ALPE D’HUEZ, France (VN) — At long last, something to celebrate. On what was undoubtedly the race’s most spectacular stage, the 100th Tour de France finally has a French winner.
with a brilliant ride up l’Alpe d’Huez, Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale), who overcame an early season derailed by intractable injury, today reignited the spirits of a country that has had little to celebrate at this Tour. Riblon stormed up the switchbacked climb of the Alpe, one of the Tour’s most storied ascents, in pursuit of Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), turned around, and did it again.
And yet it almost wasn’t to be. Twice.
On the spectacular descent from the Col de Sarenne, Riblon misjudged a tight, left-hand turn, riding awkwardly into a grassy drainage ditch to the right of the road. For a descent that some called one of the most dangerous in Tour history ahead of today’s race, it was a relatively minor incident. Riblon kept his cool, stepped back onto the road, and shot down in pursuit of race leader Moreno Moser (Cannondale).
The two were joined by van Garderen, who himself had suffered a mechanical on the descent of the Sarenne, as they prepared to ascend the Alpe for a second and final time. With 12 km left in the stage, van Garderen attacked on one of the steepest sections of the climb.
“When [Tejay] attacked, there was nothing to do for me, it was too sudden,” said Riblon. “I decided just to maintain my own rhythm, thinking he already did that in the first climb and it was not a good thing, obviously. At 5K from the finish, in my head I was going for second place. But my team manager told me that I had to believe in my chances for the final, and he was right to say that.”
And indeed, van Garderen, who had already burned matches on the first ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez and in his chase to rejoin the leaders on the descent of the Sarenne, began to fade. Still, Riblon told reporters, he did not realize the stage win might be in reach. The deafening noise of the hundreds of thousands of fans who crowded the 21 lacets today made it impossible to hear his team manager calling out time gaps on the radio. Only when van Garderen came into sight above him did Riblon realize his position.
“At 3K from the finish, because of the barriers, you can see a long way in front of you,” said Riblon. “I know Tejay very well, and from his position on the bike I guessed that he was in difficulty and that I still had a chance to win the stage.”
Riblon, resurgent, caught van Garderen with 2km to go and immediately attacked.
“I wanted it to be clear in his mind that he had no chance,” said Riblon. The American had no response and Riblon went clear, winning a stage clearly designed to be the centerpiece of the 100th Tour.
Riblon told reporters that his stage win was a statement for both his ailing team, which lost leader Jean-Christophe Peraud when he crashed on an already-broken collarbone at the end of yesterday’s time trial, and to his French countrymen. Until today, France had not won a Tour stage since Thomas Voeckler took a breakaway victory in the 2012 edition’s queen stage, in Bagnères de Luchon, exactly one year ago today.
“The race has been very tough for [our team] because we lost two riders because of crashes. The second one was yesterday with Peraud,” said Riblon.
“We wanted to show that the team is still there, and that if you want, you can still do something, even if the conditions are not so good. So I think what I did today was nice for me, my teammates, and all the French riders. It showed that, until Paris, the Tour is not over.”