Tour de France 2018
Declercq is what in cycling is called a “domestique,” French for “servant,” which means a support rider who knows he isn’t fast enough to reach the finish line first. Instead, he and his kind are tasked with humbly helping their more talented teammates win the day’s stage and compete for the glory of the Tour title.
“It’s what I was made for,” Declercq told The Associated Press this week. “I know I am not explosive enough to be a team leader. But I don’t think that is a shame. I have found what I am best at. I still do what I love to do.
The first of the day, at Col de la Croix Fry, was won by Rudy Molard (Team Groupama-FDJ), with Gilbert and Van Avermaet in 5th and 6th respectively.
During the Tour’s first week, Declercq could regularly be seen the head of more than 160 riders as they rolled through the green hills and wheat fields of northern France.
Slow in sprints, but good at the steady, long haul, Declercq’s job is to make sure that the daily bunch of breakaway riders doesn’t get too far ahead. By setting the pace, his Quick-Step team can also test the fitness of rivals and try to wear them down before unleashing their top riders at the end of the stage.
Sagan had already picked up maximum points in the intermediate sprint at Thones to extend his lead over Colombian Fernando Gaviria in the sprinters standings.
The second climb of the day to Plateau des Glieres featured a section on dirt roads. Alaphilippe led the breakaway group to pick up maximum points while further back in the peleton, Froome suffered a puncture on the rough track to fall further behind.
Tour de France 2018 Live
Froome recovered quickly to rejoin teammate Thomas but the Team Sky riders had fallen almost seven minutes behind Van Avermeat and the breakaway group.
With 30 km to go, the pace of the breakaway group quickened at the bottom of Col de Romme, the penultimate climb.
“You don’t build a team with all good riders, you build a team with riders with different qualities,” Steels told the AP. “You always have to have somebody to do the dirty job.”
That job sometimes includes joining a breakaway so the team has a rider in the front bunch, or using one’s body– like Declercq’s– to shield the team’s top riders from winds that make them spend valuable energy.
Then there are the inglorious chores of dropping back to the team car to load up on water bottles, food and, in rain or cold, jackets to distribute to the rest of the team.
Several riders, including Gilbert, were dropped quickly into the climb. Alaphilippe picked up his second win ahead of Rein Taaramäe, with Van Avermaet dropping back to around 90 seconds behind.
Alaphilippe increased his lead over Taaramäe in the descent before the final climb of the day, Col de la Colombiere, and with 20 km to go the French rider was 20 seconds in front.
Monday’s rest day will come in handy as the Tour de France heads into the Alps for the first time this year, with no fewer than four categorised climbs set to shake up the leaderboard as the general classification challengers come to the fore.
Starting in Annecy, the peloton will head south towards the Category 4 climb of Col de Bluffy, which arrives fewer than 20km into the stage, although that is nothing compared to the Category 1 Col de la Croix Fry that looms further on.
The stage also features sections of gravel roads before the final two Category 1 climbs of Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière, before the decent to the finish line 158.5km after they started.
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As the climb began, Alaphilippe increased the pace again while Taaramäe fell away. Alaphilippe,, who is already out of General Classification contention, was over one minute ahead as he reached the top of the Colombiere.
All that was left for Alaphilippe to do was descend the remaining 14 km to Le Grand Bornard, crossing the line one minute and 34 seconds ahead of Ion Izaguirre Insausti for his first Tour de France stage win.
After a long transfer and rest day, the 2018 Tour de France enters the Alps for the first of three stages that should begin identifying which overall contenders have a real shot at winning. In total, Stage 10 covers five categorized climbs, including the race’s first Hors Categorie (“Beyond Category”) climb.
Alaphilippe now leads the King of the Mountain standings and will wear the polka dot jersey during Stage 11. He also became the first French rider to win a stage this year.