Tour de France 2020
Julian Alaphilippe gave the French crowds on the Cote d’Azur something to cheer with a nail-biting victory in Stage 2 of the Tour de France in Nice to take the yellow jersey.
The Frenchman proved the strongest of a leading trio in an exciting finish with shades of Milano-Sanremo in it, holding off Swiss youngster Marc Hirshi as Britain’s Adam Yates had to settle for third place in the sunshine of the French Riviera.
Alaphilippe made his decisive attack on the second ascent of the Col d’Eze inside the final 12km of the 186km stage through the undulating Alpes-Maritimes in south-east France. The Deceuninck-QuickStep rider was joined by Team Sunweb’s Hirshi and Mitchelton-Scott’s Yates as the trio took a 20-second lead over the chasing pack ahead of the zippy Poggio-esque descent back into Nice.
With the rampaging peloton breathing down their neck, Alaphilippe kicked clear on the home straight to sink an exhausted Yates before holding the battling Hirschi at bay to write another glorious chapter in his ever-developing Tour de France story.
Having enjoyed 14 unforgettable days in yellow during last year’s race, Alaphilippe moved back into the fabled maillot jaune after the fifth Tour stage win of his illustrious career. He now leads Yates by four seconds in the general classification, with 22-year-old debutant Hirschi, the new white jersey, up to third at seven seconds.
Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team) beat Colombia’s Sergio Higuita (EF Education First) to fourth place as the chasers came home two seconds in arrears – with race favourites Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Egan Bernal, the defending champion from Ineos Grenadiers, present and correct.
But it was a day to forget for Dutchman Tom Dumoulin of Jumbo-Visma, who had to battle back after crashing on the final climb, while GC riders Dani Martinez (EF Education First), Ilnur Zakarin (CCC Team), Fabio Aru (UAE-Team Emirates) and Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) all lost valuable time.
Overnight leader Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) finished in the gruppetto more than 26 minutes adrift but swaps his yellow jersey for green despite a starring turn in the breakaway from Slovakia’s Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe in his quest for an eighth victory in the points classification.
There was more good news for the home fans with Frenchman Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2R-La Mondiale) taking the polka dot jersey after securing maximum points over the first Cat.1 climb of the Tour, the Col de Colmiane, before consolidating his lead in the break on the Col de Turini.
But the day belonged to Alaphilippe, who bounced back from a frustrating opening stage of the Tour – spent fighting back after a crash and a series of mechanical issues – to move back onto the summit of the world’s biggest bike race with trademark panache.
With the intermediate sprint coming just 16km into the otherwise lumpy stage, it was no surprise to see the man keeping Kristoff’s green jersey warm, Sagan, among the early moves.
A break of eight riders soon settled including Sagan and the Italian sprinter Matteo Trentin, who brushed off a puncture to outkick the Slovakian in the intermediate sprint.
Trentin then dropped back for a new wheel as the remaining seven riders kicked clear to open up a maximum gap of around three minutes over the peloton. Sagan was joined by Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Lukas Postleberger in the break along with Cosnefroy, Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo), Anthony Perez (Cofidis) and Michael Gogl (NTT).
Cosnefroy kicked clear one kilometre from the summit of the Col de Colmiane to pocket the maximum 10 points in the king of the mountains competition. The peloton, led by Kristoff’s UAE Team Emirates, followed three minutes in arrears before Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma came to the front to control matters on the fast descent.
Perhaps feeling the pinch from his earlier efforts, Cosnefroy was dropped on the Col de Turini before finding a second wind to catch the distanced Sagan and rejoin the other escapees. Behind, the yellow jersey Kristoff was dropped by the pack – following the trajectory of many of the sprinters, including Caleb Ewan, Elia Viviani, Sam Bennett, Andre Greipel and Giacomo Nizzolo.
Cosnefroy’s rally was almost rewarded with another maximum haul of polka-dot points – but after Gogl zipped clear, it was Perez who reacted first to crest the summit ahead of his compatriot as the two Frenchmen moved onto 18 points apiece.
On the long descent, Sagan was swept up by the peloton while Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates) had a fight on his hands after a mechanical left him chasing back on for the long segment of tightly packed hairpin bends used in a classic stage of the Monte Carlo Rally.
The break fractured and regrouped as the Jumbo-Visma-led peloton pulled them back to within a minute ahead of the Cat.3 climb. And in the event, there expectant showdown between Perez and Cosnefroy on the Cat.3 Col d’Eze never materialised after the break got mopped up at the start of the iconic climb with 40km remaining.
With Jumbo-Visma neutralising the points over the summit, it was left to finishing positions to decide who would wear the polka dot jersey in stage 3 – with Cosnefroy going on to take the honours after outsprinting Perez in the first gruppetto. Never has a sprint for 92nd place been more keenly contested.
Before this polka-dot sideshow, the far more important matter of the stage win and yellow jersey, the battle for which started on the first descent of the Eze, with Martinez – the recent winner of the Dauphine – crashing and Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) picking up a puncture.
Both riders managed to fight back on as a select leading group of around 40 riders started the decisive half-ascent of the Col d’Eze – via the Col de Quatre Chemins – intact. Ineos rider Michal Kwiatkowski came to the front to control the tempo just as Alaphilippe made his move with 12km remaining.
And when the Polish rider then dropped back a little, a distracted Dumoulin clipped his wheel and was sent sprawling. As the former Giro winner picked himself up off the tarmac, Alaphilippe was joined by Hirschi out ahead before Yates bridged over.
Yates pipped Alaphilippe for the eight bonus seconds going over the summit as Ineos, the team he will ride for in 2021, led the chase for their man Bernal, as Jumbo-Visma regrouped following Dumoulin’s fall.
The leading trio held onto their advantage going onto the Promenade des Anglais on the waterfront in Nice – and the resultant game of cat-and-mouse almost cost them a tilt at the spoils.
But after forcing Yates to make the first move, Alaphilippe surged clear towards the line – and despite a late, late burst by the impressive Hirschi, he was able to punch the air as he crossed the line after his latest titanic exploit.
As Alaphilippe broke down in tears in the finish area, riders came home in drips and drabs. Notable losers included Italy’s Aru (+2’09”), Colombia’s Martinez (+3’38”), the Russian Zakarin (+4’25”) and Ireland’s Martin (+17’45”).
The Tour continues on Tomorrow with the rolling 198km stage 3 from Nice to Sisteron which could well reopen the door to the sprinters provided a breakaway doesn’t go the distance.