Rest day recap: First phase of the Tour de France delivers plenty of reasons to be cheerful if you’re French

The first 10 days of this year’s Tour de France have had everything including that ratest of sightings – a Frenchman in yellow!

With so much action we just don’t know where to start… but the very beginning seems like as good a place as any.

So, as the riders get their washing done, face the press or keep the legs ticking over with a spin around Albi, here’s our rest day recap…

Stage One – Bruxelles > Charleroi > Brussel – 194.5km

The Grand Depárt for this year’s Tour started not in France but a short ride across the border in Belgium to celebrate 50 years since the greatest of all time Eddy Merckx won his first yellow jersey.

The five-time winner was there to see a fellow-Belgian, Greg van Avermaet, take the first polka dot King of the Mountains jersey having got into an early break and then sailed over the Muur van Geraardsbergen first.

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Another Belgian, Wanty Groupe Gobert’s Xandro Meurisse was first over the other climb of the day, the Bosberg.

As with any opening Tour stage, the name of the game for the GC contenders was to try and stay out of trouble.

But, like we’ve seen so many times before, that’s easier said than done with the nerves at their most heightened.

This year it was the turn of the in-form Jakob Fuglsang to lack the luck and with around 20km to go, the Dane was on the deck.

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His Astana team did well to deliver him back to the pack but with blood pouring from a cut above his eye, it was far from the perfect start for one of the pre-race favourites.

The stage itself went to Jumbo-Visma’s Mike Teunissen who beat Peter Sagan on the line after taking up the sprint baton from his teammate – and hot-favourite – Dylan Groenewegen who crashed inside the final 3km.

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In claiming the first yellow jersey of the 2019 Tour, Teunissen became the first Dutch rider for 30 years to wear it.

Stage Two – Bruxelles Palais Royal > Brussel Atomium27.6km – TTT

It was the Dutch Jumbo Visma who were celebrating after winning a second straight stage with a commanding performance in the team time trial.

After finishing last in the team’s classification at the end of Stage One, it was Team Ineos who were first out of the start house.

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And having set a time of 29’18’’ on the finishing line, they faced a long wait in the hot seat.

A few teams came close to toppling Ineos – the Katusha-Alpecin team of British time trial champion Alex Dowsett was quicker at both the first and second time checks but finished six seconds behind at the finish as did Team Sunweb.

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Deceuninck Quick-Step looked like they’d dethroned the leaders but missed out on the top spot by just eight-tenths of a second.

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It as then left to Jumbo Visma, last down the ramp, to power home 20 seconds ahead of Ineos with a near-flawless ride.

Stage Three – Binche > Épernay – 215km

After having the first Dutch rider for 30 years in yellow at the start of the Tour, the French celebrated having their first maillot jaune in five years at the end of Stage Three.

Current World Tour leader Julian Alaphilippe launched his attack with 16km to go and never really looked back, riding home and into yellow some 26 seconds ahead of the bunch.

Many had predicted the Frenchman could win the stage – Mitchelton-Scott DS Matt White even joked he thought Alaphilippe had designed the course himself – but it was still a delight to watch.

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Yoann Offredo of Wanty-Groupe Gobert – based in the start town on Binche – was the first to attack from the flag but it was short-lived.

The Frenchman then tried again and this time the four-man break, containing Lotto-Soudal’s Tim Wellens amongst others, stayed away and built up a maximum gap of just over six minutes.

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Wellens eventually went alone with 48km to go, securing the polka dot jersey at the Côte de Champillon with 25km left.

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Alaphilippe eventually caught and passed the Belgian at the 16km to go point and, despite some spirited attacks from the peloton, never really looked like losing the stage.

Stage Four – Reims > Nancy – 213.5km

Anything Jumbo Visma can do, Deceuninck Quick-Step proved they can match it by snatching their second win in two days on the run into Nancy.

And after a disappointing Giro d’Italia, Elia Viviano ensured they’d be no tears for him in the Tour winning a bunch sprint ahead of Alexander Kristoff and Caleb Ewan.

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He even had the honour of having the yellow jersey holder leading him out as the Belgian squad flexed their muscles.

Offredo was once again on the front foot from the off, this time forming a break with teammate Frederik Backaert and CCC’s Michael Schär.

The trio became a duo with 30km to go before Backaert and Schär were themselves caught by the peloton before the stage hit the business end.

Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Energie) got some TV time out at the front for a few kilometres but the race came back together as things started to get serious.

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Wout van Aert tried to get his teammate Groenewegen into position under the flamme rouge but in the end, the Deceuninck Quick-Step train was just too strong and Viviani took the stage to complete his Grand Tour grand slam.

Stage Five – Saint-Dié-des-Vosges > Colmar – 175.5km

He was already sitting pretty in green but former World Champion Peter Sagan was the man to break the Jumbo Visma/Deceunicnk Quick-Step dominance on the fifth stage.

The Slovakian claimed his 12th Tour stage win, beating van Aert and Matteo Trentin in a sprint deprived of the pure sprinters after a series of climbs in the Alsace.

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An early break got away but didn’t last long before the peloton allowed Wellens, Mads Würtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin), Simon Clarke (EF Education First) and Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) to roll off the front.

