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There were two Deceuninck-Quick-Step-branded leader’s jerseys ready to go after Wednesday’s Tour de France stage into Privas. One of them was not worn as long as the team would have liked.
At the close of the Tour’s fifth stage Wednesday, the Belgian team had already begun celebrating a day that had seen them both successfully defend Julian Alaphilippe‘s yellow jersey, and place Sam Bennett into the green jersey at the top of the points classification.
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“Julian didn’t deserve to lose the jersey like that, but the rules are the same for everyone,” team boss Patrick Lefevere told Le Parisien last night. “It’s incredible. On arrival, we had two jerseys: yellow for Julian and green for Sam Bennett. And suddenly, we only have one.”
Lefevere was resigned to the fact that the rules are the rules, and that they broke them. However, for a team as experienced and established as Deceuninck-Quick-Step, such a lapse in focus is a tough blow.
“Of course, in cycling, you may lose your jersey in a fall, a puncture, from bad shape or if there’s someone stronger than yourself,” Lefevere said. “But to lose the jersey for such stupidity … And besides, the one who committed this stupidity is from us.”
With the pace rocketing up in the final hour of racing as teams elbowed in anticipation of a bunch sprint and the roads becoming increasingly cluttered with road furniture and roundabouts, sports director Tom Steels explained that Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s options for a hand-up were limited.
“We know about the 20-kilometer rule,” Steels said on social media. “It was quite dangerous at 70kph, then there was a flat part to get in position for the climb. It was the only spot we could still give a bottle.
“It’s a special Tour, everybody has to be careful with the bottles and we have to stay out of the way of the public. So there were some circumstances as to why we missed the 20-kilometer mark by two kilometers. We made a mistake, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
With Alaphilippe now 16-seconds off the GC lead, the Frenchman may not see the yellow jersey again, freeing him to return to his swashbuckling, swaggering best when sniping for stages.
“We are ‘The Wolfpack,’ so we hope to get back in this Tour and fight again for stage wins,” Steels promised.
“For Julian, for France, for the organization – Julian’s one of the most popular riders that there are, to take the yellow away from him on this matter, sporting-wise, it’s very difficult to cope with.
“If you lose it because you’re not good enough it’s no problem, but this way it’s hard, but there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s still two and a half weeks of the Tour. We will get back in a good way and try to win a stage again.”
Expect ‘The Wolfpack” to come out snarling in the stages to come. The summit finish atop Mont Aigoual Thursday could give Alaphilippe an early opportunity to bite back.