The French domestique climber wins Stage 3 of the Tour of the Alpes-Maritimes and Var while Richie Porte claims third overall.
It has been a long-time coming for French climber Julien Bernard. He’s been a super-domestique for five years with Trek-Segafredo, but the unpretentious teammate – a breakaway specialist, who has countless hours working at the front selflessly and tirelessly for the team’s leaders – has never had a win until today.
“I am really, really happy to take my first pro victory on top of Mont Faron, a famous climb in France,” said an elated Bernard. “It’s a really nice feeling. I want to thank all the team because they allowed me the opportunity to go in the breakaway and try for the win. And it was a super day since Richie (Porte) also finished 3rd in the GC.”
With higher-profile races happening in Portugal, Spain and UAE at the same time, the Tour of the Alpes-Maritimes and Var in France still managed to attract a star-studded field. The three-day race packed in an abundance of climbs, and while a red-hot Nairo Quintana (Arkea Samsic) took the overall win, the fight for the next two steps of the podium was only finalized atop Mont Faron.
Richie Porte and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) arrived to the finish with Quintana, crossing the line in the same time to complete the final podium. While both riders ended with the same time in the classification, the second step went to Bardet who finished the stage in 8th place over Porte’s 9th.
“I didn’t really know what to expect since I didn’t have the best feelings with my legs today,” said Porte. “So to be able to go with Quintana and Bardet and finish 3rd on GC was nice. Our goal was to win a stage and finish on the final podium, and today we did that. It was incredible to see Julien win, he’s always a guy that does his job for the team.
“But all the guys were fantastic these three days and it was a nice race for me to come back to Europe and start in a positive way. I am looking forward to two weeks’ time and starting Pari-Nice.”
How the win unfolded
Julien Bernard joined the day’s escape group at the start of the 136-kilometer stage that featured plenty of climbing, including a finish atop the grueling six-kilometer Mont Faron.
Bernard did not wait for the final ascent to make his move, attacking his breakaway companions and cresting the penultimate climb with a 22-second lead on seven chasers.
“We were 10-11 in the breakaway, and we took a big advantage quite fast,” explained Bernard. “I knew more or less that (Team) Arkéa would control behind, and we would have a good opportunity to play for the victory, so I tried to be smart the whole day. In the second to last climb, I felt I had good legs, so I went alone.”
On the Mont Faron climb, Nans Peters (AG2R La Mondiale) clawed his way back to Bernard with one kilometer to go. Inside the flamme rouge, it became a thrilling duel for victory, but a savvy Bernard still had something in reserve.
“I arrived in the last climb with a good advantage over the peloton and knew they would not be coming back to me, but Peters came back in the last kilometer,” continued Bernard. “But I had managed myself well to not go in the red zone, and I knew he would have to make a big effort to catch me.
“And this is what played out – in one moment he closed the gap, but he had to make a really big effort while I could recover a bit. In the last meters, when we started the sprint, I saw that I had good legs and could take the win. It was a good race for the team, and we continued the good start of the season so far.”