“No regrets,” neatly summed up the feelings of Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) after the Frenchman gave his utmost to defend the yellow jersey of the Tour de France on Sunday but was unable to do more than watch as Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) romped away to take the stage win and Tour lead to boot.
Van der Poel’s explosive attack the first time over the Mûr-de-Bretagne saw him claim an eight-second time bonus that put him in a pole position to fight for yellow, and it was a warning shot of some considerable volume across the bows of Alaphilippe and the rest of the peloton.
But when the Dutchman blasted away for good on the second ascent of the Mûr, 700 metres from the finish, Alaphilippe seemed powerless to stop him, and he confirmed afterwards that he had been in no position to do so.
“There are no regrets, I gave my maximum and my legs were a bit heavy after yesterday’s stage,” said Alaphilippe who placed fifth on the stage, eight seconds down on Van der Poel. He now trails the Dutchman by the same margin in the overall standings.
“We went up the climb the first time quite full-on with the headwind, but I felt fine on the last circuit before we came into the climb again. Mathieu was stronger, that’s all. I tried to respond on the first time he attacked, I tried to economize before the last ascent so I’d have as much strength as possible. But when it’s not your day, it’s not your day.
“Yesterday he was disappointed, but he came up to congratulate me even so. We’re similar as racers, and he’s a deserving wearer of the maillot jaune.”
Before the stage, Alaphilippe had said his key objective would be to defend the lead, not go for a second successive win. But despite losing the yellow jersey, he argued that a great deal had already been achieved. “We’re only in the second stage of the race,” he pointed out. “There are lots of opportunities to come and on top of that, we have the sprints to go for with Mark [Cavendish] from Monday. Overall, it’s been a very good weekend.”
As defending world champion, Alaphilippe had reminded journalists on Saturday that if he had to lose the yellow then at least he would have a rainbow jersey waiting for him instead, “which won’t be so bad." However, he has ended up continuing to lead the Tour's points classification, so he will instead be wearing green for the first time on Monday.
“Now I’ve got all the jerseys from the Tour, which is something quite special too,” Alaphilippe said with a grin. And with only eight seconds between himself and Van der Poel, regaining yellow is hardly out of the question in the future, either.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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