Rider Reviews: [1] Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors)

Name: Julian Alaphilippe

Age: 24 years’ old

Nationality: French

Most Recent Result: 3rd, Milan-San Remo (March, 2017)

Most Recent Win: Points & Young Rider classifications, Paris-Nice (March, 2017)

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“Well, what he’s done is pretty good, isn’t it?… He probably needs to develop a little bit more. He probably will, then he could be a big one.” – Brian Holm, Etixx director.

Starting in Etixx’s development team of Etixx-IHNed in 2013 (now Klein Constantia), Alaphilippe progressed from the Continental to World Tour level a year later with Omega-Pharma Quick Step (now Quick-Step Floors). He quickly became a home favourite as one the next generation of French cyclists alongside the likes of Bardet and Pinot, after the success of Rolland and the nationalism derived by the Tour de France giving the French more of a craving for representation at World Tour level.

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Alaphilippe at the Tour de l’Avenir, 2013. Photo: Getty Images Sport.

His performance in the 2013 Tour de l’Avenir truly marked him as one for the future, with his securing of the points classification and win on stage 7. Attacking with fellow Frenchman Gougeard (now at AG2R) at the base of the final climb, they caught the leading trio, and Alaphilippe set the pace so high he distanced them all, crossing the line for his most important stage win of the year. He also impressed at the Tour de Bretagne, finishing 5th overall and winning stage 4, a sprint for the line with riders such as Renault (Sojasun) and Alafaci (Leopard-Trek Continental Team), punching the air as he crossed the line. Catching the attention of Quick-Step, he deservedly progressed to World Tour level where he gained his first podium at the 2014 Volta a Catalunya, on the first stage. He obtained his first win from the Tour de l’Ain, winning an uphill finish against Dan Martin (Slipstream-Chipotle, now Cannondale), while teammate Verona finished 3rd.

“It’s a kind of dream to win in France as a French rider. It gives me an explosion of joy, this victory. At 3 kilometers to go, at the top of the small climb, I attacked and I went full gas. In the end, I won. Also, with this victory I took the jersey as best young rider and the points jersey from the shoulders of Gianni Meersman. So, I kept the points jersey in the team and that gives me satisfaction.” Alaphilippe after winning stage 4 of the Tour de l’Ain.

2015 saw Alaphilippe’s development reach new heights, with his breakthrough year being his second year at World Tour level with Quick-Step. He did not disappoint, and the 22-year-old impressed at the Amstel Gold race. When Samuel Sánchez attacked at the base of the Cauberg in 2014, his teammate Gilbert produced a secondary attack that took the race win. Channeling this the year later in 2015, Hermans (BMC) launched his scathing charge on the Cauberg, and blew the race apart for Gilbert (BMC) to then launch his attack which only a select few could follow. While in the moment, only Matthews (Orica) could stick to his wheel, the duo could not distance and with 1km to go, a select bunch were in contention. Alongside Alpahilippe was his then-teammate, World Champion Kwiatkowski, Valverde (Movistar), Van Avermaet (BMC) and Rui Costa (Lampre). Alaphilippe finished 7th while his teammate Kwiatkowski won.

Alaphilippe truly proved he was a force to be reckoned with at La Flèche Wallonne only 3 days later. When Wellens (BMC) was devastatingly caught with 1km to go on the Muur, Kwiatkowski was not to be seen, struggling on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. Yet when Quick-Step’s directeur sportif commanded “Go! Go!” through the radio, Alaphilippe launched his sprint on Valverde’s wheel, with Albasini (Orica) also in the mix. The win was not to be, but a more than impressive 2nd place to add to his palmarès was welcomed by both Julian, and the team. Déjà vu occurred just 4 days later at Liège–Bastogne–Liège, with April providing Alaphilippe with one of the most career defining months of his life so far. Valverde again took the win, and this time Alaphilippe was 2nd behind him once more, his form showing. He was originally in the group including Visconti (Movistar) and Costa (Lampre) who were chasing down Kreuziger (Tinkoff), Fuglsang (Astana) and Caruso (Katusha). In the final kilometers, Moreno (Katusha) attempted to break away yet could not, and as Valverde won, Rodríguez slowed and Alaphillipe rode past him to take second once again, the best position for a French rider since Jalabert in 1998. His hunger showed, as he was clearly angry at only finishing 2nd on the finish line, waving his arm in frustration.

“I really felt I could have done something more” – Alaphilippe after finishing 2nd at Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

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Alaphilippe expressing his anger at finishing 2nd. Photo: JB/PN/Cor Vos.

