L’Alpe D’Huez, France: Britain’s Geraint Thomas reinforced his grip on the Tour de France yellow jersey by winning a gripping 12th stage to the summit of Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.
Welshman Thomas, of Team Sky, took the lead of the race on Wednesday with victory atop La Rosiere on what was the second day in the Alps.
In a thrilling finale to the 175.5km race, the former track rider beat Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) by two seconds in a sprint to the line, with Frenchman Romain Bardet (AG2R) in third.
Earlier in the day, Andre Greipel and Fernando Gaviria joined four other big names on the scrapheap of the race.
Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen, who claimed his maiden stage win last year on the Champs Elysees and won stages seven and eight on this edition, was the first to get off his bike, before the halfway stage of the gruelling 12th stage held over 175.5km between Bourg d’Oisans and Alpe d’Huez.
It came a day after Britain’s Mark Cavendish, Australian Mark Renshaw and Katusha star Marcel Kittel were all eliminated after failing to make the time cut at the end of Wednesday’s 11th stage.
Between them, Cavendish (30), Kittel (14), Greipel (11) and Groenewegen (3) count 58 stage wins between them.
But shortly after Groenewegen’s abandon, Lotto-Soudal star Greipel called it a day as he struggled on the Col de la Croix de Fer.
“Le Tour loses another sprinter. After Kittel, Cavendish and Groenewegen, now Andre Greipel gives up,” said a brief statement by organisers.
Zabel (Katusha), the son former green jersey winner Erik Zabel, followed suit. And soon after, Fernando Gaviria (Quick Step) also got off his bike, becoming the second Colombian to abandon after last year’s runner-up, Rigoberto Uran, pulled out before the start of the stage.
Cavendish, who had been chasing Eddy Merckx’s record tally of 34 wins, crossed the line 1hr 05min 33sec on Wednesday.
Earlier, Thursday Tony Gallopin, a key helper for podium-chasing teammate Romain Bardet, pulled out to leave his AG2R team with just five riders.