30. 5. – 2. 6. 2024 UCI Europe Tour

Julian Alaphilippe. From Jeseník to the rainbow jersey

He is the darling of France. After all, he has twice dominated the World Road Cycling Championships and in the 2019 season he rode for 14 days in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France leader. Julian Alaphilippe, currently seeking a return to the absolute top and fighting for a contract for next season in the World Tour, started his career with the Czech team Etixx-IHned and in the peloton of the Peace Race.

"To say that in a year I will be part of the Wolf Pack would be an exaggeration. They might not even be part of cycling," the Soudal Quick Step rider, whose future is hotly debated, told GCN.com.

After all, team boss Patrick Lefevere has accused Alaphilippe of sometimes being more into partying and alcohol than cycling. It's clear that the boss of the formation nicknamed the Wolf Pack is bothered by the French rider's disappointing results.

The attack on the Czech Tour triumph failed

The popular Loulou has had ten seasons in the World Tour. When he started as an absolute rookie in 2013, he also competed in two of the biggest Czech races. First, he rode the Peace Race for cyclists under 23, where he was eighth in the final count and Tom Skujins was triumphant.

Two months later Alaphilippe completed the Czech Tour, and although he was on the podium three times out of four stages, the unsuccessful stage from Olomouc to Mohelnice, where he finished as high as one hundred and twenty-seventh, deprived him of his hopes of victory, which was celebrated by Leopold König, the current director of the Peace Race under 23 and the Czech Tour.

Alaphilippe has since become a cycling superstar. He is the only Frenchman to win two world road race titles. He dominated the battle for the rainbow jersey in 2020 and 2021. "It was my dream. The whole team helped me tremendously. Everybody submitted, fulfilled the tactics and now I'm standing here shedding tears," he gushed with happiness as he burnished his extraordinary resume during the 2020 pandemic in the autumn.

During his ten years in the World Tour, he won the Arrow of Wallonia three times, celebrated six stage wins at the Tour de France, where he rode for 14 days in the leader's yellow jersey, and if it weren't for the vagaries of nature at the end of the 2019 Grande Boucle, he might have taken the maillot jaune all the way to Paris. A year earlier, he dominated the climbers' competition at the Old Lady.

He also dominated the Strade Bianche and San Sebastian classics, but especially the Milan-San Remo Monument. During the 2020 season, he even celebrated his triumph in the Lutych-Bastogne-Lutych race, but in a dramatic finish, Primož Roglič threw his bike on the tape and Loulou was eliminated...

"I took every season as my last. I never thought about whether I got good results last year so I can bite the bullet, or whether I need to be great for a new contract," he shrugged.

The machine has stalled

Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe, the three at the start of the race before the reign of Tadej Pogačar, guaranteed perfect cycling. But since the 2021 title, Alaphilippe has stuttered. He won two races in the World Tour...

And Lefevere, of course, is sizzling. After all, since 2022 he has made Alaphilippe one of the ten highest paid men in the peloton, reportedly sending sixty million crowns a year to the French cyclist's account!

Alaphilippe's misery began two years after that wasted victory at Liege. Once again, he stood at the start of the oldest classic on the planet, once again dreaming of victory. But he crashed into a tree at high speed, suffered two broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade and a punctured lung and was out of the game for two months. In reality, he needed much more time to fully recover.

When the junior cyclo-cross world vice-champion was subsequently not nominated for the Tour de France, his battered psyche took another blow. The fighter, who owns his own fashion clothing brand and whose wife is the director of the women's Tour de France, has been "picking himself up" for a long time, but this year he appears to be in top form.

"I always start the season like I've never won anything," he said ahead of a season that may well be his last.

That's one of the reasons why he changed his routine. For the first time in his career, he will start at the Giro d'Italia. He is trying to join the club of the exceptional. He dreams of completing his collection of stage wins from every Grand Tour. "This year I want to be at my best," he resolves. And what's next?

Photo: Jan Brychta, www.soudal-quickstepteam.com

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