Julian Alaphilippe's aggressive riding during stage 3 at Paris-Nice on Wednesday snapped the whip that cracked the peloton on the way to Châtel-Guyon, but the Frenchman came up just short of climbing onto the general classification podium as Astana's Luis Leon Sanchez finished second on the stage and took the overall lead.
The Quick-Step Floors rider attacked at the bottom of the final cat 3 climb on the finishing circuit, dropping everyone from the front group save for Lotto Soudal's Tim Wellens, who had to fight mightily but finally latched onto the Frenchman's wheel. Behind the lead pair, the acceleration took its toll on the peloton, which had only recently caught the lone survivor of the day's main breakaway, and the main bunch was soon down to just 20 riders.
Astana's Jakob Fuglsang, who lost more than a minute in a crash during stage 1 and was out of the GC running, was able to bridge to the leaders to form a new group of three. The trio made it to the KOM, but they were soon caught by Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Ion Izaguirre (Bahrain-Merida), and then in turn by the rest of the main bunch.
"The team rode full gas once we approached the final 30 kilometers, and I must thank them for their amazing work," Alaphilippe said in a statement released by the team. "I attacked on the climb because I had hoped to make the difference, which I did, but the others managed to come back."
From there, Sanchez sneaked away with Remy di Gregorio (Delko Marseille Provence), and then eventual stage winner Johnathan HIvert (Direct Energie) caught on to form the successful final move.
"When the three went away, I tried to close the gap, but nobody wanted to help," Alaphilippe said.
The trio snatched 38 seconds away from the main bunch, which was led across the line by overnight leader Arnaud Demare (FDJ). Hivert got the stage win, with Sanchez second and di Gregorio third, but the Astana rider came away with the yellow jersey by 28 second over Demare and 35 over Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida). At 38 seconds back, Alaphilippe is just three ticks from a podium spot.
The 25-year-old, who is from nearby Saint-Amand-Montrond, took extra motivation from being near his hometown and had obviously hoped for the win, but he took solace in his current position in the general classification with five stages remaining.
"We did our best today, sticked to our aggressive tactic and I tried to win for the team and my family, friends and fans, who gave me a fantastic reception this week, but things didn't pay off," he said. "But I keep my spirits high and now look forward to the next stage."
Paris-Nice will continue Wednesday with the stage 4 individual time trial on a rolling 18.4km course between La Fouillouse and Saint-Étienne.