Julian Alaphilippe wins Tour de France Stage 3, takes yellow jersey

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EPERNAY, France (AP) — He was sweating, baked by the sun, and burning through his energy reserves. But, under the intense pressure of being pursued by the chasing pack of riders at the Tour de France, Julian Alaphilippe also stayed as cool as a chilled glass of Champagne.

The French rider’s sparkling and poised Stage 3 ride on Monday into Epernay, the Champagne town that exports bubbly worldwide, delivered a first victory for France at this Tour and the country’s first yellow jersey since 2014 when Tony Gallopin held the race lead for one day.

The manner of Alaphilippe’s win — surprising other pretenders for the stage victory with a devastating burst of speed on a sharp climb and then gritting his teeth as he rode solo to the finish — oozed what the French call “panache,” or pure class.

He’d long targeted the stage, with its final section of sharp hills among the Champagne vineyards, as suiting his explosive strengths, and executed his plan to perfection.

Cheered on by thick roadside crowds, Alaphilippe delivered the decisive blow on the Cote de Mutigny, the steepest of four notable hill climbs heading toward Epernay.

“I did exactly what I’d planned to do,” he said. “When it works, you have to savor it.”

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Jumping out of the saddle to hammer on his pedals up the final part of the 12% incline, Alaphilippe caught other riders cold.

“A very strong attack. I was surprised,” said Peter Sagan, the equally explosive Slovak who’d also been eyeing the stage to add to his collection of 11 career stage victories at the Tour.

But as the pack then reacted and laid chase, eating into his meager lead of around half a minute, victory for Alaphilippe was by no means guaranteed.

Tongue lolling in the heat, the leader of the Deceuninck-Quick Step team kept his pursuers at bay for 16 long and lonely kilometers (10 miles), speeding alone up Epernay’s cobbled Champagne Avenue heaving with sun-baked fans to the lung-busting uphill finish.

By the time he sped past a statue of Dom Perignon, a monk who lent his name to James Bond’s favorite brand of Champagne, it became clear Alaphilippe wouldn’t be caught.

“Winning the stage in this manner is the most beautiful way to start this Tour,” Alaphilippe said. “This opportunity offered itself up and I had to seize it.”

He was overcome with emotion, barely able to speak through tears, at the prospect of slipping into the canary-yellow leader’s jersey for the first time in his career. He took the race lead from Mike Teunissen, a Dutch sprinter who won it on Stage 1 and held it on Stage 2 but who wilted on Epernay’s vineyard-covered hills.

It was Alaphilippe’s first stage victory at this Tour and third in his career. He also won two stages on the Tour last year.

“I so dreamed of this scenario and I thought of my family in front of the TV,” he said. “Incredible.”

Although relatively flat for much of the way, the furious hilly finale of the 215-kilometer (134-mile) trek from the Belgian town of Binche offered more inklings about the fitness of main contenders for the overall victory in Paris on July 28.

Defending champion Geraint Thomas couldn’t quite stay with his Ineos teammate Egan Bernal up the final incline. Bernal pipped Thomas by five seconds, strengthening suspicions that the lithe Colombian climber could he hard to contain in the Tour’s mountains, with the first climbing stage fast approaching in Stage 6 on Thursday.

French climber Thibaut Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014, also sped in with Bernal’s small group ahead of Thomas and other title contenders.

“Short, steep climbs aren’t necessarily what I love,” Thomas’ team quoted him as saying. “I wasn’t dancing up the climbs but I felt OK. I didn’t want to do more than had to be done.”

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Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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