Having earned himself an easy day at the top of GC in Monday’s snoozy sprint stage, the Frenchman is braced for a battle to keep the treasured Maillot Jaune atop his shoulders today.
“It’s a real pleasure to have this jersey on the shoulders,” Alaphilippe said Monday. “Tomorrow it will be a difficult stage with an uphill finish, but I hope that I will be able to keep the jersey. But I will give everything.”
Tuesday’s stage to Orcieres-Merlette rolls through the lumps and bumps of the Hautes-Alpes before finishing with a sting in the 7.1km, 6.7 percent grind to the ski station final. The steady slopes are perhaps ones not best-suited to the explosive kick of the Frenchman, and could see him elbowing for space among the trains of Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers. But he can’t be ruled out, and he sure won’t go down without a fight.
“Tomorrow, I will do my best to defend the yellow jersey … I will give it my all to keep it. If I keep it, it will be another bonus,” he said. “Every day is just a bonus.”
The 28-year-old had gone into this year’s Tour with the stated aim of targeting stages rather than repeating his dramatic 14 days at the top of the GC in 2019. The wiley Frenchman had scoped out stage 2 as a prime candidate for a fifth Tour de France stage victory, and sure enough, he delivered with his last gasp sprint Sunday, taking the stage, and whether by accident or design, the yellow jersey.
While the yellow jersey is a big enough prize in itself, Alaphilippe’s stage 2 win was also a welcome release of the pressure valve. Having not won a race since the 2019 Tour’s time trial over 13 months ago, expectations were high after narrowly losing out to Wout van Aert by a tire’s width at Milano-Sanremo and being outpunched by the pure sprinters to finish third at the French nationals in the week before the Tour.
With Sunday’s win, the weight is off Alaphilippe’s shoulders and the baroudeur is bristling for more.
“The feeling is different, really different from last year,” he said. “The feeling to get the yellow jersey this time was a relief, I feel much more relaxed after I won yesterday. I was missing a win and I did it in style.
“Tomorrow will be a difficult stage but we will control the race, and the legs will do the talking,” Alaphilippe said. “Just thinking I have to fight gives me a lot of motivation.”
By successfully retaining the maillot jaune for the 16th day of his career, Alaphilippe entered the history books Monday by drawing level with two-time Tour champ Bernard Thévenet in the all-time list of French wearers of the yellow jersey.
Alaphilippe has got some way to go if he’s to match Bernard Hinault’s 76 days in yellow, but he could be in with a few more days in the jersey yet. If he survives today’s battle to Orcieres-Merlette in the GC lead, a sprint stage follows Wednesday before another uphill finish Thursday that could suit him. After that, it’s another day for the sprinters.
Alaphilippe was asked Monday whether he’s satisfied with his stage win and brace of days in yellow at this year’s race.
“I always want more,” he replied.
Buckle your seatbelt and wait for Alaphilppe to animate.