Lawson Craddock came into the Tour of California as Cannondale's declared leader, and Tuesday's queen stage was supposed to be the place where he backed that up and climbed to the top of the overall standings.
After stage 3 on Tuesday, Etixx-QuickStep's young Frenchman leads the general classification by 19 seconds over stage 3 runner-up Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) and 31 seconds over LottoNL-Jumbo's George Bennett. BMC's Brent Booklwaleter is fourth, 37 seconds down, followed by Axeon-Hagens Berman's Nielson Powless in fifth at 40 seconds. Craddock is 1:12 off the race lead.
But after getting a hug from former team director Axel Merckx, Craddock told Cyclingnews that the overall race at the Tour of California is far from over.
"The next couple of days are still really challenging, with Laguna Seca tomorrow and then Tahoe," he said. "I mean Tahoe is raced for almost 80km above 8,000 feet, so that can be challenging for a lot of guys.
"So the race isn't over, but it's going to make it a little harder on us."
Alaphilippe also led last year's race going it not he final day, winning the queen stage up Mt. Baldy on the penultimate day and taking the yellow jersey off the shudders of Tinkoff's Peter Sagan. But Sagan bounced back on the final day and took the overall victory with a bike throw and time bonus for third place on the final day.
Alaphilippe certainly remembers that result, and he was cautious about his new race lead in the post-race press conference.
"Last year I lost the Tour of California by two or three seconds, so everyday is important," he said. "Tomorrow is again a really hard stage, and also the TT is 20km, so it is not going to be easy. So everyday we need to full gas."
"We'll get together tonight and come up with a good solution," Craddock said. "I trust the guys. They did a phenomenal job. I'm really bummed and disappointed in myself that I wasn't able to finish it off for them. But the race is far from over."