Unstoppable Julian Alaphilippe swaps rainbow jersey for maillot jaune

Deceuninck-Quick-Step star delivers searing victory just days after birth of first child to claim 2021 Tour's first yellow jersey.

Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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LANDERNEAU, France (VN) — Julian Alaphilippe‘s wardrobe will soon be overflowing.

The reigning world champion swapped his rainbow jersey for the maillot jaune with an explosive attack Saturday that left his rivals gasping on the steep uphill finale to open the 2021 Tour de France.

In one of the most dramatic and chaotic opening days at the Tour in recent years, Alaphilippe attacked with crowd-pleasing panache to open the 2021 Tour in style.

“It’s special to change the rainbow jersey for the yellow jersey,” Alaphilippe gushed. “I have no words. This is something crazy.”

The latest yellow jersey comes in addition to the 14 days he rode in yellow in 2019 and further three in 2020.

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Alaphilippe left everyone on the road to snag yellow jersey number 18 on Saturday.

In a hilly stage across France’s Brittany, Alaphilippe uncorked a devastating attack on the lower ramps of the Fosse aux Loups climb (3km at 5.7%), attacking near the bottom where it was the steepest.

The world champion grimaced in a drag race to the line, but the French star buried himself and ignored the searing lactate acid in his legs to maintain his gap to chasers that included Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), who crossed the line second and third, respectively, at eight seconds back.

Deceuninck-Quick-Step delivers sublime victory

Alaphilippe left the Tour de Suisse early at the start of this month for the birth of his first child, Nino, and he sucked his thumb in his honor as he crossed the line.

“My intention was to win a stage as soon as possible, and I wanted to make the race hard at the base of the climb, and I wanted to get rid of some of the sprinters and fast finishers,” Alaphilippe said. “Everyone expected my attack, and we didn’t hide our intentions.

“We rode at the front all day, and my teammates positioned me very well,” he said. “I made a gap, and then I went even harder. It was a very violent effort, and that makes the victory even nicer.”

Alaphilippe’s searing victory came on a day marred by two massive crashes. Alaphilippe was involved in the first one with about 45km to go when the entire road was blocked by a tangle of carbon fibre and Lycra, but he avoided the second pileup in the closing kilometers that sent Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) to the ground.


Alaphilippe followed the wheels of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step train, and Kasper Asgreen, winner at the Tour of Flanders, sprinted to the base of the climb to set up the world champion.

Alaphilippe’s surge caught out pre-race favorites like Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), and only Pierre Latour (Totalenergies) tried to stay with him.

Chasing favorites tried in vain to mount a serious pursuit, but no one was going to deny Alaphilippe on this day.

“It’s special for me to win at the Tour with the rainbow jersey,” Alaphilippe said. “I left home just a few days after the birth of my son, but I came here to perform. If someone had told me the rainbow jersey for the yellow jersey, I would not have believed it.”

With Sunday’s hilltop finale at Mûr de Bretagne up next, could Alaphilippe make it two in a row and keep yellow?

“This is a special moment and I want to enjoy it,” he said. “And when I lose the yellow jersey, I will wear the rainbow jersey again, so things could be worse.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.