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France’s Julian Alaphilippe celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 215 kilometers (133,6 miles) with start in Binche and finish in Epernay, Monday, July 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
France’s Julian Alaphilippe celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 215 kilometers (133,6 miles) with start in Binche and finish in Epernay, Monday, July 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)|Associated Press
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France’s Julian Alaphilippe gets a Champagne toast with a sparkling Stage 3 win at the Tour de France

Associated Press

By JOHN LEICESTER AP Sports Writer

EPERNAY, France (AP) — Julian Alaphilippe won Stage 3 of the Tour de France and took the yellow jersey with a sparkling ride into the Champagne town of Epernay on Monday.

The French rider left the chasing pack for dead with a fierce burst of acceleration on a short sharp, climb amid the Champagne vineyards. He gritted his teeth as he rode alone over the last 16 kilometers (10 miles), up Epernay's cobbled Champagne Avenue, and to the lung-busting uphill finish.

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.

The previous race leader, Mike Teunissen, couldn't keep up with the main pack in the final section of sharp hills.

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

He flew up the final part of the 12% incline, seemingly surprising other pretenders for the prestigious stage victory in the town that houses some of France's most famous producers of bubbly.

But as the pack then reacted and laid chase, shrinking his lead, victory for Alaphilippe was by no means guaranteed. Tongue lolling in the heat, the leader of the Deceuninck-Quick Step team battled to keep his pursuers at bay into Epernay, heaving with fans baking in the sun.

By 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 couldn't be caught.

He was overcome with emotion, barely able to speak through tears, at the thought of slipping into the canary-yellow leader's jersey for the first time in his career.

"I gave everything," he said. "This opportunity offered itself up and I had to seize it."