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Roundtable: How long can Alaphilippe hold the yellow jersey?

How long can Julian Alaphilippe hold the Tour de France race lead? And is Alaphilippe capable of one day winning cycling's biggest race?

After three stages the Tour de France has produced a surprise yellow jersey in Mike Teunissen and a dramatic victory from Julian Alaphilippe. The French hero now holds the yellow jersey with two stages to go until Thursday’s monster stage to La Planche des Belles Filles. How long can Alaphilippe hold on? Let’s roundtable!

How long can Julian Alaphilippe keep the yellow jersey?

Jim Cotton @jim_c_1985: Barring incident or injury, I’d say he can look forward to developing his collection of the toy lions awarded to the yellow jersey until at least stage 6 on Thursday, where the tough summit finish on La Planche des Belles Filles lies in wait.

Tuesday is a day for the sprinters so Alaphilippe’s lead should be safe there. Though there’s some tricky climbs on stage 5, Wednesday, they’re short enough for Alaphilippe to handle, but tough enough to shell his sprinter teammate Elia Viviani, meaning Deceuninck-Quick-Step will likely be working to protect the Frenchman’s jersey. Furthermore, there’s 10km of flat between the final climb and the finish line, meaning he should be able to finish with the more ‘pure’ climbers in GC contention easily enough.

Could the do-it-all Frenchman keep the jersey after the first summit finish on stage 6? Maybe, but on a day packed with seven categorized climbs, and with dedicated GC riders and teams Jumbo-Visma and Ineos 20 seconds and 40 seconds back respectively, it’s doubtful.

Fred Dreier @freddreierI think Alaphilippe holds it well beyond the stage 6 finish to La Planche des Belles Filles, and then loses it, finally, on the stage 13 individual time trial in Pau. Yep, I’m going with the wild prediction here. But hear me out: Alaphilippe is making steady progress as a climber — he simply lacks the ability to survive multiple enormous mountain stages day after day in a grand tour. But, I’m betting on him being able to survive one of these big days. And, he owns a 40-second advantage on Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) in the overall. My guess is the top GC favorites will go hard on La Planche des Belles Filles, however they will not bury themselves to try and take the jersey this early in the race. That will open the door for Alaphilippe to retain the lead.

Andrew Hood @eurohoody: He should be able to keep it to La Planche des Belles Filles. Deceuninck-Quick Step will be riding these next few days to not only protect Alaphilippe’s yellow jersey but also to set up Elia Viviani for the sprints. Tomorrow’s stage is the sprinters best chance this week, so Alaphilippe will have four or five other teams helping to control the bunch. Wednesday is another roller coaster, but other stage-hunters and GC riders will be interested in tamping down any dangerous moves, a dynamic that should help Alaphilippe to carry the yellow jersey to Belles Filles on Thursday.

Alaphilippe can win one-day races, but does he have the stamina to one day win the Tour de France? Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Is Alaphilippe capable of one day winning the Tour de France?

Jim: At 27 years of age, if Alaphilippe is going to start looking to win grand tours, he has the time to work towards it, but I’d say it’s unlikely. He goes well in a one-week race, having won the Tour of California and Tour of Britain, and come close in Paris-Nice in 2017. However, to win the Tour he’d certainly have to move from Deceuninck-Quick-Step to get the team support he needs over three weeks. And when you’ve won Milano-San-Remo and Flèche Wallonne, come second in Il Lombardia, and been well up in the mix in other monuments and major spring classics, would you want to throw all your energy into converting yourself to a three-week racer?

Fred: No. So long as the Tour de France continues to favor individual time trials and days of climbing in the high mountains, Alaphilippe will struggle. Like Andy, I believe he’s more cut out to win the Vuelta a España someday, where the course designers emphasize punchy, short climbs, and short and chaotic stages. But Alaphilippe is 27, so he has at least five or six more years to give it a go at a grand tour.

Andy: I think so, on the right kind of course. He’d be more suited for an explosive Vuelta a España route than a Tour de France packed with longer time trial kilometers. This year’s Tour, in many ways, is ideal for Alaphilippe. I don’t see him winning in a traditional way (i.e. attacking out of the GC group), but rather sneaking away while chasing KOM points and then gaining some valuable minutes, and then holding on, a la Thomas Voeckler. A podium is more realistic before outright victory, but this is only Alaphilippe’s third Tour start. He’s a rider with a lot of panache and aggression, two traits that typically are not associated with grand tour winners. It would be a shame for him to swap out his swashbuckling style for a chance to finish in the top-five by following wheels. If he could win someday, it would come from a race-changing coup.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

What is your assessment of the current GC battle thus far?

Jim: Given that we expected the Ineos leaders and Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennet and Steven Kruijswijk to be well placed at this stage due to their teams’ TTT prowess, I won’t mention them. One guy that we should keep an eye on is Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who lurks just 41 seconds down on the Jumbo-Visma duo. The shark said he’s going for the KOM jersey, but if he smells blood in the GC hunt, you never know when a killer attack may break the surface. Remember the 2016 Giro d’Italia where he crushed Kruijswijk’s dreams on the Coll d’Agnello? After Sunday’s TTT losses, I’d say that Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) is definitely out. He’s just not had the season to recoup the 1:17 to the Jumbo-Visma pair or the give-or-take one-minute deficit to Ineos pair Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal. Romain Bardet languishes back on the same time as the Australian, and has more chance of re-gaining time than Porte, but he’s also in a bad place.

Fred: I was really hoping that Movistar would fare better in the team time trial, and in my opinion, they are the big losers of the GC battle thus far. Yes, we all knew Romain Bardet and his Ag2r La Mondiale team would lose some time. But for Movistar to be almost a minute down is a loss.

Andy: It’s still too early to say. Though such riders as Bardet, Porte, and Movistar lost time in the TTT on Sunday, they actually lost less than in last year’s longer TTT course. Everyone is still fairly knotted up, and with Chris Froome out of the picture, the uncertainty among the GC favorites could mean that no one’s out of it just yet. Fuglsang’s crash could complicate his chances, but he’s got a few more stages to recover if he’s not too seriously banged up. This year’s Tour is a climber’s course, so the minimal losses so far between the top favorites doesn’t mean anyone’s out of it — yet.