PRIVAS, France (Reuters) - Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe lost the overall lead in the Tour de France to Briton Adam Yates after being handed a 20-second penalty for illegal feeding at the end of stage five, won by Belgian Wouth van Aert on Wednesday.
Van Aert was fastest in the sprint at the end of the 183km ride from Gap that featured no breakaway, an almost unprecedented scenario in normal racing conditions in the modern era.
Dutchman Cees Bol was second and Sam Bennett took third place to become the first Irishman to wear the green jersey for the points classification since Sean Kelly 31 years ago.
Alaphilippe finished safe in the bunch but snatched a bottle about 17km from the line, breaking Tour rules which state that feeding is illegal within 20km of the finish.
“We’re checking now but it seems I took a bottle where I was not supposed to,” Alaphilippe said.
Yates leads Slovenian Primoz Roglic by three seconds in the standings after Alaphilippe dropped to 16th overall.
“I don’t think anybody wants to take (the yellow jersey) like this,” said the Briton, who finished fourth overall in the 2016 Tour.
“I was on the bus, showered, waiting for the last few guys to shower and somebody called the (sports) director to tell him I had to go to the podium.”
Van Aert, the best all-round rider this season, had no rival in the finale after the whole peloton took it easy all day long.
“It was maybe the most easy stage I’ve ever done in a cycling race because no breaks, no high pace,” said Van Aert, who on Tuesday did all the heavy work when Jumbo Visma team mate Roglic won the fourth stage.
“But everyone was pressing a lot at the end and it was hectic. I knew it was a stage that suited me and just so happy that I got the opportunity from the team to go for it and to finish it off was sweet,” added the Milan-Sanremo champion.
With a tough sixth stage ahead and crosswinds expected at the end of the ride to Privas one day after a punishing mountain-top finish, the peloton rode at a leisurely pace.
No early breakaway was formed, a first since riders went on strike in 1998 to protest against some of their peers being detained for questioning by police amid the Festina affair.
In 1995, a Tour stage was turned into a procession one day after Italian Fabio Casartelli died in a crash during the race.
Thursday’s sixth stage is a 191km middle-mountain trek from Le Teil to the Mont Aigoual, where Yates’s yellow jersey will already be in danger.
“I won’t change my way of racing, I’ll just take it day by day,” said Yates, who was only targeting stage wins in this year’s race.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond
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