SISTERON, France (AFP) – Australian rider Caleb Ewan produced an irresistible late burst of speed to pip a stunned Sam Bennett of Ireland on the finish line of stage three of the Tour de France on Monday.
France’s Julian Alaphilippe retained the leader’s yellow jersey after the 198-kilometer stage from the Nice football stadium to the hilltop town of Sisteron in Provence.
Ewan, 26, won three stages on the 2019 Tour but started this edition on his backside after a fall on the crash-strewn opening stage.
Ewan, known as the ‘Pocket Rocket’ and standing 1.65 meters, bided his time and overtook Bennett right on the line.
The timely win gave Lotto a double boost after the team was reduced from eight to six riders on stage one when Philippe Gilbert broke a knee while John Degenkolb was thrown off the race for missing the time cut after a nasty fall.
After a rampaging climax to Sunday’s race provided by Alaphilippe, this stage was a more leisurely run through a national park located between the Mediterranean and the foot of the Alps, winding through oak and pine-forested hills.
With around a third of the peloton nursing grazes and bumps from that bruising first stage, and with Sunday’s speedy stage in their legs, the teams took it slowly before the Tour was treated to its first real sprint.
”Today was one of the few real sprint opportunities, so we weren’t going to give that up,” Ewan said after stepping from the podium.
Superstar sprinter Peter Sagan was again in the mix and gleaned enough points from his fifth position to take the green jersey he has won a record seven times.
Despite the Covid-19 resurgence in France, the roadsides in this pastoral part of France were packed with fans on Tuesday.
Schoolchildren were out in force chasing the sweets and goodies thrown from the publicity caravan, which is about 70 percent smaller this year, and many were cheering home hero Alaphilippe.
”Winning yesterday really relaxed me,” said Alaphilippe. ”It’s a great honour to wear the jersey and I’ll be defending it day by day.”
Tuesday’s stage features a summit finish and a tricky hill-laden route from Sisteron to Orcieres where Alaphilippe faces a real fight from British rider Adam Yates for the overall lead. Just four seconds separate the two.
”I know it’ll be interesting with Adam Yates tomorrow,” said Alaphilippe, who now surpasses former winner Geraint Thomas in days wearing the yellow jersey.
”It’s a difficult stage, I hear. I havent really studied it yet, but we’ll keep an eye on him (Yates),” Alaphilippe added.
Yates, who has signed a deal to switch to Ineos, came fourth in the 2016 Tour de France where he also won the white jersey for the best under-25 rider.
Frenchman Anthony Lopez broke a shoulder in a collision with a Cofidis team car that is being investigated, but amazingly, given how many falls there have been each day, he was just the fourth of the original field of 176 to leave the Tour so far.