NICE, France — Julian Alaphilippe is back making a splash at the Tour de France and once again wearing the iconic yellow jersey.

The French showman, who more than any other helped turn the 2019 edition into a thriller, again showered the Tour with his class and guile Sunday, poaching victory on Stage 2 in the picture-postcard Mediterranean city of Nice and taking the overall race lead.

A final burst of acceleration timed with precision enabled Alaphilippe to shake two pursuers and hold off the main pack of riders furiously gaining ground on the finishing straight.

Deprived of wins since his feats that enchanted French fans last summer, Alaphilippe kissed his finger and raised it to the sky as he crossed the line, a tribute to his father who died in June.

“I promised myself that I'd win for him," Alaphilippe said.

“I hadn’t won a single race this year yet. But I’ve always remained serious with my training despite the difficult moments I went through. I dedicate this victory to my father."

The stage win, his fifth in four Tours, will anchor his status as a darling of French cycling fans, conquered by his thrilling riding at last year's edition, when he held the race lead for 14 days.

He is now back in yellow, thanks to time bonuses picked up for winning the stage and on the final climb of the arduous day of riding through mountains north of Nice.

Alaphilippe is playing down any hope of winning the overall title in Paris in three weeks, but he intends to cling onto the coveted jersey for as long as he can.

“The yellow jersey has to be respected,” he said. “I will defend it with honour.”

Alaphilippe had identified Stage 2 with its hill-climbs before the finish as particularly suited to his punchy, aggressive style. He and his Deceuninck-Quick Step team executed their plan like clockwork.

With teammate Bob Jungels leading the way on the final climb, up to the Quatre Chemins pass on the outskirts of Nice, Alaphilippe first positioned himself in his slipstream. He then raced off with a sharp acceleration on a right-hand bend, quickly opening a gap. He was chased down by Swiss rider Marc Hirschi and Briton Adam Yates, setting up a three-way fight for the stage victory.

Speeding into central Nice, past huge yachts parked in its harbour and along the stunning seafront overlooking the Mediterranean's azure waters, they collaborated in a strong headwind to keep the chasing pack at bay.

Alaphilippe adjusted his helmet and tightened his shoes as the trio then played a waiting game to see which of them would be first to place the final winning burst of speed. Alaphilippe outfoxed his pursuers with his acceleration, holding off Hirschi's late charge. Yates was third.

“I asked my team to make the race hard," Alaphilippe said. “There weren’t many riders left in the last climb. I gave it all. I had nothing to lose. This is the victory that I was missing. The yellow jersey is the icing on the cake.”

Afterward, slumped by the roadside, he burst into tears. One of his teammates, Dries Devenyns, was awed by the manner of the win.

“I stopped on the side of the road to watch the last 500 metres on a spectator’s smartphone,” he said. "I shouted when he won. He already did two weeks in yellow last year, we have it again, we are going to protect it as much as we can.”

Overall, Alaphilippe has a four-second lead over Yates, with Hirschi in third place three seconds further back ahead of Monday's hilly Stage 3 from Nice to Sisteron.

Hugo Houle, a support rider for the Astana Pro Team, finished 123rd in Sunday's stage to sit 121st overall. The 29-year-old from Sainte-Perpetue, Que., finished 91st in last year's Tour.


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