Julian Alaphilippe is back in yellow — but for how long?
Stage two of the 2020 Tour de France played out largely as expected, with many people’s tip, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) claiming victory.
As expected, the first two mountains whittled down the peloton, with the sprinters all being shed. And as expected, Alaphilippe produced one of his devastating punchy attacks on the final climb, breaking clear with Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Marc Hirschi (Sunweb), and winning the three-man sprint at the finish to become the new leader of the general classification.
Less predictable is what happens next. Last year the Frenchman famously defied expectations with his climbing and still had the jersey until just before the final weekend. Can a repeat of last year’s heroics really be on the cards?
He claimed before the race that the GC is not his target, and the line-up his Deceuninck-Quick-Step selected (featuring just Bob Jungels as a super-domestique) suggests that he wasn’t bluffing. But we know enough about the Frenchman to be sure that he’ll dig as deep as possible to keep hold of the jersey for as long as possible, and his ride today indicates that he is in good form.
Alaphilippe’s courageous defence of the yellow jersey was the defining narrative of the 2019 Tour de France. Will the 2020 Tour de France be its sequel?
Adam Yates falls just short, but has yellow in his sights
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) went into the Tour stating that stage wins was his main goal. Had things gone just a little different today, he would already have achieved that after just two days.
Having joined the leading duo of Alaphilippe and Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) with a lightning-fast acceleration on the final climb, and then bettering Alaphilippe in a sprint for bonus seconds, Yates might have triumphed at the finish had he timed his sprint better.
Surprisingly, given his consistently aggressive performances in recent years, Adam Yates has never won a Grand Tour stage, let alone one in the Tour de France, so will rue such a near miss. In this form, another chance will surely come later in the race.
For now, however, should his attention shift towards prizing yellow away from Alaphilippe? With the bonus seconds collected at the intermediate sprint, Yates lies just four seconds behind Alaphilippe, and has a handy buffer of 13 seconds over all of the main GC riders.
With a couple more mountainous finishes to come before the race reaches the Pyrenees, could Adam Yates become the latest British rider to adorn the yellow jersey? Watch this space.
The favourites ride defensively
Understandably given how many of them were left battered and bruised from yesterday’s bloodbath of a stage, the main favourites for GC all decided to hold back today.
No significant attacks were made on either of the day’s four climbs, and even Alaphilippe’s acceleration towards the end was allowed to go unchecked.
Once again, there were significant crashes. Today it was Dani Martínez’s turn to take a tumble, and despite being expertly paced back to the peloton by British team-mate Hugh Carthy, was dropped on the final climb and lost 3-38. The young Colombian is finding out how much more difficult it is to win the three-week behemoth that is the Tour de France, even compared with the prestigious Critérium du Dauphiné he won earlier this month.
Another faller was Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma), who had the unusual misfortune of crashing on an uphill. Thankfully he was able to remount instantly, and returned to the peloton within moments.
As for yesterday’s casualties, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana) both showed no obvious signs of any injuries sustained yesterday, as they both finished safely in the group of favourites.
And a special mention for Pinot’s chief mountains domestique David Gaudu, who looked a finished man at the start of the day when he was adrift and alone out the back within minutes, but recovered to finish in a group 17-45 behind.
The battle for green takes shape
Although this was not a day for the sprinters, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) still managed to pick up points in the green jersey classification, putting in the hard yards that always gives him the edge in that competition.
While Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) and three other sprinters all had a superior kick to him in yesterday’s bunch finish, Sagan was able to gain significant inroads today. He used his power to get into the day’s first breakaway during the intense flurry of activity at the start of the stage, allowing him to sprint for second at the intermediate sprint prior to the first climb and gain 17 points.
This is the kind of manoeuvre Sagan has used time and time again during his eight-year domination of the points classification. The Tour’s official website calculates that this is the 23rd time he has featured in a breakaway at the Tour — a remarkable number for a rider who also contests virtually every bunch sprint.
Interestingly, he was not the only green jersey contender initially present in that break. Bahrain-McLaren’s Matteo Trentin, who was 12th in yesterday’s sprint, joined him, and even showed a superior turn of speed to claim maximum points at the sprint. Another versatile rider who has also won bunch finishes in the past, the Italian has all the ingredients to at least challenge Sagan.
Trentin ends the day third in the points classification, 10 points behind Sagan, who is himself 20 points behind Alexander Kristoff. Despite being dropped as expected on the day’s climbs, Kristoff swaps yellow for green, and showed his intent to challenge for the jersey by picking up points at the intermediate sprint.
We may only be two days into the race, but these three riders appear like they may be the frontrunners in the race for green.
A close fight for polka-dots
Although the first breakaway of the day never gained enough of a gap to have a chance of contesting for stage victory, the two first category climbs tackled during its first half gave the riders in it a chance to at least gain enough points in the mountains classification to take ownership of the polka-dot jersey.
The battle for points at each summit boiled down to a two-man contest between two Frenchmen — Benôit Cosnefroy (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Anthony Perez (Cofidis). As two French riders belonging to teams with relatively modest ambitions, both of whom are reasonable climbers without being first-rate, both fit the bill for the kind of rider who competes for the polka-dot jersey during the early days of the Tour.
While the genuine contenders to win the mountains competition outright don’t emerge until later in the race, when we reach the serious Alpine and Pyrenean stages, these early stages give young riders like Cosnefroy a chance to make a name for themselves, and less heralded riders like Perez possibly the best hope they have of featuring on the podium at the end of the stage.
Although both ended the day neck-and-neck on points, Consnefroy will wear the jersey as he finished the stage with a better position on GC.
However, hope is not yet lost for Perez. With four more climbs tomorrow, he could gain the single point he needs to prize the jersey from his compatriot’s shoulders. It may only be a minor subplot in the context of the whole Tour, but would mean a lot to the Frenchman if he can do it.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.