VAL THORENS, France (AP) — For Julian Alaphilippe, the Tour de France proved to be just 148 kilometers (92 miles) too long.
But the French rider who did more than anyone to set the 2019 edition alight finished how he started: Giving every ounce of energy he had.
Even truncated by landslides, the last two Alpine stages slashed from a planned 256 kilometers (159 miles) to a total of just 148 still proved too high and too long for Alaphilippe — an instinctive, enterprising rider who was so strong on smaller, punchier climbs earlier in the race, turning them into a playground where he put others on the back foot.
Grinding up the Tour's last climb to the Val Thorens ski station on Saturday, falling so far behind that he'll no longer be on the podium in Paris on Sunday, Alaphilippe rode past French fans' placards thanking him for the 14 days he spent in yellow, way longer than anyone else, during which he filled their hearts with hope that he could preserve the race lead to Paris.
But eventually, he just ran of energy, and the mountains became too high.
"It was really incredible," Alaphilippe said Saturday before the stage. "I'll not forget the public support."
When Alaphilippe lost the jersey on Friday on the Tour's highest climb to Egan Bernal, who on Sunday will be crowned Colombia's first Tour champion, and with French rider Thibaut Pinot pulling up with a left-thigh injury, the hard reality finally sank in for France that its 34-year drought without a Tour title will go on.
But Alaphilippe made sure this Tour will be remembered as a heck of a ride.
"A big hats off to him," said Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion who'll stand next to Bernal on the Paris podium as runner-up this year. "It was incredible how he stepped up."
Alaphilippe started the last Alpine stage on Saturday in second place, making him a target for the Jumbo-Visma team of Steven Kruijswijk, who wanted to dislodge him and place the Dutch rider on the podium instead.
The furious pace set by Kruijswijk's support riders up the ascent soon made Alaphilippe crack.
He'll now finish an honorable fifth in Paris. Not what French fans hoped for.
But his exploits at this Tour will live long in the memory: The Stage 3 victory into the Champagne town of Epernay; his high-adrenaline and unexpected win in the Stage 13 time trial; and fighting to get back the yellow jersey on Stage 8 and then keeping it like a dog with a bone until Bernal finally flew away from him on the Iseran pass on Friday's Stage 19, which was cut short by a violent hailstorm and a landslide.
At the top at Val Thorens, Alaphilippe slumped onto the tarmac, his last reserves spent.
"He fought until the very end," Thomas said. "He certainly deserved to be on that podium."
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