By Gregor Brown
The French are celebrating their national race, the Tour de France, more so than in recent years thanks to Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step).
Not only has Alaphilippe won two stages, but he did so with panache and with the second one, in the yellow jersey. And it would have only helped having the 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas (Ineos) behind him when he celebrated.
"It's been a long time since they had a real champion," said Ben King (Dimension Data).
"It's given them someone else to cheer for. You know, you hear a lot of Pinot and Bardet. Those have been the great hopes of the last few years. And they're great riders, certainly don't count them out, but hopefully there's another one and he's been in the yellow jersey for a long time. And I think people are really excited about that."
When Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) rode by, the fans at the start cheered. Same for Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale). But when Alaphilippe arrived, they roared.
"It's incredible because you are in your country and the biggest race of the world," said Pinot's team-mate David Gaudu.
"It's a bit crazy for the country and huge for the French public. It's a very big for the fans, yeah.
"And and it's big because we haven't won the Tour de France since Bernard Hinault in 1985, so to have a Frenchman in yellow...it's just crazy."
Not many expected him to beat Thomas by 14 seconds in the Pau time trial. And not many believe he will win the race overall in Paris next weekend. But over the last week, and especially in the last 24 hours, that is changing. And the fans are getting behind the 27-year-old who hails from central France.
"For sure, it's very emotional for the French," said Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), the Italian who wore the yellow jersey for two days during the Alaphilippe run. "It's like it would be for an Italian in pink in the Giro d'Italia.
"And yeah, it's obvious they are cheering more for him than they did for me. He's an idol for this nation."
Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma), winner of stage one and leader for two days, noticed a difference than from in the past years when Team Sky, now Ineos, dominated.
"You can see the French are going crazy. It's a big honour and he will be only getting more motivated by it," Teunissen said.
"It's different [than the Sky years], you can see it and the fans also really enjoy it. That's a little bit new and different for them as well. It's really nice for them that they now can celebrate for Frenchie instead of always the same team."
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