Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) took the yellow jersey of the Tour de France 2020 after winning stage two ahead of Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) in Nice.
Alaphilippe had attacked on the final climb of the stage with just over 13km to go, taking Hirschi with him, before they were joined by Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
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The trio were narrowly able to hold off the chasing peloton with Alaphilippe launching his sprint with 200m to go. Hirschi came quickly from behind but was unable to catch the Frenchman before the line.
Yates rolled in just behind in third, narrowly ahead of the peloton which was led by Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) who took fourth and Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling), who took fifth.
Alaphilippe, who wore yellow for 14 stages in last year’s Tour, now leads the race by four seconds ahead of Yates thanks to time bonuses on the line, with Hirschi at seven seconds in third.
How it happened
Unusually for such an early stage of the Tour de France, the peloton faced a gruelling day of climbing out and back from Nice on the second day of racing.
With so many riders nursing wounds from the chaotic opening stage, everyone would have been relieved to see the glorious sunshine above them for the 186km test that included two category one climbs; the Col de la Comiane and the Col de Turini. The race then headed over the Col d’Eze and the Col des Quatre Chemins before a flat finish in Nice.
Eight riders decided to take it upon themselves to get in the break, with two of them, Matteo Trentin (CCC Team) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) only interested in claiming the intermediate sprint points after 16km. Joining them in the break were riders more suited to the mountainous terrain, including Sagan’s team-mate Lukas Pöstleberger, Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r La Mondiale), Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo), Anthony Perez (Cofidis) and Michael Gogl (NTT).
Sagan, wearing the green jersey while stage one winner Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) donned the yellow jersey, was unable to stop Trentin from claiming the maximum points at the intermediate sprint; the pair the only riders from the break to compete for the points. Once that was done and dusted, Italian Trentin dropped back to the peloton not far behind. Sagan meanwhile continued with the six other breakaway riders, with whom he established a maximum advantage of around 3-15 on the bunch.
That maximum gap was fairly fleeting, but things remained fairly serene for the break as they pushed on with UAE Team Emirates leading the peloton behind.
Over the Col de la Comiane, Cosnefroy took maximum king of the mountains points with the break regrouping on the descent with just over two minutes in hand. On the next climb, the Col du Turini, both Cosnefroy and Sagan were dropped from the break and while Sagan was unable to find his way back to the first group, Frenchman Cosnefroy admirably made it back to compete for the KOM points, taking second place behind Perez. The young Frenchman would end the day in the polka-dot jersey by virtue of finishing ahead of Perez on the stage.
Back in the peloton, race leader Alexander Kristoff was dropped with around 90km to go, as the bunch began to chase the break in earnest.
The break stayed together on the long descent from the Turini into Nice, but with just over a minute’s advantage, things weren’t looking promising for their chances of winning the stage.
As they worked their way through Nice towards the Col d’Eze, they had but a handful of seconds and were eventually all absorbed by the peloton as they reached the climb, with Toms Skujiņš the last to take his place in the peloton at just under 40km to go.
Over the Col d’Eze, the GC teams took control of the bunch to prevent anyone attempting to slip away, with Jumbo-Visma protecting their leader Primož Roglič as they passed the summit with 33km to go.
With just under 30km remaining, Daniel Martínez (EF Pro Cycling) crashed on the descent and faced a tough fight to get back to the bunch after dropping over a minute behind. A slow down in the bunch as they races through the finish line for the first time allowed the Colombian to latch back on to the rear of the peloton, though he was later dropped again on the final climb.
As the race hit the final climb, Deceuninck-Quick-Step moved to the front with Bob Jungels leading Julian Alaphilippe with Jumbo-Visma tracking them behind. Alaphilippe then attacked with 13.3km to go, pursued immediately by Marc Hirschi.
Behind, Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) hit the deck after touching wheels with Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos), but managed to regroup quickly and make it back to the remaining riders in the bunch which was led by his team-mates.
With 11.2km to go, Adam Yates counter-attacked and took off after the leading pair, quickly catching them 11 seconds up the road.
The trio made it over the climb at 8.8km to go with 15 seconds advantage; Yates taking the eight second time bonus atop the climb ahead of Alaphilippe, who took five seconds, with Hirschi trailing behind to take two.
Ineos led the chase behind, but struggled to make inroads on the mainly descending road to the finish, with the gap increasing out to 23 seconds in the final 5km.
Astana then did their best to narrow the gap, getting within 10 seconds of the leaders as they hit the final kilometre. Alaphilippe led under the flamme rouge, with Yates then moving to the front in final 600m with Hirschi last.
As the peloton closed in on them, it was Alaphilippe that eventually launched first with 200m to go followed by Hischi. Yates accepted his fate and didn’t contest the sprint, while Hirschi looked to be gaining on Alaphilippe towards the line. The road ran out for the young Swiss rider though, with Alaphilippe able to celebrate over the line as he claims his fifth career stage victory at the Tour as well as the yellow jersey.
The Tour de France continues on stage three on Monday, with a 198km route from Nice to Sisteron that should culminate in a bunch sprint.
Tour de France 2020, stage two: Nice Haut Pays to Nice (186km)
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 4-55-27
2. Marc Hirschi (Sui) Team Sunweb, at same time
3. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1s
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team, at 2s
5. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Pro Cycling
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
7. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana
8. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
9. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, all at same time
10. Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Pro Cycling
General classification after stage two
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 8-41-35
2. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 4s
3. Marc Hirschi (Sui) Team Sunweb, at 7s
4. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Pro Cycling, at 17s
5. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
6. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott
7. Davide Formolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
8. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers
9. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers
10. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, all at same time