By Carlos de Torres
Privas, France, Sep 2 (efe-epa).- Belgian Wout van Aert captured the Tour de France’s fifth stage in a sprint finish on Wednesday, while the United Kingdom’s Adam Yates grabbed the leader’s yellow jersey after Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe was assessed a 20-second penalty for illegal feeding.
The 25-year-old Van Aert, a versatile competitor who is a three-time cyclo-cross world champion, one-day classic racer, national time-trial champion and now two-time stage winner at the Tour de France, injected some excitement into a 183-kilometer (114-mile) largely downhill Stage 5 from Gap to Privas that strangely featured no breakaways or attacks.
Van Aert, a Jumbo-Visma cyclist whose maiden Tour de France campaign ended prematurely last year when he crashed into a barrier and suffered a deep gash in his upper thigh, beat out Dutch Sunweb cyclist Cees Bol and Irish Deceuninck-Quick Step rider Sam Bennett in the final stretch.
“I didn’t think I would be able get back to this level when I fell last year at (the time trial in) Pau. The months afterwards were really tough,” the Belgian was quoted as saying on the Tour’s official website after posting a time of four hours, 21 minutes and 22 seconds on Wednesday.
The big surprise of the day came when Alaphilippe, who rides for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, was slapped with a 20-second penalty for taking a water bottle within the final 20 km of the race and fell all the way from first to 16th in the General Classification.
The 28-year-old Yates, who has completed five stages in 22:28:30, benefited from the Frenchman’s slip-up and became the ninth British rider to wear the yellow jersey at a Tour de France.
The Mitchelton-Scott cyclist leads a pair of Slovenian riders – Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) – by three seconds and seven seconds, respectively. French Cofidis cyclist Guillaume Martin is nine seconds behind Yates in fourth place, while Colombian defending champion Egan Bernal is fifth.
Two other pre-race favorites, Dutchman Tom Dumoulin and Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, are currently sixth and seventh, respectively.
Wednesday’s stage was virtually unprecedented in terms of the total lack of breakaways.
It called to mind the 16th stage of the 1995 Tour when the cyclists honored an Italian rider, Fabio Casartelli, who had died in a crash the day before; and a riders’ strike in the 17th stage of the 1998 race.
There had been talk of strong crosswinds in the Rhone Valley, around 30 km from the finish line, but they did not materialize.
Afterward, Yates said he would have preferred to snag the yellow jersey on his own merit but vowed to try to hold on to it in Thursday’s 191-km Stage 6 from Le Teil to Mont Aigoual, which like Tuesday’s Stage 4 will feature a difficult summit finish.
“I would have liked to take the yellow jersey in a different way, but now that we have it we’ll defend it. We’ll take it stage by stage. Tomorrow, on the Mont Aigoual, it will be one hell of a battle,” he was quoted as saying on the Tour’s official website. EFE-EPA