George Bennett climbed up to fourth overall as Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step took the stage along with the maillot jaune on day 3 of the Tour de France.  Alaphilippe attacked solo to take the win ahead of Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb and Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo.

The early stages of the third stage of this year’s Tour de France provided plenty of aggression with a number of riders keen and eager to get in the break on a day that could well suit a breakaway.  While the first 164km of racing weren’t overly challenging, the final 51km presented a series of short, sharp rises including four categorised climbs; none longer than 1.8km but all averaging 7% or more.

Stéphane Rossetto of Cofidis, Solutions Credits, Tim Wellens of Lotto Soudal, Paul Ourselin of Team Total Direct Energie, Yoann Offredo of Wanty-Gobert and Anthony Delaplace of Team Arkéa Samsic took their place as the break of the day, forming after a few high intensity kilometres within the peloton.  As they formed it was Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin and Jakob Fuglsang’s Astana team who led the peloton with a green-clad Peter Sagan and Team Ineos all paying attention to the goings on at the front of the race.

Patrick Bevin gets ready for stage 3. He’d crash part way through the stage but recover to finish in the grupetto, photo Sirotti

Kiwis top and tail the peloton as breakaway hunts KOM points

With 180km to go the break’s advantage topped the 3.30min barrier and continued to climbing out to in excess of 4 minutes.  Tim Wellens was the most dangerous of the riders in the breakaway group, and a rider who could not be left to his own devices once the race reached the final 51km.  A gifted climbed with a great engine to go the distance, Wellens had come to the Tour in good form after taking a stage and third overall in the Baloise Belgium Tour to go along with the three wins he’d taken in February.

Despite the prowess of the break, Tony Martin who’d been a constant on the front for the first 70+km, saw no problem in allowing the break’s lead to climb to almost 6.20mins with 135km to go.  Finally, though, Deceuninck-Quick Step added their presence to the front of the peloton and that started to see the break’s advantage drop.  With 120km to go the gap had dropped to beneath 5 minutes for the first time and that lead proceeded to drop a little more rapidly from there as the race headed for its first French finish of the 2019 Tour.

Perhaps mindful of the final flurry of climbs, the bunch appeared quite eager to see the break brought back, and that was reflected in the time gap coming down to 3.20mins with 100km to go.  Deceuninck-Quick Step and Jumbo-Visma were very prominent on the front of the peloton, and Kiwis George Bennett and Tom Scully were also noticeable towards the front.  For Bennett, the first two stages of the Tour de France had surely been something of a dream with the team taking both of the opening two stages.  He sat about 6-8 riders back in the bunch.

Tom Scully was also present close to the front of the action with his EF Education First teammates.  The team weren’t interested in being on the front and overexerting themselves yet; with other teams willing to do the chasing.  Patrick Bevin, on the other hand, was quite happy sitting towards the back of the race in a peloton that was behaving itself very well thus far.

Mike Teunissen surrendered the yellow jersey after a tough third stage, photo Sirotti

Bevin hits the deck as several riders struggle

It would be interesting to see how much of an advantage the breakaway would carry by the time the first of the short climbs kicked in, and it became evident that Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck-Quick Step were interested in minimising that lead as much as possible.  The intensity was reasonably high in the peloton approaching 60km to go.  As the peloton closed to within 1.45mins a narrowing of the road saw a number of riders towards the back of the peloton hit the deck; including Patrick Bevin.  Bevin was relatively unscathed, able to remount quickly and get back to chasing.  He joined three others who’d been held up in the form of Michael Matthews, Steve Cummings and Nicolas Roche.

Problems befell other riders too with the likes of Jack Haig, Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot also brought to a halt as the riders finally reached 51km to go and the first of the rises.  The break at this point had a lead of 2 minutes but anything could happen from here as riders reached the first of the categorised climbs day.  It was at this point that Tim Wellens struck for home alone; or at least for KOM points, the first of which came with 42km remaining.

Wellens quickly opened up a 49 second advantage over his former breakaway companions by the time he took the first point of the stage.  The next of the points came with 29.5km to go and Wellens simply kept at it, building his lead over the remnants of the move that were moving back into the peloton steadily.  Team Ineos led the peloton to catch the rest of the move at the bottom of the Cote d’Hautvillers.  The intensity of the race was high at this point, but Wellens was digging deep to try an stay clear for as many KOM points as he could retain.  Behind him Yves Lampaert and Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step led the peloton but there was notable interest from the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana, Jakob Fuglsang and more.

