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LA UNIÓN, COLOMBIA - FEBRUARY 16: Arrival /...

Colombia: Alaphilippe attacks to take stage win and overall lead

Julian Alaphilippe holds a tenuous lead in the GC heading into the final summit finish.

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) outfoxed four of South America’s strongest climbers to win Saturday’s Queen stage of the Tour of Colombia 2.1 race into La Union. Alaphilippe sprinted to the victory ahead of Ecuadorian rider Richard Carapaz (Movistar) and Colombians Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Daniel Martinez (EF Education First) and Ivan Sosa (Team Sky).

With his stage victory Alaphilippe took over the GC lead of the race from his teammate Bob Jungels. He heads into Sunday’s finale nursing a an 8-second advantage on Martinez.

“I was really concentrating in the last climb and I put in a perfect effort at the perfect time,” Alaphilippe said. “The other guys were really strong so I had to dig deep.”

Indeed Alaphilippe was initially distanced on the decisive climb to Alto La Union in the waning kilometers of the 179km stage, which was comprised of six laps around a mountainous circuit. It was Martinez and Sosa who appeared to be strongest, and attacked into a two-man move with 10km remaining in the stage.

By that point Alaphilippe was already in the virtual lead of the race, having secured three bonus seconds during an intermediate sprint. Rather than attack up to the duo, he followed the wheels of Carapaz and Lopez, who pulled the duo back just before the finish.

Alaphilippe surged up the right hand side after the two groups merged. He bunny hopped two speed bumps before attacking to victory on a gradual uphill drag.

The stage victory continues Alaphilippe’s impressive early season success. In January he won two stages of Argentina’s Vuelta San Juan and finished second in the overall.

Alaphilippe must now defend his jersey on the race’s most challenging day, a 178km mountainous stage that finishes atop the Alto de Palmas climb. The 15.5km climb averages nearly 7 percent. A handful of top climbers all sit within a minute of Alaphilippe, including Sosa, Lopez, Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), and defending champion Egan Bernal (Sky).

“You never know what will happen on Sunday. I have the leader’s jersey but it’s hard to say if I will still have it on Sunday,” Alaphilippe said. “I will just give my best.”