American Neilson Powless nearly takes the lead in the Tour de France

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American Neilson Powless almost took the lead of the Tour de France in the fifth stage.

Australian simon clarkwho turns 36 later in the Tour, won the stage, which featured 11 cobblestone sections totaling around 12 miles.

Powless, part of a four-man breakaway with Clarke, went for the stage win with just over a mile to go. But he was caught by the other three men and finished fourth, four seconds behind Clarke.

Yet Powless fell from 25th overall to second behind the Belgian Wout van Aert, who crashed during the stage. Powless is 13 seconds behind van Aert, a gap he would have made up if he had won the stage in Clarke’s time given the 10-second bonus given to stage winners.

“If we [the breakaway] kept steady to the line, I definitely would have gotten yellow, if we all finished together,” Powless said before knowing where he was in the standings. “But 2K to do, the other three guys, they all started playing games. They no longer wanted to work.

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Greg Le Mond is the only American to officially lead a Tour de France. The three-time Tour winner last did so in 1991.

Four other Americans wore the yellow jersey after LeMond, but all had their results retroactively withdrawn for doping (Lance Armstrong, David Zabrisky, Georges Hincapie and Floyd Landis).

In 2018, Tejay van Garderen missed the chance to wear the yellow jersey due to a tiebreaker.

Powless is not considered a contender for a podium finish once the Tour ends in Paris in two and a half weeks.

One of the contenders, the Slovenian Primoz Roglic, lost nearly two minutes on Wednesday. Roglic was a finalist for his compatriot Tadej Pogacar in the 2020 Tour. Pogacar is in fourth place, 19 seconds behind van Aert, but ahead of all his rivals.

The day saw several incidents, and Van Aert was one of the first to crash, but his crash came as the riders raced towards the first of 11 cobbled sections. He was able to climb back up and catch up with the peloton – although he nearly fell back when cutting the rear-view mirror of his own team car.

“In my opinion, the roads were way too dangerous, everyone expected a bit of stress from the cobbles, but there were also a lot of narrowings and things in the road,” Van Aert said. “I didn’t want to take any risks and just when I thought I had to start going forward I immediately crashed due to a narrowing.

“I hurt myself a bit but also lost a bit of confidence to really fight for the position, and that’s a shame because at that point I let the other boys down, and I I was also in the back running instead of having a good position on the cobbles, so for me from then on it was a fight all day.

Van Aert admitted he didn’t think he would still be in yellow.

“It was a big surprise for me after the finish because I was so withdrawn that I didn’t really think about the jersey anymore,” he said.

Pierre Sagan and Caleb Ewan were also involved in incidents as the nerves set in. Ewan’s accident came as he hit a bale of hay which had come loose from the barriers and which also affected Roglic.

Thursday’s sixth stage is the longest of the race and is a hilly 220 kilometer course from Binche – in Van Aert’s native Belgium – to Longwy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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