The 24-year-old's maiden World Tour victory came after a superb performance in the race's individual time trial.
Julian Alaphilippe rode to a fantastic triumph in stage 4 of Paris-Nice, moving into the leader's jersey with four days to go. Second in the GC at the start of this important day, six seconds adrift, Julian put in an impressive effort, stopping the clock in 21:39 and thus improving the time of former race winner Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) – the provisional leader at that moment – by 19 seconds.
First at the intermediate split, after completing the flat part of the course in a blistering time of 13:49, Julian smashed the competition on Mont-Brouilly, the 3km-long climb averaging 7.7%, which made for some big gaps and reshuffled the general classification. Alaphilippe, one of the most versatile and talented riders of the new generation, became the first Frenchman in 25 years – since Jean-François Bernard on Col d'Eze – to win an individual time trial stage at the "Race to the Sun."
"I am so happy. It's a wonderful victory at the end of a nervous day. I knew I could do it, I knew I can get a good result on this parcours. When I crossed the finish line, I had a huge thought for my friend Fabien Rossolini (ed. – speaker at the Tour de France) who died a few weeks ago. I knew Paris-Nice was one of his favourite races and this makes my success even more special", an ecstatic Julian said after seizing the lead at his home race.
Alaphilippe wasn't the only Quick-Step Floors rider to impress on Wednesday afternoon: David De La Cruz – who rode on the front of the peloton on the previous day – led the stage rankings for a long time, before finishing sixth, while Daniel Martin made a significant jump in the GC, to fifth, just ahead of teammate Philippe Gilbert.
Julian's maiden World Tour victory, on a day in which he outshone the likes of Contador, Sergio Henao (Team Sky) or Richie Porte (BMC), gives him a 19-second cushion over the next rider in the standings, Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), four days from the finish in Nice. Despite having the prestigious yellow jersey on his shoulders, in addition to the green and white one, the 24-year-old isn't thinking at becoming the first Frenchman in two decades to win the race.
"The yellow jersey represents so much in the cycling history, and I'm proud to wear it. I was motivated to take it, especially as I had it in sight. Tom Steels, who was behind the wheel, encouraged me all the time and came up with precious advice during the stage. I'm in the lead now, but it's still a long way to go to Nice, so I will take it day by day. Now I want to enjoy this great moment and then focus on helping Marcel in stage 5", concluded Julian, the seventh different Quick-Step Floors rider to notch up a win in 2017.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele