Tour de France 2019
Already a double stage winner in last year’s Tour, in which he also won the polka dot jersey, 27-year-old Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman since Tony Gallopin five years ago to don the famous maillot jaune.
“I’m speechless,” Alaphilippe said. “I knew the stage suited me. I felt so good so I accelerated on the Mutigny climb but I didn’t think I’d go alone. I gave everything and heard I was thirty or fourty seconds ahead. It’s difficult to meet the expectations of being the favourite but I made it and I’m delighted.”
Australia’s Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) beat Belgian Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) for second place on the ramped finish, with Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) completing the top five.
With Jumbo-Visma’s Teunissen – the surprise winner of Saturday’s opening stage in Brussels – coming home almost five minutes down, Alaphilippe seized yellow on the day the race entered French soil for the first time following the Belgian grand depart.
Alaphilippe leads Belgium’s Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) by 20 seconds in the general classification, with Van Aert’s teammates Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett in third and fourth place at 25 seconds. Matthews moves into the top five, a further 15 seconds in arrears.
Colombia’s Egan Bernal edged ahead of Ineos teammate Geraint Thomas into sixth overall after the Welsh defending champion was caught out in a split for 13th place, five seconds back.
Lotto Soudal’s Wellens, the last man standing of a five-man break which formed shortly after the start of the 215km stage, took maximum points over all four categorised climbs to secure the polka dot jersey. Sagan, meanwhile, moved into the green jersey at the expense of Teunissen while Van Aert retained the white jersey.
After two days in Brussels, the Tour bade farewell to Belgium and entered French soil for the first time shortly after the start of the 215km ride to the capital of Champagne, Epernay.
Before the pack had said adieu to Eddy Merckx, a five-man move had zipped up the road featuring the Belgian Wellens and a quartet of Frenchmen in Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Gobert), Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis), Paul Ourselin (Total-Direct Energie) and Anthony Delaplace (Arkéa-Samsic).
With a series of punchy climbs looming for the closing moments of the stage, the peloton, driven by Tony Martin of the team time trial-winning Jumbo-Visma squad, was happy to let the break quickly build up a decent buffer.
A favourable tailwind and some largely flat roads contributed to a high pace as the escapees combined to establish a maximum lead of just over five minutes.
It was Grand Tour debutant Ourselin who took maximum points at the intermediate sprint at Dizy-le-Gros although there was more of a spectacle behind when the peloton arrived.
Slovakian showman Sagan pocketed enough points to move ahead of Teunissen and into the outright virtual lead in the green jersey classification, although the Slovakian was beaten by Italy’s Elia Viviani (Decuninck-QuickStep) for sixth place.
The focus then switched to the spicy final quarter of the stage – a succession of steep and narrow climbs through the champagne vineyards south of Reims. And given the terrain, there was no chance that Viviani or the rest of the pure sprinters would feature.
Back with the pack, Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale) both picked up inopportune punctures just as the jostling for positions started ahead of the climbs.
With seven points for the King of the Mountains competition up for grabs, Wellens attacked his fellow escapees on a small leg-stretching rise ahead of the first climb. The Belgian started the Cat.4 Cote de Nanteuil-la-Foret with 45 seconds over the four French chasers and 2’30” over the pack.
On the second climb, the Cote de Hautvilliers, the sprinters started to fade, with the likes of Viviani, German veteran Andre Greipel (Arkea-Samsic) and Wellens’ Lotto teammate Caleb Ewan succumbing to a climb the locals dub the Cote de Morts – the climb of the dead – the resting place of the Champagne don, Dom Perignon.
Wellens’ lead was down to just over a minute going over the Cote de Champillon with 25km remaining as the remaining escapees were swept up and Teunissen was distanced.
Given the terrain, it was no surprise to see some of the GC riders showing their hands – with Colombian Nairo Quintana, twice a Tour runner-up for Movistar, picking up a KOM point in the melee.
On the final categorised climb, the double-digit Cote de Mutigny, Alaphilippe darted clear from under the noses of Thomas and Bernal, almost catching Wellens before the summit. The Belgian sat up and stopped with a mechanical issue, giving the Frenchman his cue to ride clear in a bid for glory.
With another 15km of rolling terrain still remaining, it was far from a done deal for Alaphilippe – especially after a select quartet of Mikel Landa (Movistar), Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Michael Woods (EF Education First) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) rode clear in pursuit.
But that move came to nothing, and Alaphilippe entered Epernay with a big-enough gap to stay clear – provided he didn’t wilt in the heat on the final 15% ramp to the finish line.
Alaphilippe held on to take his 11th win of the season as slick Deceuninck-QuickStep moved to within three victories of a half-century for 2019.
The only thing that took the gloss off Alaphilippe’s win was a nasty fall for his teammate Kasper Asgreen, who had worked hard to keep the break in check earlier in the stage. The Dane fell on a descent near the future, breaking his bike in two and finishing in last place more than 20 minutes in arrears. He was taken to hospital for checks.
Dutchman Teunissen, the outgoing yellow jersey, crossed the line 4’54” down to confirm the inevitable on a day that Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin conceded almost four minutes, Britain’s Simon Yates(Mitchelton-Scott) more than six minutes, and Frenchman Tony Gallopin (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Australia’s Rohan Dennis (Bahrain Merida) over eight minutes.
Tomorrow’s 213.5km stage from Reims to Nancy reopens the door to the sprinters with an expected fast finish and just two small fourth-category climbs to contend with. The likes of Sagan, Viviani, Ewan and Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) will be favourites to open up their accounts for the race.