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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Kelly Slater has an Olympic decision to make

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Surfing icon Kelly Slater is in great position to qualify for his sport’s Olympic debut in 2020, but he’s undecided about making a required event appearance this summer to stay eligible.

The top two U.S. male surfers in this season’s World Surf League final standings are in line to qualify for the Olympics.

Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is ranked third among Americans through six of 11 events, but the No. 2, two-time world champion John John Florence, is likely out for the rest of the season after an ACL tear.

If Slater keeps up his current pace of results, he will pass Florence’s point total by the end of the season in December.

“It appears as though I have to make a decision [on the Olympics] sooner than that,” Slater said after being eliminated from South Africa’s J-Bay Open in ninth place on Wednesday. “I’ve really got to figure out all the factors around that and make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Slater’s concern is the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan, in September, an event that top Olympic hopefuls on the WSL tour are required to attend, barring illness or injury.

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me,” he said (the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body, later confirmed it would disqualify him). “But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now.”

The ISA Games take place in the week between the next two WSL events, the latter hosted by Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool in California.

“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyways,” said Slater, who last year said he was “50-50” on the Olympics when noting his differing thoughts on the qualification process and venue. “The point is, I’m not really focusing on it at this point. I’m trying to get myself back in the flow of the tour.”

Slater missed 13 tour stops between the 2017 and 2018 seasons after breaking a foot and having multiple surgeries.

He finished fifth, third, ninth, ninth and ninth in his five most recent events to get into Olympic qualifying position. He expected more after placing third in the two contests he entered healthy last season. Slater said he competed at J-Bay after straining his back “really bad” on Sunday, keeping him from surfing the three days before the contest.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, at 48, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, via the OlyMADMen.

“Right now in my head the focus is more on this tour than it is on the Olympics, but we’ll see,” he said. “I was starting this year with a lot of pressure on myself to try and make the Olympic team and think, maybe I’ll retire there next year and that will be the end for me. It put so much pressure on the start of the year for me that I didn’t feel like I could freely compete. It was putting too many things in my head. I needed to let that take a backseat and not worry about it. I’m just not really thinking about it a lot.”

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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China on brink of sweeping every gold medal at diving worlds

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Shi Tingmao joined Guo Jingjing as the only women to win three straight world titles in an individual diving event, giving China 11 gold medals in 11 events with two finals left in Gwangju, South Korea.

Shi, who swept the individual and synchronized springboard titles in Rio, claimed the 3m world title on Friday by 18.25 points with 391 total. Countrywoman Wang Han took silver, 5.8 points ahead of Australian Maddison Keeney.

Americans Sarah Bacon and Brooke Schultz missed the 12-woman final, placing 14th and 29th.

China, which has dominated the sport for two decades, is looking to sweep the golds at an Olympics or worlds for the second time after winning all 10 events in 2011. This year’s feat could be more impressive, should China win the last two events Saturday — a mixed-gender springboard and the men’s platform.

That’s because three mixed-gender events were added to the world program (but not the Olympic program) since 2011. And this year, China has not only won every gold but also taken every silver in the three individual Olympic program events thus far.

China is in strong position to go one-two in the men’s platform. Yang Jian and Yang Hao were nearly 70 points clear of the field in Friday’s semifinals.

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MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule