Paris-Nice: Alaphilippe fights with the pain on brutal queen-stage
The home rider remains in contention for a second consecutive win in the points classification with one day to go.
"The Race to the Fog" would have been a better name than the "Race to the Sun" for Paris-Nice on Saturday, when the riders lined up at the start on the French Riviera for the queen-stage of the French race, one which crushed the GC aspirations of many, who either suffered in the rain and cold or were forced to abandon after crashing on the slippery roads that took them from Nice to Valdeblore La Colmiane.
Despite these conditions, the race got off to a fast start, eight riders snapping the elastic and moving into a breakaway which wasn't given too much space, as some of its members posed a threat to the general classification. The maximum advantage hit three minutes, but the bunch pegged them back without too much difficulty as more and more riders got dropped before hitting the first slopes of the 16.3km-long Valdeblore La Colmiane.
The first-category lung-busting climb ascent, a feature in the past at both Paris-Nice and Tour de France, took its toll on many riders, who struggled in the cold on the 8% ramps. Julian Alaphilippe started the day in second overall and was keen on making the most on the climb, although it didn't suit him. As the pace went up, the 25-year-old impressed with every pedal stroke, riding with both his heart and his legs and trying to hang in the main group after race leader Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) had been distanced.
A change in tempo, followed by an attack of Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), sparked a selection and led to many riders being left behind, including Julian. Despite hitting this wall, the pocket-rocked climber didn't despair and dug deep, showcasing his class and a superb effort which won him many supporters, as he crossed the line exhausted and gasping for air, some two minutes down on the winner.
Ninth in the overall standings – which makes him the best placed Frenchman at the 76th edition of Paris-Nice – Julian is in the cards for another victory in the green jersey after the one of last year, one point separating him from the lead before the start of stage 8 (Nice – Nice, 110km).
"I expected to be hard today, and thanks to my great teammates, I got into a good position ahead of the final climb, but unfortunately I began feeling bad with five kilometers to go and got dropped inside the last two. At that point, I was tired and completely empty, so my main goal was to reach the finish as fast as possible and not lose too much time", Alaphilippe said on his way to the hotel. "Now my priority is to recover after this punishing stage, because another hard day awaits tomorrow, and if it will be possible, I will try and fight for the green jersey."
Photo credit: ©Bryn Lennon/ Getty Images