And on Bastille Day, he rested. Julian Alaphilippe became the 18th Frenchman to wear the yellow jersey on the national holiday, but after his all-action opening to the Tour de France, it was a rare afternoon of relative calm for the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider on the road from Saint-Étienne to Brioude.
Some of Alaphilippe's forebears in the maillot jaune have enjoyed (or endured, as the case may be) days of high drama on July 14. In 1997, Cédric Vasseur surpassed himself in the Pyrenees to retain the jersey at Loudenvielle, for instance, just as Thomas Voeckler did at Luz-Ardiden in 2011. Thirty years ago, Laurent Fignon entertained on the road to Marseille with an unexpected sortie in the company of Charly Mottet, on a stage eventually won by Vincent Barteau.
Alaphilippe's Bastille Day was rather more straightforward. He finished safely in the main peloton that rolled home more than 16 minutes behind stage winner Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott). The sole frisson was provided by local favourite Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), who launched a defiant but doomed acceleration on the final ascent of the Côte de Saint-Just, though Alaphilippe's jersey was never under threat. He remains 23 seconds clear of Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) atop the overall standings.
Ordinarily, this stage through the Massif Central might have lent itself to Alaphilippe's qualities as a puncheur, but the jersey on his back, not to mention his accumulated efforts over the opening week, meant that a more conservative approach was advisable.
"When you're in yellow, there are things that change," Alaphilippe said. "Today I might normally have attacked but it wasn't necessary. Yesterday I had to attack to take the jersey and I enjoyed it.
"Today went well for us. We let the break take a good advantage to show that we didn't want to bring it back together. The finale was still difficult, and Bardet's attack hurt everybody."
When Alaphilippe first seized the yellow jersey with an astonishing solo effort on the road to Épernay on stage 3, Voeckler was among those to suggest he might keep the jersey until the race's entry into the Pyrenees in the second week.
Although Alaphilippe lost the jersey at La Planche des Belles Filles by six scant seconds on Thursday, his assurance on the climb only led to further murmurs about what he might achieve on general classification in this race, which only amplified after he regained the maillot jaune this weekend. In Brioude on Sunday evening, Alaphilippe neither rejected nor wholly accepted the general classification ambitions that are gradually being foisted upon him.
"It's clear that the hardest is still to come," Alaphilippe said. "I've already reconnoitred the route and I know what's coming up with tough stages at very high altitude. The second part of the Tour is very difficult. My general classification ambitions were non-existent before the Tour and the maillot jaune hasn't changed a lot in that regard. I'm just going to try to keep the jersey as long as I can and test my limits."
The road ahead
Alaphilippe will expect to keep the jersey on the next two, uncomplicated stages to Albi and Toulouse, and it would be a surprise if he were shaken loose on the race's first, fleeting foray into the Pyrenees on stage 12 to Bagnères-de-Bigorre. A more stringent test of his longer-term credentials will come in the following day's time trial in Pau and the summit finish on the Tourmalet on stage 14.
"I did a good time trial at the Dauphiné and my form is even better now, so I think I can do a good time trial here, too," Alaphilippe said. "The Tourmalet with the altitude is really going to be terrible for everybody and the general classification will change a lot, I think."
Alaphilippe climbed well enough to win two mountains stages in last year's Tour, albeit from early breakaways were given considerable leeway by the podium contenders. Perhaps more than the hard road ahead, his prospects of a high overall finish might be impeded by the energy he has expended to this point.
"I've already done a lot of efforts in the first week, whereas the GC guys have almost been counting their pedal strokes," said Alaphilippe. "I've already done a good first part of the Tour, but you can't compare wearing the yellow jersey after a week and bringing it to Paris."
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.