Julian Alaphilippe collects his 16th yellow jersey after a quiet day in the saddle.
Many were expecting a ferocious battle for the breakaway at the start of stage 3, but the actual fight to feature at the front during the 198km trek between Nice and Sisteron concluded after the first kilometer. Four riders jumped from the peloton and padded out their lead to four minutes, before three of them decided to drop out of the group, leaving only Jerome Cousin (Total Direct Energie) in the lead.
Back in the peloton, Julian Alaphilippe was enjoying his 15th day in the yellow jersey, a record among this year’s Tour de France starters. The whole Deceuninck – Quick-Step team rallied around the overall leader, Danish Champion Kasper Asgreen, Dries Devenyns, Tim “El Tractor” Declercq, TGV of Clermont-Ferrand” Rémi Cavagna devoted all their energy working for Alaphilippe and maintaining a steady pace.
Eventually, the catch was made 16 kilometers from Sisteron, a stage finish for the first time at the Tour and one of the most picturesque in southern France, whose imposing Citadelle resembled Tolkien’s Gondor – Men’s greatest realm at the end of the Third Age towers over the historic center. Going into the closing kilometers, Julian Alaphilippe and Bob Jungels took over the pace-making, before Michael Mørkøv dropped off Sam Bennett in a perfect position with 150 meters to go.
That was the moment the Irish Champion opened his sprint, pouncing clear thanks to a rapid acceleration, only to be denied in the closing meters by Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and the strong headwind on the finishing straight. His runner-up place – best result at the Tour de France – helped the 29-year-old reduce the gap to the green jersey classification leader to a mere five points.
“The guys provided a great lead-out, but the headwind was really strong and made it easy from somebody in the back to come off the wheels. I didn’t have the best legs, but I wouldn’t change anything. I think it’s a matter of luck and hope that I’ll have some reasons to smile soon”, said Bennett in Sisteron.
Julian Alaphilippe safely concluded the stage and retained the yellow jersey, which on Tuesday he will wear for the 16th time in his career on the roads taking to Orcières-Merlette, the race’s first summit finish.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images