Stage 5 of the Tour de France was a case of another day down and another in the yellow jersey for Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep). After wearing the maillot jaune from Reims in the north to Colmar at the German border, two days in yellow makes him now the second-longest tenured Frenchman in the jersey since 2001.
He'll have some way to go to match Thomas Voeckler though, lying 18 days behind the now-retired ex-Direct Énergie rider. For now, the goal is to keep it as long as possible – Voeckler thinks Alaphilippe can do it and hang until Pay on stage 13. Reigning Tour champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) has said that he'll still be in the race lead after Wednesday's stage to La Planche des Belle Filles, at least.
That day, Wednesday, is the immediate obstacle. A travail through the Vosges mountains will see the peloton tackle three first-category climbs including the summit finish, plus two each in the second and third category. Endure that, and it looks likely that Alaphilippe can wear yellow until the rest day in Albi.
Opinion is split about his prospects on stage 6, but the man himself offered no opinion, aside from acknowledging the tough task that lies ahead.
"I'm just so happy to keep the yellow jersey," said Alaphilippe after stage 5. "It was a nice day. It’s no secret that it will hurt more than usual. I will do everything to keep the jersey tomorrow."
The yellow jersey famously carries two features along with it. First of all, there's the 'power of the jersey', an unquantifiable force which has seen the likes of Voeckler hold on to the race lead for much longer than expected.
With Alaphilippe enjoying a phenomenal season so far – wins, from Strade Bianche to San Remo, the Dauphiné and more, have been acquired almost with ease – it's certainly hard to rule him out of drawing on all of his strength to hang with the GC riders. But the second feature of the jersey is one that only hinders him – the tiring obligations that come along with it.
"Yes, I am a bit [tired]," Alaphilippe said in the post-stage press conference. "I'm used, since the beginning of the year, to have a lot of controls and interviews. During races, we try to make the most of every minute to recover.
"It's not easy, but it's part of racing. What I experience during the Tour de France made me respect riders like Froome and Grand Tour winners even more. Now I realise how much energy it takes outside of the race to be in the lead of the race."
After finishing, the race leader is obligated to take to the podium, talk to television and radio reporters, undergo a doping control, and then give a press conference. It makes a long day even longer, but it comes with the jersey, and the experience of leading the race isn't one to give up just to enjoy a quieter post-race, Alaphilippe says.
"Even if it takes some energy, it's a wonderful experience. It's something really difficult to describe, all the people cheering for me."
They'll be cheering for him once again on La Planche des Belle Filles, but we'll have to wait until he crosses the line on Wednesday to gauge just how far Alaphilippe can go.
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