Julian Alaphilippe bade an utterly unexpected farewell to the overall lead at the Tour de France on Wednesday after commissaires meted out a 20-second penalty to the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider for taking a bidon in the last 20 kilometres of stage 5.
The last-minute twist in what had otherwise been a monumentally uneventful day’s racing saw Alaphilippe waiting at the foot of the winner’s podium for confirmation that he was out of the yellow jersey he had held since winning stage 2 in Nice on Sunday.
Television footage of Alaphilippe’s outstretched right hand, snatching a bidon from a team soigneur on the right hand side of the road with a little over 17 kilometres left to go made it clear he was guilty as charged, at least as per the UCI rulebook.
But in this case, rather than slide down the GC rankings unnoticed, as would have been the situation if he had been further down the classification, the Frenchman’s transgression saw him lose the overall lead at the biggest race in the world.
Alaphilippe took a pragmatic view of the loss of his jersey, which he held for two weeks last year, telling France Télévisions: “I’m waiting for confirmation. Apparently, I took a feed in a non-authorised zone. That’s a 20-second penalty so it’s Yates in the yellow jersey, normally. If that’s the case, that’s how it goes. It’s the decision of the jury so I can’t do anything about it.”
After losing the yellow jersey in such unexpected fashion, Deceuninck-Quick Step were at least able to capture the green jersey through Sam Bennett, who placed third in Privas behind stage winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). A late, fast acceleration saw Bennett take third and become the first Irishman to lead the points competition since Sean Kelly won his fourth and final green jersey in 1989.
Questions centred, though, on the events surrounding Alaphilippe with Bennett saying: "It’s a bit disappointing, we only heard about it after the finish. I don’t know what happened. We thought we’d have yellow and green today, but unfortunately we don’t.”
The Irishman came to the Tour targeting stage victories, but he won the intermediate sprint on stage 5 as well as placing third to move into the lead in the points competition. “I think I’m just honoured to wear it at least once, I’m happy to have it today but it’s hard to go for stages and green,” he said.
In terms of the racing itself, without a single real breakaway, Alaphilippe said stage five had been “very long and very boring stage, with a very nervous finale.”
“I had to stay concentrated to defend the jersey and try and win the stage with Sam [Bennett], who’s in green, which is good news,” Alaphilippe added. “But, voilà, if that’s how it is then no worries, tomorrow [Thursday] I’ll pick myself back up and we won’t talk about it anymore.”
On Wednesday evening, however, the Tour de France was talking about little else.
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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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