Alaphilippe claws back time in Criterium du Dauphiné
The 23-year-old is now 4th in the GC, following a stage which had his countryman and teammate Maxime Bouet in the break until the final kilometers.
Starting from Tain l'Hermitage, stage 4 of the Criterium du Dauphiné proved to be a very good one for Etixx – Quick-Step, and the signs were there right from the start, when Maxime Bouet jumped from the peloton and initiated a breakaway, which also included Bryan Nauleau (Direct Energie) and Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert). For Maxime, it was a special day, as he was hailing from Belley, the finishing town, where he grew up and began cycling after playing football until the age of 13.
As the pace wasn't an intense one in the first hour of racing, the escapees gained five minutes, an advantage which began to come down in the second half of the day. Despite the course being a flat one, Maxime attacked on more than one occasion, until he eventually dropped his breakaway companions, with around 15 kilometers remaining. In his second season with Etixx – Quick-Step, the 29-year-old Frenchman left it all on the road and made the sprinters' teams work hard in order to catch him, which they did in the last four kilometers.
Immediately, Etixx – Quick-Step came at the front, Tony Martin and Niki Terpstra doing some big pulls to stretch out the peloton and bring Julian Alaphilippe in a good position for the sprint, which was due to take place on some twisting and turning roads. Eight in the final turn, Julian powered in the final 200 meters, which were in a slight uphill, and finished behind Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), throwing his bike over the line in an effort which netted him second place, ahead of some really fast men, like Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC).
Despite being part of the breakaway since the flag was dropped, Maxime still had enough in the tank to forge on from the other two escapees and stay away, motivated by the presence of his family and friends in Belley. One of the day's protagonists, after being at the front for more than 170 kilometers, the Frenchman was pleased with his solo effort and the way he played his card until the very end, even though he didn't get that much-desired victory.
"Today I really wanted to show myself and to do something nice, because we were arriving in the town where I was born and where I joined my first cycling club. I knew the roads and I was hoping for a bigger advantage in the last 20 kilometers, because the narrow and technical roads would have played into my favour. I gave everything, but unfortunately I missed those extra 30-40 seconds which would have helped me to make it. At the end, I did my best and I'm happy. With oozed confidence, I'm now ready to work for Dan and Julian in the next stages", said Maxime, by far the most aggressive rider on stage four.
With the white jersey on his shoulders since Sunday's prologue, Julian Alaphilippe showed once again an unbelievable turn of speed, as he made his way through the bunch in the closing kilometer, before sprinting to second, one of his best results of the year in a World Tour race. Thanks to the bonus seconds and the fact that race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) was held up by a crash, Alaphilippe took back some important time in the general classification, and he now lies in fourth, just nine seconds adrift: "I'm a little bit disappointed, because I was too far down when we entered in that last corner. I managed to come back, but it wasn't enough to really contest the win. Tomorrow, the real climbing starts at the Dauphiné and we are ready to fight and find out how far we can go."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele