Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe moved into the OVO Energy Tour of Britain race lead with two stages remaining after finishing second behind Team Sky’s Wout Poels at Whinlatter on Friday afternoon.
The Quick-Step Floors rider, making his debut in the race, produced an aggressive display on the climb up to the Forestry Commission’s Visitor Centre in Cumbria to distance overnight leader Primoz Roglic (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) and edge closer to the overall victory.
Dutchman Poels, who had earlier been distanced on the lower slopes of the climb after Alaphilippe’s team-mate Bob Jungels sacrificed his GC chances by kick-starting a flurry of attacks, has now the OVO Energy Tour of Britain’s last three hill-top finishes (Hartside Pass in 2015 and Haytor two years ago).
“I’m really happy – the team did a really good job – G [Geraint Thomas], Ian Stannard – so it’s really nice that I could finish it off,” said Poels, who moves into second overall, 17 seconds behind Alaphilippe.
However, he admitted winning the race overall would be a struggle: “Second is really nice, I’m quite happy with it. It’s going to be a hard fight – no more uphill finishes, everything is flat. But we’ll keep on trying.”
New OVO Energy Green Jersey leader Alaphilppe, who won Tuesday’s third stage in Bristol and is the race’s fifth leader in six days, said: “I’m really proud of my team today, they did an incredible performance. Everybody was riding for me and protecting me. Bob [Jungels] really fought for me.
“I was only riding to take the jersey; in the fight for the stage victory Wout was fresher than me so I’m not disappointed [to miss out].”
The race’s second day in Cumbria, presented by BAE Systems, was dramatic from the off as crosswinds split the peloton on the roads leaving the stage start in Barrow-in-Furness.
Although the majority of GC contenders made it into the front group, Stage Two winner Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-SCOTT) and SKODA King of the Mountains leader Nic Dlamini (Team Dimension Data) were among those caught out on the wrong side of the split before the groups rejoined after the day’s first Eisberg Sprint at Ulverston.
Quick-Step Floors’ desire to dislodge Roglic from the OVO Energy Green Jersey was evident here, as Alaphilippe and Jungels were first across the line at the prime, cutting their overnight deficits to the Team LottoNL-Jumbo rider to three and 14 seconds respectively.
A four-man breakaway, including former world time trial champions Tony Martin (Team KATUSHA ALPECIN) and Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky), went clear shortly after and were only caught at the start of the second ascent of Whinlatter with 3.5 kilometres remaining.
British champion Connor Swift was also among the quartet (he claimed the day’s bonus MacRebur Prime in Broughton Moor) as British team Madison Genesis went on the offensive. His team-mate Matt Holmes, the current Eisberg Sprints competition leader, tried to dislodge Dlamini from the SKODA King of the Mountains jersey but was followed across the line at the first four summits by the South African.
As soon as the peloton reeled in the quartet on the lower slopes of Whinlatter, Jungels immediately went on the attack, producing an acceleration that only a handful of riders could follow.
Briton Hugh Carthy (Team EF Education First – Drapac) was among them and successive attacks from him and Alaphilippe resulted in Roglic being dramatically distanced.
While the race leader was going backwards, Poels managed to bridge across to the two up front before sprinting to take the win. Alaphilippe crossed the line two seconds down, with Carthy securing third.
Roglic finished almost half a minute behind the stage winner, but sits third overall behind Alaphilippe and Poels.
Former race leader Patrick Bevin (BMC Racing) continues to lead the Wahoo Points Jersey, while Dlamini is close to securing the SKODA King of the Mountains jersey, with only a maximum of nine points up for grabs. Holmes will wear the Eisberg Sprints Jersey during Stage Seven on Saturday.
The penultimate stage of the race takes the riders to Nottinghamshire for the longest leg of the 2018 edition, a 215.6-kilometre run from West Bridgford to Mansfield, before the OVO Energy Tour of Britain culminates with a London circuit race on Sunday afternoon.