Sam Bennett extends his cushion in the points classification after a brutal day in the Alps.
Julian Alaphilippe returned to the Tour de France podium, at the end of stage 17, to collect the prize awarded to the most aggressive rider of the day. Starting from Grenoble, the city where the first ever yellow jersey was awarded 101 years ago, the 170km leg contained two monstrous climbs – Col de la Madeleine and Col de la Loze – the latter making its debut on the race, and our rider was one of its main protagonists.
A brace of attacks from Julian ignited the stage and helped a large group emerge from the peloton, building a 20-second gap. Despite the numerous men in the front, the break didn’t quite work, prompting Alaphilippe to get out of the saddle again on a short unclassified climb and make a selection, only four riders being capable of matching his tempo. Despite not being as sizeable as the first move, this group worked well together and padded their advantage to six minutes by the bottom of the Madeleine.
First used in 1969, this climb has become since then a classic on the Tour de France route, the most recent visit there being in 2018, when Julian was first at the top. Despite looking very promising at one point, the escapees’ chances of making it went up in smoke following a sudden change in the pace of the bunch, which cut down their gap to just two minutes by the time they crested the summit.
Alaphilippe pressed on the descent, injecting a new rhythm to the group, which ended up consisting of just three riders. His forcing helped the trio gain more than a minute, but despite this valiant all-out effort they were clawed back by the GC favourites on the torturous gradients of Col de la Loze, which in some sections exceeded 20%. It was there that Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) attacked and soloed to victory, ahead of Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), who retained the yellow jersey.
Julian took to the podium after the stage to collect the most combative rider of the stage prize, a well-deserved reward for the 28-year-old Frenchman, who was once again one of the race’s main animators, featuring in the break on both Alpine stages: “I knew what we would face today, as I did a recon with Dries and Bob a couple of weeks ago. To be honest, it wasn’t my goal to be in the break, but I felt good and attacked, and when I saw we had a gap I just kept pushing. You never know what can happen, so it’s always worth trying. It’s always nice to get the combativity trophy and really special to be again on the Tour de France podium.”
A bit later, his Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammate Sam Bennett made it home with plenty of minutes to spare and will wear the green jersey on the last Alpine stage for the tenth time at this edition. On top of that, the 29-year-old Irish Champion added two more points to his tally in the classification, which he leads by a margin of 47 points over his closest rival.
“It was a tough one today. I put in a good fight at the beginning, tried to get some points and did it with the help of Michael. Then on the first climb it was quite ok, but towards the end it became harder, as the climb was in steps and the rhythm always changed. But I am glad that I ticked it off and will continue to fight for this jersey”, said Bennett atop Col de la Loze.
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