Tour de France: Alaphilippe claims maiden stage

France’s Julian Alaphilippe, of the Quick Step team, finished the 10th stage several minutes ahead of the main peloton.

Jubilant: France’s Julian Alaphilippe celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the tenth stage of the Tour de France.   -  AP

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe turned on the style to secure his maiden Tour de France stage win on Tuesday as Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet stubbornly held on to the yellow jersey.

Alaphilippe, of the Quick Step team, launched an audacious lone attack on the third and penultimate climb and went on to solo over the finish several minutes ahead of the main peloton after a first day in the Alps marked by a yellow jersey truce.

Expected to challenge overnight leader Van Avermaet for the right to wear the race’s fabled tunic into Wednesday’s 11th stage, the Sky team of champion Chris Froome failed to muster a challenge despite its best-placed rider, Geraint Thomas, sitting only 43 seconds behind the Belgian in the overall standings.

Exceeding expectations

Van Avermaet, who is not a specialist climber, appeared under threat at the beginning of the 158.5 km race from Annecy featuring four categorised climbs and with a downhill finish into Le Grand Bornand. But the wily BMC rider exceeded expectations, joining an early breakaway that went on to build a healthy lead on the main peloton to stymie whatever plans Sky may have had of taking control of the race.

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In the end, Van Avermaet produced a fantastic performance to finish 1min 43secs behind Alaphilippe; Thomas, Froome and Team Sky trailed over the finish over three minutes behind the stage winner.

In the overall standings, Van Avermaet now leads Thomas, in second, by 2:22, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) now up to third overall at 3:10.

Van Avermaet explained: “I was waiting for a reaction from Sky when I went to try and get in the breakaway, but nobody reacted. Once I was in it, I knew it could be a good day. Alaphilippe was too strong for me to hope to win today, but I'm happy finishing fourth. And I'm really happy to keep the yellow jersey another day.”

Asked about his missed opportunity to take the race lead, Thomas said: “It would have been nice ... that's just the way it goes. Hats off to Van Avermaet, we kind of expected him to do that. It was a real strong ride from him, he deserves to have that jersey another day.”

Froome, who is bidding for his fourth consecutive Grand Tour win and fifth overall, is up to sixth place at 3:21.

The 11th stage, held between Albertville and La Rosiere, features four categorised climbs and the first summit finish of the race. It is only 108 km long, and Thomas predicted fireworks. “I think it will be racing full gas from the first climb,” he said.

The third and final day in the Alps is on Thursday when sparks are expected to fly on the 14km climb, over 21 hairpin bends, to the summit of Alpe d'Huez.