For his father: a poignant victory for Alaphilippe in the Tour de France

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NICE, France – Crossing the finish line of the Tour de France, Julian Alaphilippe kissed his finger and lifted it to the sky, dedicating his victory on Sunday on stage 2 to his father who died in June.

“I promised myself to win for him,” said the Frenchman.

The tribute and the thrilling manner of his victory showed that even in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the Tour is still a powerful generator of emotions.

Many of her fans listen to government calls to watch the action on TV from the safety of their couches. Those who still move through towns and villages as the race goes by at full speed are urged to keep their distance, to prevent the virus from infecting the runners for whom they applaud through face masks.

And yet, despite all of this, the Tour’s opening weekend always made hearts beat faster, with dramatic spills on the rain-covered opening day followed by Alaphilippe’s poignant victory. No one can be sure the race will work its way through France’s worsening infections until it arrives in Paris on September 20. Still, the show, for now at least, is most certainly underway – with Alaphilippe back in the iconic yellow jersey of the race leader. , once again showing the way.

Having already done more than any other rider to make the 2019 edition a thriller, the darling of French cycling enthusiasts has once again filled the Tour with his class and his cunning in the poaching victory in the Mediterranean city of Nice.

A final, precisely timed acceleration allowed Alaphilippe to shake up two pursuers and hold back the main peloton of riders who were furiously gaining ground in the finish straight.

Deprived of victories since his seductive exploits last summer exhausted him, Alaphilippe denounces any hope of winning the overall title in Paris. But he intends to hang on to the prized jersey for as long as possible and proved last year that once on his shoulders, it’s hard to come off. He held the lead for 14 days.

“The yellow jersey must be respected,” he said. “I will defend him with honor.”

The stage victory was his fifth in four Tours. Alaphilippe had identified the second 186 km (115.5 mile) stage, circling the mountains north of Nice and with climbs before the finish, as particularly suited to its punchy and aggressive style. He and his Deceuninck-Quick Step team executed their plan like clockwork.

With his teammate Bob Jungels in the lead on the final climb, to the Col des Quatre Chemins on the outskirts of Nice, Alaphilippe first positioned himself in his wake. He then raced with strong acceleration in a right turn, quickly opening a breach. He was chased by the Swiss Marc Hirschi and the Briton Adam Yates, setting up a three-way fight for the stage victory.

As they speeded through central Nice, past huge yachts parked in its port and along the magnificent waterfront overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean, they collaborated in a strong headwind to keep the chasing pack remotely.

Alaphilippe adjusted his helmet and tightened his shoes as the trio then played a waiting game to see which of them would be the first to place the final winning speed blast. Alaphilippe outsmarted his pursuers with his acceleration, holding back Hirschi’s late charge. Yates was third.

“I asked my team to make the race difficult,” said Alaphilippe. “There weren’t many riders left on the last climb. I gave everything. I had nothing to lose. It was the victory that I was missing. The yellow jersey is the icing on the cake.

Then, slumped by the side of the road, he burst into tears. One of his teammates, Dries Devenyns, was impressed with the manner of victory.

“I pulled over to the side of the road to watch the last 500 meters on a spectator’s smartphone,” he said. “I screamed when he won. He already did two weeks in yellow last year, we have him again, we will protect him as much as we can.

Overall, Alaphilippe is four seconds ahead of Yates, with Hirschi in third place three seconds ahead of Monday’s hilly third stage from Nice to Sisteron.

The race lost three riders due to the series of accidents during the first stage. Many rolled around on Sunday with bandages and painful injuries, including a broken rib for Dutchman Wout Poels and a fractured base of the spine for Spain’s David De La Cruz.

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