Alaphilippe moves into Tour de France white jersey
Riding a Grand Tour for the first time in his career, the 24-year-old came runner-up in the tough finish to Cherbourg.
Starting from Saint-Lô, where a grim sky and pouring rain greeted the riders, stage 2 of Tour de France followed the coastal road, tackling three categorized climbs (Côte de Tarigny-les-Villes, Côte de Montabot and Côte de Montpinchon), before the final hurdle of the day, Côte de la Glacerie, a 1.9-km long climb averaging 6.5%, but ramping up to 15%. Cherbourg, the finishing town, was hosting an arrival for the first time in three decades, and as it happened back then, also now it witnessed a bunch finish, albeit on a different terrain.
A break of four was formed soon after the start, Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Vegard Breen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18) getting green light from the peloton to stretch out their lead to a maximum of seven minutes. With 124 kilometers remaining, a pile-up saw many riders hit the ground, including Marcel Kittel, Tony Martin, Fabio Sabatini and former race winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff). None of the riders involved was seriously hit, so they came back to the bunch before the 100 km mark.
Following the intermediate sprint in Port-Bail, a small town where Julian Alaphilippe won a race as an amateur in 2011, the gap began to drop, but it was only inside the final 40 kilometers that the bunch began to pick up the pace and helped also by the crosswinds, to chew into the breakaway's advantage. In the last 10 kilometers, Stuyven attacked and distanced his fellow escapees, while the pack was pushing a hyperactive rhythm behind, which eventually led to the gap evaporating and the Belgian being caught under the flamme rouge.
Thanks to the work of his Etixx – Quick-Step teammates, Julian Alaphilippe was well-placed in these decisive part of the stage, the 700-m long ascent (with an average gradient of 5.7%), and hit the front with around 400 meters to go from a group which included many GC favourites and Classics specialists. Of these, only Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) managed to top the young Frenchman, passing him in the last 50 meters, thus claiming the honours and the yellow jersey. Alaphilippe concluded the day in second place, ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and teammate Daniel Martin.
The team did a great job controlling the race and bringing me in a good position, despite the rain and the narrow roads.
"I felt good and gave everything I had, but Sagan was better. In those last 500 meters I was thinking only of taking the victory, as I was feeling strong, but in the end I had to be content with second place. Maybe I started the sprint a bit too early, but to be honest I have no regrets, because I gave it my all and Sagan was simply better, he's the world champion for a reason", said 24-year-old Julian, who proved once again what a special talent he is.
As soon as he rolled over the line after what was a grueling finale, the Tour of California winner tried to shrug off the frustration of coming tantalizing close on his maiden World Tour victory, and although it wasn't easy, he eventually looked on the bright side of things, especially as he was among the few riders to climb on the podium in Cherbourg, where he donned the white jersey: "I was disappointed, but then I cooled down and realized that it's my first Grand Tour and I still have many things to learn. I also have plenty of reasons to be happy, as I'm now leading the U25 classification and I am in good form. It's a huge pride to wear the white jersey and I want to thank the entire team for the great help of today. We came second two stages in a row, but at the same time we showed how strong and united we are. Hopefully, we will get a good result in the next days."
One of the most consistent riders of the season in stage races, with two wins and several podiums to his name, Daniel Martin finished just outside the top three on Sunday afternoon, a result which he sees as promising for the ambitions of Etixx – Quick-Step over the next three weeks: "It was a hard finish and everyone was suffering. I watched the sprint of Julian and Peter from behind and it was like they were going in slow motion. Another second today for us, it's true, but this just shows the incredible depth of this team. It was once again close and this only gives us extra motivation. I'm sure better days will come for us."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele