The Italian got his second victory for Deceuninck – Quick-Step and is the race’s first leader.
Davide Ballerini won a thrilling sprint at the end of a thrilling stage 1 of the Tour de la Provence, capitalising on an out-of-this-world lead-out provided by his Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammates, which included Julian Alaphilippe, despite the World Champion animating the day with a long-range attack.
Making his first competitive outing of the year, Julian zipped clear on the early slopes of Montée du Brûlat, following several punchy attacks of Rémi Cavagna, Kasper Asgreen and Mauri Vansevenant, and together with Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) and Gianni Moscon (Ineos Grenadiers) carved out a solid 1:20 gap inside 40 kilometers to go. The rugged terrain and the tailwind played into their favour until ten kilometers remaining, when the exposed coastal roads got that advantage trimmed to a handful of seconds.
Not even having the peloton breathing on their necks could stop Alaphilippe from oozing panache and launching one final attack over the top of a small rise inside three kilometers to go, that forced the chasers to dig deep in order to bring him in. Once the catch was made, the 28-year-old Frenchman remained at the front and delivered a huge effort as part of the Deceuninck – Quick-Step lead-out, which also featured Kasper Asgreen and Yves Lampaert.
“We had a plan, and that was to try something after the first 100 kilometers of the stage, so I went with around 70 kilometers to go and got to spend a beautiful day at the front. The legs were good and together with the other two riders I shared the workload at the front. When the gap went over one minute, I still knew it was going to be difficult, but I still gave my best. At the end of the day, I am satisfied with my condition and the way it panned out for us”, explained Julian after the stage.
First to kick out on the finishing straight was Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), who opened a significant gap on the others. With the wind blowing from the right side in Six-Fours-les-Plages, Davide Ballerini timed it perfectly and surged down the barriers some 150 meters from the line, shooting past the Frenchman and opening his 2021 account, thus giving the Wolfpack a perfect start to the season.
“I had good legs coming into the race after the training camp, but I didn’t expect anything like this. We have a very strong team for this race and are all extremely motivated, so to get the win on the first day is just great. A big thank you goes to all the guys, because they put in an incredible effort and were pretty special the entire day.”
“The final wasn’t easy. Démare took six meters, but I found the space to come back, as well as the speed I needed to pass him. To win so early, and in front of one of last year’s best sprinters, is good for the confidence and brings me a lot of joy”, added Ballerini, who on Friday will sport the race’s Mondrian-style leader’s jersey.
Photo credit: ©Billy Ceusters