An all-out attack with 16 kilometers to go paved the way for a memorable victory in the land of champagne.
Exhausted, overcome with emotion and in seventh heaven – that’s how Julian Alaphilippe crossed the finish line of the 215km-long Tour de France stage 3, after uncorking a tremendous attack on the last classified climb of the day and keeping the chasers behind on the rolling terrain taking to Épernay, a stage finish for the first time in 56 years.
The win, his 11th of a stellar season, that includes triumphs also in Milano-Sanremo, Flèche Wallonne and Strade Bianche moved Alaphilippe into the yellow jersey, as he became the first Frenchman to wear the prestigious garment in the year it celebrates a century, closing a five-year gap, the longest in the history of the race without a home rider in the iconic yellow jersey.
“It’s an incredible feeling. Before the Tour I was dreaming of this scenario, to take the win and the yellow jersey here, so I was really focused, although I knew it was going to be difficult. I rode full gas and gave everything, and to take also yellow together with this victory is definitely one of the best moments of my career”, a delighted Julian said after being congratulated by the Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammates and staff.
Monday’s stage was one of the longest at this year’s edition, but that didn’t bother our squad, who duly took the front of the peloton and cut a significant chunk of time from the escapees’ six-minute advantage by the time they entered in the final 50 kilometers. Another injection of pace further shrunk the gap and resulted in four of the five leaders being brought back before the 900m Côte de Mutigny, a short but nasty and narrow climb averaging 12.2%.
That’s where Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s 27-year-old rider launched an explosive burst as soon as Dries Devenyns finished his top job at the head of the pack and rode away from the thinned-out bunch, catching the last survivor of the breakaway over the top of the hill and powering clear on the descent, where he nudged out his lead to 50 seconds. The long roads didn’t quite play into his favour, but Alaphilippe was unfazed by this and continued to push the pedal to the medal, riding at a 47.2km/h average through the famous vineyards of the Marne department.
Going into the closing kilometer, Julian possessed a 20-second margin over the chasers, which proved sufficient for him to notch up with panache a third career stage victory at the Tour de France and ensure a spell in the maillot jaune – the sixth different Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider since 2003 to pull on the famous jersey.
“The team protected me throughout the day and I tried to save energy before the final kilometers. Then, on the Mutigny, I asked Dries to up the tempo so I could assert the situation on the climb, before going full gas and never looking behind. I didn’t plan to go solo, but I continued to push and stretched out my advantage to nearly one minute. I knew the finale, I knew that it suited me, but it’s always difficult to meet the expectations when you are the favourite”, said Julian after becoming the 85th Frenchman to wear the leader’s jersey. “I am speechless, I am living a dream in this moment and all I want to do now is savour this unbelievable moment together with my team.”
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images