The race made its way from Belgium to France on stage three with a 215-kilometer undulating stage from Binche to Épernay, which featured a difficult finale with four categorized climbs in the final 45 kilometers.
Five riders attacked from kilometer zero to form the day’s breakaway and went six minutes down the road while race leader Mike Teunissen’s Team Jumbo Visma controlled from the bunch, where Van Avermaet enjoyed his day in the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey.
The breakaway’s advantage began to decrease in the final 100 kilometers before Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) attacked from the breakaway to launch a solo move in the last 60 kilometers, around which point Patrick Bevin and Simon Geschke were involved in a small crash but fortunately, were able to get straight back on their bikes.
Wellens managed to put more than one minute between him and his former breakaway companions while behind, the peloton picked up the pace and came within two minutes of Wellens with 30 kilometers remaining.
After the first three climbs, the peloton had reduced heavily and the fast pace at the front put many riders in difficulty before a blistering attack from Alaphilippe at the top of the Côte de Mutigny, which no one was able to respond to, saw the Frenchman catch Wellens and continue solo.
With a 50-second advantage over the reduced bunch with eight kilometers remaining, Alaphilippe proved too strong and despite a frantic chase behind, including a big effort from Alessandro De Marchi, he crossed the line with an advantage of almost 30 seconds.
Van Avermaet led the chase group up the steep rise to the finish and was just overtaken on the line to settle for fourth place on the stage, which puts him into ninth place overall, 51 seconds behind new race leader Alaphilippe.
With Wellens taking the King of the Mountains points during his solo attack, Van Avermaet relinquished his polka dot jersey after two days leading the classification.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“I didn’t expect an early attack like that. I think Alaphilippe was able to win on a finish like this so, I didn’t think there would be a big move like that especially 20 kilometers from the finish. It was a surprise but, I think he was the only one who could go that fast at that point, I think everyone else was on the limit.”
“I was feeling really good. I was happy with my form and the way I was feeling on the climbs was really nice. That is the most important thing from today I think. The result is okay for me. Fourth is not too bad on this stage but, generally, I was really happy with how I felt on the climbs and I think that’s a good sign for the next stages.”
“Today was one of those days when everyone was really nervous but the climbs at the end made it easier for me. The gaps will now be bigger on the GC and that will make it easier for the stages.”
Tour de France
Stage 3: Binche > Épernay (215km)
Top 3: 1. Julian Alaphilippe (Decuninck-QuickStep), 2. Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), 3. Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo).
CCC Team top 3: 4. Greg Van Avermaet, 57. Alessandro De Marchi, 66. Simon Geschke