NICE, France: A year after capturing French hearts, Julian Alaphilippe claimed the Tour de France yellow jersey again when he kept his composure to win the second stage on Sunday (Aug 30).
Alaphilippe, who last year wore the coveted jersey for 14 days, prevailed in a three-man sprint ahead of Swiss Marc Hirschi and Briton Adam Yates.
Dark horse Dani Martinez, winner of the Criterium du Dauphine, lost three minutes 38 seconds after cracking in the last climb of the day shortly after crashing in a descent.
He could not sustain the sudden change of pace when Alaphilippe broke clear in the short ascent to the Col des Quatre Chemins before being joined by Hirschi, and further up the road by Yates.
"I wanted to try something. It was like a one-day race and it suits my profile," Alaphilippe said.
"It's a big emotion because I've won on the Tour. I haven't won (a race) since the start of the season. It's great to make it. It was tough but I'm super happy to have won."
The trio opened a 20-second gap but with the peloton closing in rapidly, Alaphilippe launched his triumphant sprint in front of a handful of fans as Nice is on red alert amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The Deceuninck Quick Step rider pointed his finger to the sky before collapsing in tears after the line, dedicating his win to his father, who died two months ago.
Last year, Alaphilippe took the yellow jersey for the first time after the third stage. While he relinquished it on stage six, it was back in his possession following stage eight and unexpectedly he held on to it till stage 19, surrendering it only two days before the finish in Paris.
"You have to respect the yellow jersey so of course I'm going to defend it again," said Alaphilippe.
Thibaut Pinot, tipped as the rider most likely to end France's 35-year wait for a home-grown winner, said he was worried by a back problem after a crash on Saturday, but he had a quiet day in the bunch.
His key lieutenant David Gaudu, suffering from a lower back injury, looked to be on the verge of abandoning the race after being dropped on the flat in the first kilometres but the Frenchman grinded on and rejoined the peloton before the first climb of the day to the Col de la Colmiane (176.3 km at 6.3 per cent).
Another pre-race favourite, Tom Dumoulin, hit the ground on the last climb after touching Michal Kwiatkowski's rear wheel but the Dutchman appeared unhurt.
Overnight yellow jersey holder Alexander Kristoff lost touch with the peloton five kilometres from the top of the Col de Turini, a 14.9km climb at an average gradient of 7.4 per cent, way before the action started.