Pinot, Alaphilippe boost French hopes at Tour de France

Julian Alaphilippe back in yellow

Julian Alaphilippe back in yellow

"I will wear the yellow jersey on Bastille Day, for a Frenchman there is nothing better, " Alaphilippe said after finishing the stage in third place, just behind Pinot.

After five hours of exhaustion on the saddle across seven short but punishing climbs, Alaphilippe won back the yellow jersey with one of his trademark attacks, while Pinot asserted himself as a strong contender for the final victory, gaining 26 seconds on Thomas and the rest of the group of favourites, including Australian Richie Porte.

The French duo went at full tilt on the descent into St Etienne and held off a trimmed-down peloton at the finish, cheered on by huge crowds hoping to celebrate the first French victor of the Tour since 1985.

Alaphilippe now leads Italian Giulio Ciccone, who started the day in yellow, by 23 seconds and Pinot, who gained bonus seconds in the last ascent and at the finish, by 53 seconds.

On a 200km stage that featured seven categorised ascents and almost 4000m of climbing, riders finished in dribs and drabs behind a 35-man peloton - some still coming home almost half an hour later.

Thomas De Gendt's masterful breakaway victory was the full stop on a memorably chaotic afternoon on the rollercoaster roads to Saint-Etienne that blew the peloton to smithereens.

Alaphilippe and Pinot launched their move on the final climb but could not reel him in.

Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 champion, dropped out of contention when he cracked on the Cote de la Jaillere and reached the line 4:25 off the pace.

Once back in the pack, the Welshman, who is two seconds behind Kiwi George Bennett, did not move when Alaphilippe and Pinot went away.

"I'm fine but it was just frustrating", he said. "It was a key moment in the race". 'Woods crashed, and just took out Gianni and me.

Moscon's bike was snapped in half in the crash. I got tangled in Gianni's bike and took some time to get going.

"It's annoying, but at the same time, to come back like I did shows I had good legs".

De Gendt rode away immediately after the 200km stage from Macon kicked off alongside three other riders, and was the last survivor of the leading quartet not to be caught by the peleton.

"If I hadn't crashed I could have followed (Pinot and Alaphilippe) and it's a totally different story then. Still a lot of racing to go though".

Sunday's hilly ninth stage runs 170.5 kilometres (105.9 miles) from Saint-Etienne to Brioude.