Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe retains road cycling world title

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe retained his men’s road race title at the cycling world championships after attacking relentlessly in the final of the 268.3km course between Antwerp and Leuven on Sunday.

Alaphilippe made the decisive move on the short climb to Sint Antoniusberg 17km from the line and never looked back, becoming the seventh driver to win consecutive titles.

Alaphilippe reaped the rewards of the team’s tactics after the French shook up the race to wear down their opponents, particularly the Belgians, whose favorite, Wout van Aert, ended up empty-handed.

It was also Alaphilippe’s instincts that made the difference as he beat the Dutchman Dylan van and the Danish Michael Valgren, who came home second and third, respectively.

“In the final the fans asked me to slow down and they didn’t have nice words … I want to thank them because they really motivated me,” said the 29-year-old, who also won alone at Imola. Italy last year.

“I just wanted to change it, I didn’t think it would eventually stick.”

While the first French attacks were part of the plan, Alaphilippe’s last moves were not.

Disappointing Van Aert

“I told Julian to follow the attacks and then counterattack. He did the opposite, he attacked several times alone. So it was his instinct that spoke. He scared me anyway, the idiot,” said team principal Thomas Voeckler.

Benoit Cosnefroy was the first notable rider to attack 180km from the finish, aiming to wear down his rivals and avoid a final sprint that would have favored the Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, Van Aert or the Italian Sonny Colbrelli.

It was then Valentin Madouas who picked up the pace and assembled a group of a dozen separatist cyclists, including the prodigiously talented 21-year-old Remco Evenepoel.

But the young Belgian sacrificed his own chances for Van Aert, who simply didn’t have the legs to follow Alaphilippe when it mattered and finished in a disappointing 11th place.

Alaphilippe, who had already attacked before, tried to go alone on Wijnpress hill, but the play was thwarted and when he launched again at Sint Antoniusberg, the group of favorites was shattered.

Four men, Van Baarle, Valgren, Jasper Stuyven from Belgium and American Neilson Powless, were delayed 10 seconds and it looked like Alaphilippe would be caught. But the Frenchman found his second wind in the final stages, and walked away to become the first man to retain his title since Slovakian Peter Sagan won his third consecutive rainbow jersey in 2017.

“I came here relaxed, knowing that I had good legs. But I didn’t even dream of winning a rainbow jersey again,” said Alaphilippe after the 268.3 km ride between Antwerp and Leuven. Only 68 of the 180 starters completed the course, which was marred by early clashes that also ended 2019 champion Mads Pedersen’s chances.

(REUTERS)

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