis Meintjes and Froome, who enjoyed his best day on a bike since the horror crash in 2019 which threatened to end his glittering career.
Behind, Tadej Pogacar tried to attack Vingegaard 24 hours after losing the yellow jersey to the Dane, but his late digs did nothing to shake the Jumbo-Visma man and the pair came home together with Geraint Thomas on their wheel, Romain Bardet distanced to lose second place overall.
But the glory belonged to Thomas’s Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Pidcock – an Olympic mountain bike champion, a cyclo-cross world champion, and now a Tour stage winner on his debut in road cycling’s biggest race to again beg obvious questions over just how far he can go in the sport.
Pidcock and Froome, two different generations 15 years apart in age, attacked together on the Galibier, the first climb of the 165km stage from Briancon which began by taking the peloton back the way they had come a day earlier.
After bridging over to a seven-man breakaway already clear, Pidcock upped the pace on the Col de la Croix de Fer to get rid of passengers, leading a reduced group of five down the descent at speeds over 100kmh.
Once on the Alpe d’Huez, Pidcock again looked a man in a hurry, attacking with 10km still to go. Meintjes and Froome responded but gradually slipped back as Pidcock showed greater power and poise amid the flares, flags and spilt drinks of the 21 hairpins.
“Not bad that, is it?” said the Yorkshireman. “I guess it’s made my Tour de France. Even if nothing else happens and I get dropped every day now I don’t care. A stage win in my first Tour, not bad…
“That was certainly one of my best experiences in cycling. It’s unreal when you’re literally slaloming through people’s flags, fists and God knows what else. You can’t experience that anywhere else other than the Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France.”
Meintjes followed him home 48 seconds later but the bigger cheer was reserved for four-time Tour champion Froome, back at the business end of a bike race for the first time since everything so nearly ended for him three summers ago.
“No regrets,” the 37-year-old said. “Naturally I would have loved to have put my hands up in the air, I tried to win the stage and gave it absolutely everything.
“Where I’ve come from in the last three years, battling back after my accident, to finish third in one of the hardest stages of the Tour, I’m really happy with that.
“I don’t know where my limits are. I’ll keep trying to improve and hopefully get back to winning ways again.”
After losing yellow in Wednesday’s fireworks on the Col du Granon, Pogacar attacked Vingegaard on the steepest sections, but his digs failed to find a crack in the Dane while Thomas – a winner in yellow here in 2018 – remained cool to pace his way back up.
“I’m feeling good,” said Thomas, back up to third behind Pogacar after Bardet’s slip. “I was trying not to get carried away when they were jumping. Ride at a pace, accelerating but not too much. I felt I could have gone in the sprint at the end but unfortunately they got their elbows out a bit more.”
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