LEUVEN, Belgium, Sept.26 (Reuters) – France’s Julian Alaphilippe retained his men’s road race title at the cycling world championships after attacking relentlessly in the final, crowning a remarkable team performance on Sunday.
Alaphilippe took the decisive step in the short climb to Sint Antoniusberg 17km from the line and never looked back, becoming only the seventh rider to win back-to-back titles.
Alaphilippe reaped the rewards of the team’s tactics after the French scrambled the race throughout the race to exhaust their opponents, especially the Belgians, whose favorite Wout van Aert ended up empty-handed.
It was also Alaphilippe’s instinct that made the difference by beating the Dutchman Dylan van and the Danish Michael Valgren, respectively second and third.
“In the final the fans asked me to slow down and they didn’t have any kind words… I want to thank them because it really motivated me,” said the 29-year-old, who also won solo in Imola, Italy last year.
“I just wanted to shake it up, I didn’t think it would end up sticking. “
While the first French attacks were part of the plan, Alaphilippe’s late moves were not.
“I told Julian to follow the attacks and then counter. He did the opposite, he attacked several times on his own. So it was his instinct that spoke. He scared me anyway, the idiot, ”said team manager Thomas Voeckler.
Benoit Cosnefroy was the first notable rider to attack with 180 km remaining, aiming to wear down his rivals and avoid a sprint finish 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 formed a group of ten breakaways including the prodigiously talented Remco Evenepoel, 21 years old.
But the young Belgian sacrificed his own chances for Van Aert, who just didn’t have the legs to follow Alaphilippe when it counted and finished in a disappointing 11th.
Alaphilippe, who had already attacked earlier, attempted to go solo up the hill of Wijnpress but the move was foiled and when he went to Sint Antoniusberg again the group of favorites fell apart.
Four men – Van Baarle, Valgren, Belgian Jasper Stuyven and American Neilson Powless – were 10 seconds behind and it looked like Alaphilippe would be caught. But the Frenchman regained his second wind in the finals, stepping 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 race between Antwerp and Leuven.
Only 68 of the 180 starters completed the course, which was marred by early accidents that also ended 2019 champion Mads Pedersen’s chances.
Report by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson
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