Who Ineos will side with in the GC quest is a mystery, with Egan Bernal so far having the slight upper hand, photo Sirotti

Wellens takes KOM, Alaphilippe hits for home

The roads were proving too severe for a number of sprinters with Caleb Ewan and Andre Greipel coming unstuck from the back of the peloton.  Wellens, meanwhile, was charging on; knowing he had a genuine chance to take the points on the Cote de Champillon with 25km to go.  The allure of the polka dot jersey was strong for the Belgian who kept on driving his way forward to get 2 more points.  As the peloton reached the bottom of the climb Daniel Oss of BORA-Hansgrohe led the main field.  

Wellens reached the summit with a 1.09min lead over the peloton and it was uncertain whether he’d get to hold his advantage all the way to the final climb up the Cote de Mutigny.  He was able to keep the chase at bay for the most part, putting in a solid and effective effort and still holding a lead of just shy of 1 minute with 17km left to race.  He reached the foot of the climb with 57 seconds in hand but Deceuninck-Quick Step were turning up the heat in the bunch, with Dries Devenyns hitting the front of the peloton and driving things forward, with Julian Alaphilippe looking well and truly ready to strike.

With 16km to go. Wellens’ lead was down to 20 seconds.  Alaphilippe found himself isolated but unwilling to go deep just yet.  Also near the front were the likes of Egan Bernal, Michal Kwiatkowski, Michael Woods and Peter Sagan, as the gap to Wellens was just being eaten up.  Suddenly with 15.8km to go Alaphilippe made his move and gobbled up the gap to the Belgian.  The Frenchman wouldn’t catch Wellens until the Belgian had just about made it to the summit of the climb.  Mike Teunissen was among those suffering in the sun, his days in the maillot jaune over.

Michael Matthews leads home the main field to take second place, photo Sirotti

Alaphilippe unstoppable en route to stage & yellow

The heavily reduced peloton saw just 30-40 riders forced to chase the rampant Alaphilippe.  Jumbo-Visma took up the chase but it quickly became apparent that their objective would have to be limiting losses rather than bringing him back.  Alaphilippe plummeted down the descent towards the final 10km.  As he did so Alexey Lutsenko of Astana, Mikel Landa of Astana, Maximilian Schachmann and Michael Woods of EF Education First formed a brief alliance in a small chase quartet, but they could do nothing about Alaphilippe and quickly found themselves back in the bunch being drawn along by Team Sunweb.

With 9km to go Alaphilippe had 52 seconds in hand over the peloton and 1.19mins over Teunissen; the stage and the yellow jersey were up for grabs.  George Bennett remained at the front of the peloton, while Team Ineos were also keeping themselves safe as houses at the front.  Through 5km to go the lead of Alaphilippe was such that it would provisionally put George Bennett up to third place overall.  Bennett and co were 34 seconds in arrears and now starting to close with EF Education First now aiding the chase effort.  At 4km the gap was holding at 30 seconds as the fatigue started to show for Alaphilippe.  Ineos, with Kwiatkowski, Thomas and Bernal, succeeded EF Education First at the front of the bunch, but with the last of the climbs – barring the ramp to the line – done and dusted; Alaphilippe was plummeting down toward the finish.

At 2km to go Alaphilippe’s lead was 34 seconds and from here the roads went back up once more.  The final kilometre plus a featured cobbled roads, making for one last slog to the line.  Alaphilippe made pretty light work of the remainder of the challenge; although the final 300m kicked up once more.  Alaphilippe didn’t celebrate prematurely, digging deep instead to secure the stage and with it the maillot jaune.

Behind him Greg Van Avermaet led out the sprint, but it was Michael Matthews who had the best legs to take second place ahead of Stuyvens, Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan.  George Bennett finishing just behind the Matthews group was enough for him to move into 4th overall, 25 seconds behind Alaphilippe and 5 seconds behind Wout Van Aert; and level on time with team leader Steven Kruijswijk.

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