Alaphilippe wins, and in style
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was widely tipped to triumph on today’s stage, but not quite in the manner that he did.
A series of short, steep hills in the finale was certain to thin out the bunch a rule out the pure sprinters, but a distance of 16km from the peak of the final classified climb and the uphill drag to the finish meant a strategy of holding back and waiting for a final sprint appeared most advisable.
However, Alaphilippe used that climb to launch an explosive attack off the front of the peloton, which no other rider could match. A large gap of 50 seconds was quickly opened up and, despite being reduced to closer to 30 seconds, proved enough of a buffer for the Frenchman to seal his third career Tour stage victory.
The result is also great news for France on the day that the race entered the country for the first time this year - in fact, Alaphilippe becomes the earliest French stage winner at a Tour de France since Sylvain Chavanel won stage three at the 2010 edition.
Better still, the result also means that Alaphilipe inherits the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, another fine achievement in what has been a sensational season for the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider.
Don’t write him off keeping it for a long time, too. Stage six’s finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles will be his biggest test, but with a handy 20 second lead over second place Wout van Aert on GC (and 25 seconds over the highest recognised climbing specialist, Steven Kruijswijk), plus the added motivation that comes with wearing the famous jersey, Alaphilippe just might survive that climb as race leader.
Teunissen’s day in yellow
Today was the chance for unlikely stage one winner Mike Teunissen to really savour wearing the yellow jersey. Yesterday might have been his first day in the maillot jaune, but there wouldn’t have been much time to take in his achievement during the short, intense effort of the team time trial, and he hardly stood out given the colour scheme of his surrounding Jumbo-Visma team-mates.
With a straightforward start of flat roads, there was however plenty of time today for Teunissen to enjoy the cheering crowds and love bestowed upon the leader of the Tour de France.
He had stated his intent to try and defend the jersey, but the final succession of climbs proved a bridge too far. He was dangling off the back on the penultimate Cote de Champillon effort, and was then dropped for good on the tough Côte de Mutigny.
Rather than drop back in support of Teunissen, Jumbo-Visma reverted to riding for Wout van Aert, who was now the virtual yellow jersey, however they were unable to bring back Alaphilippe and will have to cede the overall lead to the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider.
They’ll have plenty more to fight for in the coming days, with Dylan Groenewegen hoping to mix it up in tomorrow’s expected bunch sprint, and Steven Kruijswijk preparing for the first day of major climbing come stage six. Following his brief spell in the spotlight, Teunissen will revert back to playing a crucial role as a domestique helping to deliver these goals.
Minimal GC losses, but Bernal gains seconds
The frenzy of short steep climbs made movement in the GC among the top favourites possible, but any losses sustained were ultimately kept to a minimum.
There were no surprise attacks or unfortunate crashes/mechanicals to report, meaning everyone remains in pretty much the same situation as after yesterday’s team time trial.
However, a small gap at the finish line towards the front of the peloton was deemed by the organisers as enough to be recognised as a split in the peloton, meaning everyone caught the right side of it gained five seconds.
Intriguingly, the gap in the peloton was between Egan Bernal and his Ineos co-leader Geraint Thomas (with Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot the only other favourite ahead of Bernal).
It’s hardly a significant amount of time, but it does mean that so long as the two team-mates to finish together on the same time, Bernal will continue to remain narrowly ahead on GC - which could, at some stage, lead to him donning the yellow jersey.
Those five seconds might yet turn out to be crucial.
Wellens on the attack for the polka-dot jersey
For the second successive road stage, a surprisingly big name went out for an early breakaway.
On Saturday it was Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), eager to show his face on his beloved Flandrian roads, and today Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) followed in his stead as the only rider from a WorldTour team to get into the day’s break.
Like Van Avermaet, Wellens had his designs on the polka-dot jersey, and attacked the rest of the break on the first of the late flurry of four classified climbs to take maximum points on all of them.
It was fun to see Wellens up the road indulging his attacking instincts, even though it was clear that hanging on for stage victory was virtually impossible, and his efforts underlines just how prestigious a feat it is to wear the famous polka-dot jersey at the Tour de France.
Peter Sagan already in green
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) winning the green jersey these days almost feels like a formality, and indeed the six-time winner has already climbed to the top of the points classification with a fifth place finish today.
He might at least face some competition from the man who won the jersey in his absence in 2017, Michael Matthews. The Sunweb rider had the beating of him in the uphill sprint, claiming second place to remain just 17 seconds adrift from the Slovak.
Third place finisher Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) could also be a dark horse for the classification, having already shown his form with a top-10 finish on stage one. As could Sonny Colbrelli, who is third in the classification following another solid finish in seventh.
Tomorrow will be a chance for the pure sprinters to gain ground, although the absence of Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) from today’s intermediate sprint suggests that they aren’t targeting the jersey.
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