Double joy for Alaphilippe
A devastatingly powerful acceleration netted both the stage victory and the leader's jersey for Quick-Step Floors' French rider on the first uphill finish of Colombia Oro y Paz.
The Quick-Step Floors fiesta continued at the first edition of the South American race, where Julian Alaphilippe landed the team's fourth consecutive victory on Mirador Tambo, a 4.7km-long climb averaging 5.6% which came at the end of the fourth stage, one that saw Fernando Gaviria, Alvaro Hodeg and Iljo Keisse join a huge breakaway.
Helped by his two teammates, Gaviria took all three intermediate sprints on the course, further extending his lead in the points classification, on which he already had a firm grip after blasting to victory on the previous three stages. With the climbers eager to grab with both hands their first opportunity of the week and to make inroads in the general classification, the lead of the twenty men up the road was always kept in check and didn't go north of three minutes at any point.
On the penultimate climb on the route, a third-category one, Fernando Gaviria attacked and opened a gap, crossing the summit first, but eventually his day at the front came to an end, and with it, his tenure in the pink jersey. Then, a furious pace of the GC favourites' teams in the peloton made a big selection, leaving only 25 riders in the elite group, which included also Quick-Step Floors' Julian Alaphilippe and Jhonatan Narvaez.
The champion of Ecuador – racing only his second event since turning pro with our team at Vuelta a San Juan – showed maturity and tactical acumen well beyond his age, responding to several attacks and closing the gaps into the business end of the race. That allowed Alaphilippe to stay fresh and monitor his rivals, who after their previous attempts came to an abrupt end, tried to move decisively with 500 meters to go.
Both Sergio Henao (Team Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) surged off the front, but Julian comfortably responded before blasting past them inside the final 300 meters and opening his 2018 account with a spectacular win, his first in South America. The two Colombians rounded out the podium, while Narvaez still had enough in him to finish fifth and jump into the top 10 overall, 13 seconds behind Alaphilippe, the new race leader.
"I can't tell you how happy I am with this win. When I arrived here last week, I didn't expect to take a stage victory, so having won one gives me big satisfaction, especially as it came against some of the best climbers in the world. This makes the victory even sweeter. It wouldn't have been possible without this great team and the help of our sports director Davide Bramati, who told me before the start to anticipate on a short downhill section right before the final bend, which I did", said Julian, the first Frenchman since Bernard Hinault, in 1986, victorious in a Colombian race.
"Right after the finish, I thanked Jhonatan Narvaez for his work, because he played a big part in my success. This is the spirit of the Wolfpack that we're always talking about. We never give up and always stay together, helping each other", the 25-year-old Frenchman, who sits also at the top of the mountain classification, explained. "To keep the pink jersey in the team is fantastic, but at the same time I know that the next two stages will be more difficult. The plan is to take it day by day and see where we'll stand on Sunday afternoon."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images