Dan Martin (Etixx-Quick Step) finished fourth on today’s second stage of the Tour de France which was enough to move the Irish rider into tenth place overall.
It was a good day for his team, as Julian Alaphilippe finised in second place, just beaten to the win by World Champion Peter Sagan. This moved Alaphilippe into the white jersey of best young rider.
The riders faced three categorised climbs along the way (Côte de Tarigny-les-Villes, Côte de Montabot and Côte de Montpinchon), before the final hurdle of the day in the finish town of Cherbourg, the Côte de la Glacerie, a 1.9-km long climb averaging 6.5%, but ramping up to 15%.
A break of four was formed soon after the start, Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Vegard Breen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18) getting green light from the peloton to stretch out their lead to a maximum of seven minutes.
With 124 kilometers remaining, a pile-up saw many riders hit the ground, including Tony Martin, Fabio Sabatini and former race winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff). None of the riders involved was seriously hit, so they came back to the bunch before the 100 km mark.
Following the intermediate sprint in Port-Bail, the gap began to drop, but it was only inside the final 40 kilometres that the bunch began to pick up the pace and helped also by the crosswinds, to chew into the breakaway’s advantage.
Inside the last 10 kilometres, Stuyven attacked and distanced his fellow escapees, while the pack was pushing a hyperactive rhythm behind, which eventually led to the gap evaporating and the Belgian being caught under the flamme rouge.
Thanks to the work of his Etixx – Quick-Step teammates, Julian Alaphilippe was well-placed in these decisive part of the stage, the 700-m long ascent (with an average gradient of 5.7%), and hit the front with around 400 metres to go from a group which included many GC favourites and Classics specialists.
Of these, only Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) managed to top the young Frenchman, passing him in the last 50 metres, thus claiming the honours and the yellow jersey. Alaphilippe concluded the day in second place, ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and teammate Martin.
“The team did a great job controlling the race and bringing me in a good position, despite the rain and the narrow roads. I felt good and gave everything I had, but Sagan was better,” said Alaphippe. “In those last 500 meters I was thinking only of taking the victory, as I was feeling strong, but in the end I had to be content with second place.”
“Maybe I started the sprint a bit too early, but to be honest I have no regrets, because I gave it my all and Sagan was simply better, he’s the world champion for a reason”, said 24-year-old Julian, who proved once again what a special talent he is.”
“It was a hard finish and everyone was suffering,” said Dan Martin. “I watched the sprint of Julian and Peter from behind and it was like they were going in slow motion. Another second today for us, it’s true, but this just shows the incredible depth of this team. It was once again close and this only gives us extra motivation. I’m sure better days will come for us.”