Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) stormed to a magnificent victory on stage three of the Tour de France 2019 to claim the first yellow jersey for the French in five years.
Michael Matthews (Sunweb) finished second, leading the bunch over the line 26 seconds behind the Frenchman, with Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) third and Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) closing out the top five.
Alaphilippe had attacked with 16km to go up the Côte de Mutigny, catching Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) who was the last to be caught from the day's break, as they crested the summit and taking the bonus seconds on offer.
Picking up a tailwind, Alaphilippe pushed on, eyeing up the yellow jersey as the current wearer Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) faded towards the end of the race and finished minutes behind.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos) lost five seconds after being on the wrong side of a countable gap in the peloton across the finish line. Interestingly, his team-mate Egan Bernal was on the right side of that split.
How it happened
After 150km of flat, the final 65km of stage three threw up a number of climbs to thwart the pure sprinters and hand the advantage to the likes of Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe and Michael Matthews. The final climb of the day, the Côte de Mutigny, would provide the first summit bonus seconds of this year's Tour, with a further seven climbs offering up a maximum of eight bonus seconds at each of their summits.
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) made himself known, as if anyone was everyone in doubt of his inclusion in a Tour de France, by hitting the front of the peloton almost immediately after the flag dropped and stretching the bunch to breaking point.
Jumbo-Visma sent Tony Martin up to the front to police things, and after De Gendt subsided a group of five went up the road.
Stage one's combativity prize winner Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) made it into the breakaway once again, accompanied by Tour escapee specialists Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Anthony Delaplace (Arkéa-Samsic), as well as Paul Ourselin (Total Direct Energie) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal).
With the four wildcard teams present in the day's break, all was in order and the peloton allowed them to gain an advantage of five minutes after 60km of racing.
Kasper Asgreen was doing a lot of the work at the front of the peloton, working for Deceuninck - Quick-Step as they looked to set up stage favourite Julian Alaphilippe, cutting the break's advantage by a minute.
Ourselin, riding his debut Tour, won the intermediate sprint, as Elia Viviani (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) then took the peloton over the sprint point, leading from Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Michael Matthews (Sunweb).
With Asgreen still leading the peloton and the Jumbo-Visma train on his wheel, the gap fell to 2-20 with 80km to go.
As the nerves maybe began to jitter a bit as the peloton headed towards the pointy end of the day's racing, a crash in the bunch brought down the CCC pair of Paddy Bevin and Simon Geschke, with Ben King (Dimension Data) also involved as well as Michael Matthews, who was paced back up to the bunch by team-mate Nicolas Roche.
Sensing the fight was going out of the breakaway, Tim Wellens attacked, 5.5km from the summit Côte de Nanteuil-la-Fôret and 48.5km from the finish.
Many riders inexplicably began puncturing on what appeared to be newly tarmacked roads. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) had to borrow the wheel of team-mate Oliver Naesen and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) was also unlucky.
With 30km to go, the remnants of the breakaway were caught by the peloton as Wellens maintained a gap of 1-49 over the bunch.
As the peloton hit the third category Côte d’Hautvillers Deceuninck - Quick-Step hit the front and ramped up the pace.
Looking to make things difficult for the pure sprinters and get a guarantee that they wouldn't have the legs for the finish, they did just that as Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was distanced from the pack, the Australian the most likely of the pure fast men to make it up the closing inclines.
While Wellens took another two king of the mountains points, Omar Fraile (Astana) accelerated as the peloton approached the summit, with team-mate Jakob Fuglsang in his wheel. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) made a late surge to pip Fraile to the line and take the remaining KoM point on offer.
Wellens' advantage at the summit of the penultimate climb, the Côte de Champillon, had fallen to 1-10, with Mike Teunissen hanging on to the back of the bunch and also his chances of staying in the yellow jersey tomorrow.
As he hit the start of the final climb, the Côte de Mutigny, averaging 12 per cent over 900m, Wellens had only a 56 second gap. Dries Devenyns led the bunch onto the climb for Deceuninck - Quick-Step as Omar Fraile once again accelerated. With Devenyns burnt, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) took over, with Alaphilippe in second wheel.
Ilnur Zakarin and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) looked to be in trouble as the peloton stormed up the climb, now in full view of Wellens who could see them over his shoulder.
Picking his moment, Alaphilippe attacked halfway up, catching Wellens at the summit, but coming across the line second and only taking five of the maximum eight bonus seconds on offer.
Alaphilippe left Wellens in his dust as he went off alone, only 15km of road between him and the finish line providing an opportunity to take the yellow jersey as Teunissen was dropped on the climb and being distanced.
Jumbo-Visma took up the chase, with Wout van Aert 31 seconds ahead of Alaphilippe in the general classification and able to take over the yellow jersey from Teunissen for Jumbo-Visma.
The riders who chased Alaphilippe up the climb formed a chase group, with Mikel Landa (Movistar), Michael Woods (EF Education First) Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Lutsenko setting off in pursuit of the Frenchman.
Alaphilippe had a lead of 25 seconds with 10km to go, with Landa's chase group soon reeled in by the peloton, as Teunissen dropped to a gap of 1-20 behind the Deceuninck - Quick-Step rider.
Over the next 2km Alaphilippe took out another 25 seconds advantage, and was sailing towards the stage win and yellow jersey, but saw his gap falling back down as Sunweb and CCC began to help with the chase, as well as EF Education First.
With 4km to go, Alaphilippe looked to be fading, holding a 30 second advantage, but he managed to maintain his gap as he hit a downhill section where the peloton would struggle to make up time.
With 2km to go the Frenchman had taken his lead back out to 35 seconds, maintaining it as he started to head back uphill and under the last km banner.
Punching the air across the finish line, Alaphilippe took his third Tour stage victory and started the anxious wait to see if he'd done enough to take a first yellow jersey for France since Tony Gallopin in 2014.
Michael Matthews took the peloton over the line 26 seconds later, giving Alaphilippe the overall lead by 20 seconds to Wout van Aert. With the severe gradients in the final, gaps opened up in the pack, with Egan Bernal (Ineos) the last rider of a front group across the line before a countable gap, which his team-mate Geraint Thomas was on the wrong side of.
Thomas lost five seconds, as the gap is counted from the first rider of the group ahead, and sits in seventh on GC, one place behind Bernal.
Tour de France 2019, stage three: Binche to Épernay - (215km)
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, in 4-40-29
2. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb, at 26 seconds
3. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
6. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
7. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
8. Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
9. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, all at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, in 9-32-19
2. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, at 20 seconds
3. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 25s
4. George Bennett (NZl) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
5. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb, at 40s
6. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos, at same time
7. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos, at 45s
8. Enric Mas (Esp) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 46s
9. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC, at 51s
10. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at same time
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