By SAMUEL PETREQUIN and JOHN LEICESTER
The Associated Press
ALBI, France — Tour de France rookie Wout Van Aert won a sprint to the line while Julian Alaphilippe kept the yellow jersey after contenders got trapped in an echelon in the final kilometers of Stage 10 on Monday.
A day before the first rest day, crosswinds caused the peloton to stretch and break up during the last 35 kilometers of the 217.5-kilometer trek from Saint-Flour to Albi in southwestern France.
Defending champion Geraint Thomas reached the finish line in the main pack but Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and other favorites were caught off guard and lost time.
Pinot was in a group including Rigoberto Uran, Jakob Fuglsang and Richie Porte that lost 1 minute, 40 seconds.
The peloton split into three groups on a long but narrow section of road opened to the wind when Alaphilippe’s Deceuninck Quick Step teammates sped up the pace at the front to close the gap to six breakaway riders.
The fugitives were brought in with 25 kilometers left before Thomas’ Ineos teammates, working well with Alaphilippe’s team, pushed harder in an impressive display of collective strength.
“I couldn’t think of anything better,” Thomas said. “It’s especially good on a day like today when you never expect it. It was just a positioning error from them and they lose a minute and a half. That’s how it goes.”
Pinot used an expletive to describe his day.
“What do you want me to say? There’s nothing to say,” he said, looking absolutely disgusted.
Thomas moved to second place overall, 1:12 behind Alaphilippe, with teammate Egan Bernal in third place, four seconds further back.
A three-time cyclo-cross world champion, Van Aert is riding his first Grand Tour after claiming two stage wins — a sprint and a time trial — at the prestigious Criterium du Dauphine in June.
“The last 70 kilometers were very nervous,” Van Aert said after edging Italian rider Elia Viviani by just a few inches. Australian Caleb Ewan ended third.
Van Aert surged from the left in the last stretch and resisted Viviani’s comeback by throwing his bike at the line.
The up and coming Belgian said he got the OK from his team bosses to race for the win because his team leaders were in the group behind. But even then he didn’t expect to beat recognized sprinters such as Viviani and Peter Sagan in a photo finish by inches.
“It’s crazy,” he said.
Alaphilippe said he and his teammates were thinking only about placing Viviani for the sprint when they accelerated, not deliberately trying to hurt Pinot.
“We knew that we had to be careful,” he said.