While Pinot was escorted by his faithful Groupama-FDJ teammate David Gaudu in the final ascent toward Prat d’Albis, Alaphilippe was isolated without a single teammate to help him in the 12-kilometer climb, but he managed to salvage the yellow jersey.
Alaphilippe was so exhausted after his effort up the hill, where he grimaced through the rain, that he had to grip a roadside barrier afterward while he caught his breath.
“If I crack, I hope he’ll carry the torch for the French,” Alaphilippe said of Pinot.
Thomas, who had already conceded time to Pinot at the Tourmalet, remained second in the general classification. He was dropped when Pinot took the lead from a reduced group of contenders but did not panic. He rode at his pace until he accelerated with 1.5 kilometers left to cut the overall gap on Alaphilippe from 2:02 to 1:35. Steven Kruijswijk of the Netherlands stood third over all, 1:47 off the pace.
Thomas said after the stage that he could have tried to follow Pinot earlier but instead opted for a conservative approach because he did not want to bring back Alaphilippe to the front. Bernal was with Pinot, and Thomas would not take the risk of chasing down their common rival. Bernal, a Colombian with excellent climbing skills, remains involved in the fight for the yellow jersey, 2:02 behind Alaphilippe.
“I felt better than yesterday, but I needed to try to pace it when it all kicked off,” Thomas said. “It’s a difficult one, tactics-wise. I wanted to go, I had the legs to go, but I wasn’t going to chase down Egan Bernal with Alaphilippe on my wheel.”
Coming right after the ascent of the Tourmalet, Stage 15 ran close to the ancient Cathar castles and was a punishing ride totaling more than 39 kilometers of climbing.
Yates, the Vuelta defending champion, was given free rein by the peloton when he took part in an early breakaway, as he was not a threat over all. He made his decisive move about nine kilometers from the line.
“I’m very proud of that,” Yates said of his second victory at this Tour.