The first sprint stage of the Tour de France was a formulaic affair with a two-man breakaway going clear in the first few hundred metres. 193 km later – moving from the Basque Country and into France along the way – the peloton arrived in Bayonne for the first bunch sprint of the Tour de France, won by Jasper Philipsen after a confident performance from Alpecin-Deceuninck.
How it happened:
- Neilson Powless topped up his breakaway kilometre count with an attack from the flag drop in his fetching new skinsuit – he swapped out yesterday’s team shorts for red legs to match the polka dots. The American got his obligatory French companion in Laurent Pichon (Arkéa-Samsic), and the pair was let go by a very relaxed peloton.
- Powless successfully scooped up the lion’s share of mountains points on offer, leaving Pichon to take max sprint points – the points won’t matter so much as the prize he gets to take back to the Arkéa team bus. Then soon after the last ‘mountain’ of the stage, Powless called it a day and left Pichon alone with about 80 km between the lone Frenchman and the finish line.
- The peloton took mercy on Pichon with about 45 km to go, about 10 km into France, and the key sprint teams began to wind things up for the sprint in Bayonne, Jumbo-Visma coming forward to help Soudal Quick-Step, Alpecin-Deceuninck, Lidl-Trek and Jayco-AlUla which had been busiest controlling things all day.
- The run-in was littered with roundabouts and the final few kilometres became even more technical before the slight rise to the finishing straight. Soudal Quick-Step took charge as ever, but it was Alpecin-Deceuninck that played it perfectly, staying out of the way until it really mattered: Jonas Rickaert and luxury lead-out Mathieu van der Poel neatly chaperoned Philipsen through the melee and to the front of the bunch, setting the sprinter up to power across the line for his third career Tour stage.
- There was a minor delay following the stage as the commissaires deliberated over a potential line-deviation from the stage winner, but the result was eventually ratified and he was allowed to give his winner’s interview.
- Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck)
- Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious)
- Caleb Ewan (Lotto Dstny)
- Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal Quick-Step)
- Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
- Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates)
- Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) +6s
- Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla) “
- Victor Lafay (Cofidis) +12s
- Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) +16s
A textbook ‘transition stage’ from the very start.
- After two wild and action-packed days in the Basque hills, it was high time for a good old-fashioned Tour ‘transition’ stage, i.e. a small breakaway forms from kilometre zero – and later becomes even smaller once the requisite points have been gathered by one of them – and the peloton takes most of the day off, but for a hotly contested intermediate sprint, and finally a gallop to the line.
- Soudal Quick-Step did as Soudal Quick-Step does in the finale, bossing the front of the bunch with a view to deliver Fabio Jakobsen to victory. However, the wheels fell off a little in the final two km as the bunch was whittled down. Yves Lampaert’s day was done, and with Michael Mørkøv and Jakobsen several wheels back, Kasper Asgreen was left to drive the pace on the front, with Intermarché-Circus-Wanty in second position. But through a combination of Asgreen’s last-gasp effort and the fading of Biniam Girmay’s last man Adrien Petit, the Dane found himself off the front under the flamme rouge, which opened up space for another team to swoop in and take supremacy. Enter Alpecin-Deceuninck, which had until now stayed out of the wind.
- Jonas Rickaert brought Mathieu van der Poel and Philipsen to the front of the charging bunch, then passed the baton to Van der Poel, whose leadout was exemplary, lifting the pace and stringing out their rivals. Wout van Aert looked to be in a good position as he came up to Philipsen’s right, but eased off the pedals in the closing metres – the win was gone and he wasn’t prepared to risk smashing into the barriers that flared slightly into the road, impeding his path.
- Caleb Ewan’s third place sets a promising precedent for this Tour, the Australian hoping to re-establish himself as one of the world’s best sprinters after a couple of seasons of bad luck. It’s especially promising given that Lotto DSTNY teammate Jasper de Buyst was not at his disposal after the Belgian leadout rider crashed heavily yesterday. He was able to continue the race, though, so may be called back to work before too long.
- A little behind the low-slung Australian was Mark Cavendish whose sixth-place finish in a fairly hectic finale makes that 35th stage win look eminently possible as we get deeper into the race …
Neilson Powless took a leaf out of his teammate Magnus Cort’s book (vol. 2022) in his second consecutive Grand Depart breakaway effort.
What’s next: stage 4 preview
The second in a pair of flat-ish days, stage 4 from Dax to Nogaro ought to be another chance for the sprinters. With the Pyrenees on the horizon, the peloton will be eager to keep things under control on the slightly rolling roads – there are only three stages with less elevation, including stage 21 to Paris and stage 16’s 22.4 km ITT. The fast finish on the Nogaro motor racing circuit should add some spice to the finale, with an 800-metre straight to the line offering up a textbook bunch gallop.
Quote of the day:
Philipsen had plenty of time to catch his breath before giving his interview post-stage, but once he’d had victory confirmed, he was only too happy to offer his teammates the praise they deserved after a long day.
“It was tense, but it’s the Tour de France, there are no presents to nobody, so I think everybody goes all in. I think I can be really happy with our team performance today. We had a great lead-out. Jonas [Rickaert] did the first part and then Mathieu did a great job, and I’m really happy to keep it to the finish line.”
He was asked specifically about Van der Poel’s sheer power in the leadout, after which Philipsen had to navigate the curved sprint to the line; this is where his sprinting line came under scrutiny, but the conclusion drawn was that the barriers deviated more than he did.
“Yeah, it’s amazing. If he has the space to go, then for sure he has the speed, and you just know that no other leadout will pass him. It was a tricky final with the S-bend in the end, so I tried to take the shortest road to the finish, and I’m really happy to get first over the line.”
Best of social media
The Tour left the Basque Country towards the end of stage 3, but not before more magnificent vistas along the coast.
With the KOM hunt done and dusted, Powless dropped back to the peloton for a bit of a breather, but not before a customary ‘salut’ to Pichon.
From Basque flags to…
- It’s been a busy few days and the mind games have already started between the top GC teams.
- Over in Italy, there was a spectacular display of attacking in the hills on stage 4 of the Giro Donne, with an elite selection of Annemiek van Vleuten, Elisa Longo Borghini and Veronica Ewers sprinting for the win.
- Finally, we at Escape Collective have some thoughts on the new green jersey …
What did you think of this story?