Tom Pidcock has added an iconic Tour de France stage win to his impressive palmares by claiming victory on L’Alpe d’Huez at the end of a long solo ascent.
The cyclocross world champion and Olympic mountain biking gold medallist attacked from Thursday’s breakaway with more than 10km left in the final climb, a 13.8-km effort at 8.1% and never looked back.
“It’s one of the best experiences in my life,” said Tour debutant Pidcock after the 12th stage, a 165.1-km trek from Briancon.
Fending off a sea of fans, flags and flares, Pidcock finished ahead of South African Louis Meintjes and four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, who received some of the day’s biggest cheers as he enjoyed his best performance since a career-threatening crash in 2019.
Overall leader Jonas Vingegaard came under attack from defending champion Tadej Pogacar in the finale, but it was too little, too late by the Slovenian, who lost his yellow jersey on Wednesday when he cracked in the final ascent to the Col du Granon.
Vingegaard still leads Pogacar by two minutes, 22 seconds as the 23-year-old champion leapfrogged Romain Bardet into second overall after the Frenchman lost touch in the last kilometres.
Pidcock’s team leader Geraint Thomas, the previous winner at L’Alpe d’Huez in 2018, finished with Vingegaard and Pogacar and now sits in third place overall, 2:26 off the pace.
Bardet slipped down to fourth, a further nine seconds adrift.
The nine-man breakaway included Froome, who has been struggling to rediscover his form since he sustained multiple serious injuries three years ago, as well as Pidcock.
They built an advantage of seven minutes, which started to melt in the searing heat when Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert took a massive turn at the front of the bunch.
The lead was down to 4:15 when the peloton reached the Col de la Croix de Fer.
Pidcock rode the descent at breakneck speed with dazzling skill to widen the gap again and the leading group started the ascent to L’Alpe d’Huez (13.8km at 8.1%) with a six-minute lead.
Pidcock was the first to attack, 10.5km from the line, dropping Neilson Powless and Giulio Ciccone for good.
Meintjes and Froome lost contact but had the Ineos-Grenadiers rider in their sights until another acceleration by the 22-year-old Pidcock buried their last hopes of victory.
In the group of favourites, a brutal acceleration by Vingegaard’s teammate Primoz Roglic dropped Nairo Quintana and David Gaudu.
An acceleration from another Jumbo-Visma rider, Sepp Kuss, distanced Bardet and Adam Yates.
Pogacar jumped away twice within the last four kilometres, hoping to gain revenge on Vingegaard a day after the Dane made him crack in the mountains.
Vingegaard, however, followed with apparent ease to stay firmly in control of the race.
Australia’s top performer remains Nick Schulz, who finished 33rd on the stage and is now 32nd overall, 56:46 behind.
All six remaining Aussies survived the time cut, with Caleb Ewan, who was 154th – 38:25 behind on the day – battling on to take his chances in the sprint stages to come.