LE GRAND-BORNAND, France >> France has a new cycling star.
Two days after the country’s soccer players won the World Cup, Julian Alaphilippe became the first French winner of a stage at this year’s Tour de France today.
Fueled by previous disappointments and thoughts of his ill father watching on TV, Alaphilippe timed his break perfectly and powered to victory on the first day in the mountains, crossing the line alone, and finishing well ahead of his rivals for his first Tour win.
“I imagined winning it because it was a huge objective for me, but to win it like that, all alone …,” Alaphilippe said.
“I don’t know how many kilometers I was alone – phew, it was a bit risky but I tried to up the pace and I really profited.”
He finished 1 minute, 34 seconds ahead of Jon Izagirre Insausti, 1:40 ahead of Rein Taaramae, and 1:44 in front of overall leader Greg Van Avermaet.
Taaramae was leading when Alaphilippe attacked going up the category-one Col de Romme, and the Estonian rider was unable to find a response. Alaphilippe increased his lead over the Col de la Colombiere before zooming down the final finish.
“I was really happy that the last kilometer was downhill,” Alaphilippe joked after giving the Quick Step team its third win from 10 stages. “A rare and special moment.”
The 26-year-old Alaphilippe pounded his chest and lifted his arms to celebrate as he crossed the line, and struggled to hold back his tears afterward.
The French rider, who previously won the Walloon Arrow one-day classic in Belgium in April and the 2016 Tour of California, had had plenty of disappointments over the years. He missed the 2017 Tour de France due to injury, and has endured narrow defeats to Peter Sagan.
“I’ve had plenty of frustrations. But they are things that make you stronger. The emotion I had today was not because of the frustrations but because of the pain. Because I really wanted this victory,” Alaphilippe said.
“I thought a lot of my family, of my dad who’s not well who was watching on the TV. It cracked me up because I knew he was watching. Yep, there were a lot of emotions.”
Asked if he expects to keep the red polka dot jersey given to the so-called King of the Mountains, Alaphilippe replied, “I don’t think so. It’s a long way to Paris but I’m really happy to have this one for a minimum of one day.”
The second of three Alpine stages takes place Wednesday.