Alaphilippe defends Paris-Nice lead on complicated stage
The young Frenchman extended his advantage over the second-placed rider in the general classification.
Julian Alaphilippe will start the penultimate stage of the "Race to the Sun" (Nice – Col de Couillole, 177 kilometers) in the yellow jersey, after successfully defending it following a spirited display and impressive teamwork on a tough day which created some substantial gaps in the overall standings. Six classified climbs – including three first-category ones – were spread over the course between Aubagne and Fayence, a town which the race hasn't visited since 2014.
As the bunch began to make up ground on the breakaway, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) tried to light the fuse and attack from afar, with 50 kilometers to go, but Dan Martin and Sergio Henao (Team Sky) responded immediately and the Spaniard was soon brought back.
It was only on the penultimate climb, Col de Bourigaille, after the escapees were absorbed by the reduced bunch, that a rider managed to get clear. Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) attacked 700 meters from the top and got a gap on the yellow jersey group, where Julian stayed tucked in, protected by Dan Martin.
The Brit had 50 seconds in hand at the bottom of the brutal climb to Fayence, a short but steep "wall" averaging 9.8% over 1300 meters, and that advantage was enough for him to nab the win. Behind, Henao and Richie Porte (BMC) accelerated, putting pressure on Julian on the savage gradients kicking up to 22% in some sections.
The two opened up a gap, but the Quick-Step Floors rider managed to limit the losses thanks to a fantastic effort and selfless performance of Dan Martin, who came from behind and paced his teammate to the finish line, where he extended his advantage over the next rider in the GC to 36 seconds. Besides putting in a big amount of work for Julian during the stage and especially on the Mur de Fayence, Dan also kept his fifth place in the overall, 1:20 adrift.
"I had to stay fully focused on what proved to be a very tough stage, with a really hard last ascent. A big thanks to all my teammates, who did a great job from the start until the finish, I'm very proud of them. I will now get to enjoy another day in this beautiful yellow jersey and this motivates me for tomorrow, when another excruciating stage awaits", said Julian Alaphilippe, best young rider of the race, after spending a second consecutive day at the top of the Paris-Nice general classification.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele