EPERNAY (France): Julian Alaphilippe produced a magnificent show of power in stage three on Monday to give France its first win and take the overall lead in the 2019 Tour de France.
The win means a French rider has the overall leader’s yellow jersey for the first time in five years.
The Deceuninck-Quick Step rider took a huge gamble with his long range effort.
He slipped away from the pack after vying for bonus seconds on the penultimate climb, assuming a daredevil, aerodynamic crouch at the crest and breaking clear.
By the time he crossed the Marne, still an agonising 10km through the champagne vineyards from Epernay, he was almost a minute ahead.
Alaphilippe was strong enough to cling on and win by 26 seconds, despite a desperate effort from the pack to reel him in.
“I was really up for it today, so when I saw the chance I went all in,” said a red-faced Alaphilippe after his third ever stage win and his first yellow jersey.
“I should have waited until the end, I know, but I just went full gas when I saw the gap.” Amazingly, it is the first time a French rider has had the overall lead since Tony Gallopin wore yellow in 2014. Alaphilippe will be the toast of France tonight (Monday).
A small break in the chasing pack saw defending champion Geraint Thomas lose five seconds to his Team Ineos co-leader Colombian 22-year-old Egan Bernal and to French hope Thibaut Pinot.
“That climb where Alaphilippe went was steep and it was hard, but I just knew I didn’t have the legs to go for the bonus sprint,” Thomas said.
“Then it was just a case of getting to the finish and being safe,” said Thomas, whose Ineos team did much of the chasing.
The crowd on the last hill had been expecting a bare-knuckle struggle, but went wild as Alaphilippe came up alone and rose in his saddle to swagger over the last steep climb.
At the line, the 27-year-old former soldier had maintained enough power to establish a 20 second lead over Belgian prodigy Wout Van Aert in the overall standings.
“It’s actually only starting to sink in now that I have the jersey,” said Alaphilippe, who was close to tears.
The Tour crossed into France earlier in the stage after opening with two stages in Belgium. – AFP