American Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) celebrated his debut at the Tour de France with his new “friend for life” Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).
Their day-long escape in stage two to Liège earned Phinney enough points to wear the polka-dot jersey on stage three.
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Phinney and Offredo escaped with two others in the wet day from Düsseldorf. They crossed over the border into Belgium and flew free, just the two of them. They failed to win, but Phinney took the famous mountains jersey.
“The peloton never gave us any room, any leash, and I thought they were going to catch us even before the second KOM,” Phinney explained.
Their move gained some time when Chris Froome (Sky) and others crashed with 30.3 kilometres to race.
“I won that second KOM and definitely had this jersey, and then it turned into this like, ‘Oh wait, maybe we can win. We can win the stage.’
“I’ve raced with Yoann Offredo for a long time and I’ve always been friendly with him. He was definitely the strongest dude in the break, we both were, so when we found ourselves together I just turned to him, ‘Finalement, let’s do this.'”
With five kilometres left, they still hovered in front of the peloton with a half-minute lead. They “really started to believe” in their chances.
The sprinters’ teams lifted the pace after the crash and prepared for the eventual bunch gallop. They caught the duo with 1.1 kilometres left in the 203.5-kilometre stage.
“When we crossed the finish line I kind of put my arm around him and was like we’re friends for life bro. You got me for life.”
The ride helps complete a comeback for the two-time under-23 Paris-Roubaix winner and former individual pursuit world champion.
The 27-year-old has not raced a Grand Tour since he broke his leg in the 2014 US National Championships road race and Phinney, son of former Tour stage winner Davis Phinney, is now making his Tour de France debut.
His time trial on stage one, 17 seconds behind winner Geraint Thomas (Sky), also put him in position to possibly take the yellow jersey lead if he held out on stage two. Team Cannondale sports director Charly Wegelius took note.
“So I did the time trial, took a shower in my hotel room, then walked out of my bathroom an I was completely naked in my room. Charly Wegelius, our team director, walked into our room. I was just standing there completely naked,” Phinney said.
“He started talking to me about what he wants to do on this stage today. And I was sort of half-like, ‘Yo bro, I’m naked, but also I’m listening.’
“He wanted to go for this jersey and I had thought about it a little bit, but I hadn’t put on any clothes yet, I was trying to figure out which boxers I was going to wear first. Then we had the team meeting this morning and that was the plan.
“I got a little bit distracted by the music at the second stop, when we were doing the neutral, there was one violin player who was like killing it. But once the race started I was like, ‘OK, let’s do this.’
Phinney finished 146th, but at least took the maillot blanc à pois rouges, or the polka-dot jersey, to wear on the third stage into France and the finish in Longwy.
“It felt like a dream to get started [at the Tour]. I’ve been reading a lot of Murakami so that might be why I feel like it feels like a dream,” Phinney said.
“Still, starting and having the break go and being a part of that, and then realising that I was going to be able to sprint to be in this jersey, a jersey I’d never in a million years pictured myself wearing.”