Britain’s Adam Yates will wear the prestigious yellow jersey on Thursday after previous race leader Julian Alaphilippe was hit with a 20-second penalty at the end of stage 5.
Television images showed Alaphilippe taking a water bottle with 17.8km of the stage remaining, in breach of rules on fuelling inside the final 20km.
It means the 28-year-old Yates, who rides for Australian team Mitchelton-Scott, has assumed top spot in the overall rankings and will ride in the maillot jaune for the first time in his career when the race resumes.
Wout van Aert continued his brilliant season by winning a sprint finish to clinch the stage. The Belgian wasn’t expected to challenge the pure sprinters but showed his all-round talent when he turned up at the front of the race in the closing metres and surged to victory.
Van Aert pipped Dutch rider Cees Bol on the line, with Irish sprinter Sam Bennett finishing third but crucially ahead of three-time former world champion Peter Sagan. Having won the intermediate sprint on the 183km stage from Gap, Bennett moved clear of Sagan in the points classification, becoming the first Irishman to wear the Tour’s green jersey since Sean Kelly won the classification for the fourth and final time in 1989.
Van Aert said at the finish: “It was a heavy finish there. It was maybe the most easy stage I ever did in a cycling race because there was no breakaway, not a high pace at all but then everybody in the last hour was really hectic and there was a lot of wind. All the sprinters and GC teams want to be in front, it was uphill in the end so I knew it was a stage that suited me. I’m so happy that I got an opportunity from the team to go for it and if you can finish it off it’s even more sweet.
“They gave me all the time to recover because the beginning was quite easy. If the shape is good you recover as well. The team is going strong and we need to keep this fight going. I have my stage win now and from now on I will support the team even harder.”
Yates will carry the honour on a potentially challenging stage 6 which sees the riders cover 191km from Le Teil to Mont Aigoual, featuring a steep 12km climb before an 8km drag up to the finish, and he could well face a stern battle to keep hold of yellow from Jumbo-Visma leader Primoz Roglic.
Ineos frontman and reigning champion Egan Bernal will be hoping to keep in touch and avoid losing any more ground after giving away several seconds to some of his rivals on stage four, which Roglic won.