A masterful display, a gutsy attack and a load of panache helped our rider regain cycling’s most prestigious garment ahead of Bastille Day.
Julian Alaphilippe enhanced his burgeoning reputation as one of the peloton’s most spectacular riders with a display of strength and class on the tough stage 8 of the Grande Boucle (Mâcon – Saint-Étienne, 200 kilometers), which took in seven classified climbs and some 3800 vertical meters as the peloton travelled south for the first leg of a double whammy in the Massif Central.
“I had nothing to lose, I felt good and I attacked. The goal was to take back the yellow jersey and having achieved that gives me a huge satisfaction. Wearing the maillot jaune for three days was incredible, but having it on my shoulders on our National Day will be really special and pretty amazing”, said Alaphilippe, who became just the third French rider this century to wear the maillot jaune on July 14.
Second in the overall standings at the start of the day, just six seconds off the lead, Julian pounced on the 14% gradients of Côte de La Jaillère, dropping everyone bar Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and collecting five bonus seconds. The duo opened in an instant a ten-second gap over the peloton and set off in pursuit of lone leader Thomas De Gendt (Soudal-Lotto), the last survivor of the breakaway. Several teams led the chase behind, but Alaphilippe and Pinot worked well together, leaving everything out there on the roads to Saint-Étienne, a stage finish for the 26th time in history.
Julian used a small unclassified ascent near the finish to produce another enormous acceleration and further increase the advantage together with his countryman, before concluding third for the team’s fourth podium on the race’s opening week. The new hero of the French public, Julian gained enough of a buffer over the thinned-out bunch to move back to the top of the general classification and ensure a fourth day in the coveted yellow jersey, a performance not seen from a home rider in the last eight years.
Alaphilippe’s perfectly-timed move and his performance oozed panache and earned him plaudits at the end of the day as he took to the podium to receive the prized maillot jaune in the applause of the fans gathered at the finish in Saint-Étienne: “It was a truly magnificent finale! I was focused all day and stayed near the front of the bunch, and when I felt it was the moment to go, I attacked. Thibaut bridged across and it was good to have him there, as we both had something to gain from this. We didn’t ask any questions, just kept on pushing and riding full gas. I’m sure the French public appreciated this action. Now I look forward to sporting the jersey on Sunday and honouring it again!”
Photo credit: ©Justin Setterfield/ Getty Images