That small group never got more than two-and-a-half minutes but Wellens was able to pick up the points needed to keep the polka dot jersey on his back as king of the mountains.

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One by one the group was reeled back in, Skujins the last to be caught with 22km to go.

A spirited attack from UAE Team Emirates’ Rui Costa wasn’t to be and none of Sagan’s rivals could deny him the victory.

Stage Six – Mulhouse > La Planche des Belles Filles – 160.5km

Before the start of the sixth stage, much of the talk was about how the rider in yellow at the end of the previous three stage finishes at La Planche des Belles Filles would go on to win the Tour.

The chances of that happening this year are probably, in all fairness, relatively slim, especially given that man this year was the Italian Guilio Ciccone.

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It’s not that we don’t think the Trek-Segafredo rider is capable, it’s just that it would be a major upset. (Especially given he’s currently falling fast and more than two-and-a-half minutes down).

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La Planche des Belle Filles may have only been used less than a handful of times in the Tour but it’s already fast becoming iconic.

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This year’s stage was a classic.

Dylan Teuns took his maiden Tour victory, Ciccone was initially disappointed not to take his but soon cheered up when he realised he was in yellow, Alaphilippe collapsed into the hoardings just beyond the finish line having given it up and Geraint Thomas went some way to proving the doubters wrong with a strong attack inside the last kilometre.

Stage Seven – Belfort > Chalon-sur-Saône – 230km

After the fireworks of the day before, the peloton could be forgiven for taking things easy on stage seven.

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It was a day for the breakaway and Stephane Rossetto and Yoann Offredo took full advantage, staying out front for 218 km before leaving the stage for the sprinters to take the limelight.

Groenewegen, hampered by a crash in Brussels on stage one, made up for lost time and sprinted to victory, beating Ewan and Sagan into second and third.

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It was a real show of strength from the Dutchman, especially given it looked like Ewan had victory in the bag having started his sprint from afar.

Ciccone kept hold of the yellow jersey for another day, finishing safely in the bunch just ahead of Thomas and Egan Bernal.

Stage Eight – Mâcon > Saint-Étienne – 200km

The day before Bastille Day may not have produced a French stage winner but there was plenty to cheer for the home crowds.

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Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt took the stage victory after a flag-to-finish breakaway but, in terms of the GC, Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot were the big winners.

The French duo rode superbly well and their efforts were enough for Alaphilippe to snatch back the yellow jersey while Pinot moved swiftly up the GC.

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Breakaway specialist De Gendt knows the stages on which to pounce and he did that straight from the flag, initially taking Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie) and Ben King (Dimension Data) with him.

CCC’s Alessandro De Marchi bridged across and the Italian was De Gendt’s longest-surviving partner out the front, until he was caught just before the Côte de La Jaillère.

De Gendt pressed on and managed to hold off the challenge of Pinot and Alaphilippe by just six seconds.

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In the midst of all that, quick-thinking and sharp organisation from Team Ineos meant their Geraint Thomas was able to get back to the bunch quickly after a nasty looking crash.

Stage Nine – Saint-Étienne > Brioude – 170.5km

There were tears, cheers and no shortage of emotion at the Mitchelton-Scott team bus at the end of stage nine as Daryl Impey became only the second South African in history to win a stage at the Tour.

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Impey was part of a large breakaway group that featured plenty of fire-power including Bora-Hansgrohe’s Lukas Pöstlberger, Oliver Naesen of AG2R-La Mondiale, Nicholas Roche of Team Sunweb, Trek’s Jasper Stuyven, Lotto Soudal’s Tiesj Benoot and Jumbo Visma’s Tony Martin among others.

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Pöstleberger found himself alone in the lead 42km before the end with the gap to the peloton growing ever bigger.

But the Austrian was caught on the last categorised climb of the day and it was then the turn of Roche and Benoot to try their luck.

Impey bridged across and in the end, it was just he and Benoot left after the pair rode away with 7km to go.

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Benoot launched his sprint early but it was the South African national champion who crossed the line first.

Stage Ten – Saint-Flour > Albi – 217.5km

A tenth stage before the rest day might be unusual but for stage winner Wout van Aert racing a tenth day in succession is unheard of.

The cyclocross sensation, in his first Grand Tour appearance for Jumbo Visma, showed exactly why there is so much excitement surrounding his move onto the road.

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The Belgian took the sprint on the line ahead of Viviani and Ewan after a day of high drama in the crosswinds.

Aside from van Aert, the Ineos pair of Thomas and Bernal had the most to be pleased about, finding themselves on the right side of a split in the peloton with 30km to go and sitting pretty in second and third on GC going into the rest day.

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Alaphilippe can also put his feet up today having increased his gap at the top of the standings to one minute and 12 seconds.

The same can’t be said for Thibaut Pinot, Jakob Fuglsang, Richie Porte and Mikel Landa who all lost a chunk of time having found themselves napping when the peloton was split by the winds.

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The Pinot-Fuglsang-Porte group was 1’40’’ behind while Landa completed the stage 2’08’’ after the yellow jersey group.

So there we have it, an exciting opening 10 stages and we haven’t even hit the high mountains yet!

We’ll have plenty more action from the Tour de France over the next fortnight so stay tuned.

Main image courtesy of ASO.

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