Cannondale-Drapac will continue to #rockthedots at the Tour de France as the King of the Mountain jersey moved from the Taylor Phinney to Nate Brown on Monday following stage three. It was history in the making as Brown jumped to the top of the King of Mountain classification. Never before have two Americans worn polka dots in the same Tour.
“If you had told me I’d be the one to take the jersey, I would have told you that you were crazy, even this morning,” Brown said. “Obviously we had Phinney – if he had the aptitude to go into the break again today. It’s a tall task to ask someone to go into back-to-back breaks. Dylan [van Baarle] was our second guy. I was third on the list.”
Brown’s position at the top of the King of the Mountain classification, like Phinney’s, materialized from his ability to slip up the road. A three-rider escaped formed early. Phinney was tired from his outing on Sunday and Van Baarle had missed the move.
“The peloton completely blocked the field,” said Brown. “They weren’t going to let anyone by, but there was this Wanty guy that really, really wanted in on it, and I knew that. I stuck on his wheel. We got to this section where he could use a dirt road on the side to go around. I went with him, and we made it across.”
The escape eventually grew to include six riders: Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal), who initiated the move, Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin), Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Oscaro), Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) and Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).
First box ticked. Next Brown had to chase mountain points.
The 212-kilometer stage between Verviers, Belgium and Longway, France covered three countries and included five categorized climbs – three category four, two category three. The final climb doubled as the uphill finish.
Brown attacked on the first KOM to take the only point available on Côte de Sart. Politt out-sprinted Brown to the single point on offer on the second climb, the Côte de Wilzt. The pair gained a gap over their breakaway companions en route to the next climb, the category three Côte d’Eschdorf, that came 15-kilometers after climb two.
“We each had one point, and I thought ‘Oh boy. The third climb really matters’,” said Brown. “It was just the two of us away, and I didn’t trust my sprint. I knew if I took him to the very end he’d out-jump me.
“I went early, with two kilometers to go, maybe too early, but it didn’t matter,” said Brown. “It paid off. I got the points.”
With 92 kilometers and two climbs still to race, Brown was in virtual polka dots with three points to Phinney’s two and Politt’s one. The remaining points would be contested in the final 20 kilometers, and Brown expected the peloton to swallow up the break before the last two climbs.
“I had Charly [Wegelius] in my ear telling me that I had it,” Brown said. “He told me that someone would need to win the category four sprint at 20 kilometers and the stage to take it from me. I was fairly confident that wouldn’t happen, but I wasn’t going to get excited until I reached the finish and stood on the podium.”
It didn’t happen. The break rejoined the peloton before the fourth climb. Lilian Calmejane, the lone holdout from a late break, crested the climb 28-seconds ahead of the peloton and earned a single point.
The peloton caught Calmejane with 10 kilometers left to race, and the polka jot jersey was all but assured to rest on Brown’s shoulders.
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) won a hotly contested battle for the stage win ahead of Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors). Cannondale-Drapac’s Alberto Bettiol fought to fifth place.
Spent from his early efforts, Brown finished nearly 12 minutes down, the 189th rider home, and headed to the podium to claim his jersey.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” said Brown. “I never thought in a million years I’d be in the polka dot jersey at the Tour. I have no words. I’m speechless. I really don’t know what to say.”