May brought another 2nd place for Alaphilippe, this time in the Tour of California. He went one step higher on stage 7, winning the queen stage, tackling two Category 2 mountains and a Hors Category. Following Sergio Henao’s (Sky) attack which Sagan (Tinkoff) could not keep up with, he dropped Henao to win on Mount Baldy in dramatic conditions involving bad road surfaces and snow covering the sides of the road. Despite holding the general classification after this stage, he lost to Sagan by 3 seconds, as a perfectly timed bike throw from the Tinkoff rider gave him 3rd place on the last stage by inches, with the closest winning margin in the Tour’s history, yet Alaphilippe won the white jersey after holding it from stage 3 to the finish on stage 8. In June he finished 5th at the National Road Race Championships behind winner Tronet, Gallopin, Chavanel and Barguil.

Julian-Alaphilippe

Photo: Greg K Hull. Chasing Light Media.

Towards the end of the season, he finished 8th in the clásica de San Sebastián, and 10th at the Eneco Tour, yet following a DNF in the Road World Championships, it was revealed Alaphilippe had been diagnosed with mononucleosis, ending his 2015 season.

2016 saw the return of Alaphilippe’s form, and the return of his 2nd place behind Valverde at La Flèche Wallonne in April. The month after saw one of his most impressive wins to date, finishing 21 seconds in front of Rohan Dennis (BMC) to take the overall win at the Tour of California and his stage 3 win saw him finish first on a mountain stage ahead of the likes of Ten Dam (Giant), Dennis, Sanchez (BMC) and Talansky (Cannondale). Just like in 2015 at Mount Baldy, this win cast him into the lead, yet in the 2016 edition he pulled off a large acceleration to catch, then pass Stetina (Trek). Stetina was seemingly edging closer to his first win after comeback from injury, he had crashed into a metal pole at the Tour of the Basque Country in April 2015, breaking numerous ribs and his knee cap. Yet this would not come today, as the Frenchman accelerated again to cross the line ahead of him.

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Photo: AFP.

“When we came here, on the first day, I said [Alaphilippe] is going to win California. He has had good results in other races, and everybody knew he was strong for this race.” – Peter Sagan on Julian Alaphilippe.

After successfully gaining another youth classification win to add to his ever growing list, this time at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Alaphilippe crossed the line in 5th at the National Road Race Championships. His success for France didn’t stop there, as Julian was also just beaten to the line by Sagan at the European Road Championships. He was looking incredibly likely to medal in the crash-filled Olympic Road Race at Rio, yet an unlucky timed crash on his descent of the Vista Chinesa prevented him from joining the attack from Van Avermaet and Fuglsang to bridge to then-leader Majka, and Alaphilippe crossed the line in 4th, just 22 seconds down on Avermaet. It’s interesting to think of his positioning possibilities, as Majka was surely weakened by leading on his own, and the hard work put in to chase by Avermaet and Fuglsang would’ve been divided by 3 if equal turns were taken, conserving energy. Yet we must look to the 2020 Games in Tokyo to see Alaphilippe’s Olympic medaling chances.

“It had to be a tactical win especially against Alaphilippe who is impossible to follow on a short uphill” – Vichot on Alaphilippe’s uphill advantages at the National Championships.

 “I wasn’t going to chase my team-mate and I couldn’t take the risk of bringing Alaphilippe to the line. I wasn’t 100% sure of beating him.” – Dumoulin on the risk of sprinting against Alaphilippe at the National Championships.

One of Alaphilippe’s many stand out performances in 2016 derived from his attacking in the Tour de France. Most prominently, his 4-hour breakaway. But first, his stage 13 time-trial – one of the most memorable moments for Tour de France viewers. An unexpected gust of wind blew the Quick-Step rider completely off course and into a jagged mountainside on the left of the road after going over 32 miles per hour. Surprisingly, he was left relatively unscathed and carried on regardless.

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Alaphilippe crashing at the Tour de France. Source: Twitter.com, HistoryOnSepia.

Stage 15 was described by many as the hardest stage of the Tour, and it was Alaphilippe’s to lose, being the apparent strongest out of the quartet involving Pantano (IAM), Majka (Tinkoff) and Zakarin (Katusha). Just before the final climb of Lacets du Colombier, a mechanical he suffered caused a crash, and lose the stage he did. This didn’t dampen his fighting spirit however, as the next day he was more prepared for a challenge than ever. Who better to spend 4 long hours in the saddle, off the front with, then the Panzerwagen himself: Tony Martin? Teammates at the time (now Martin has found himself at Katusha), the stage after Alaphilippe saw his Tour de France stage win hopes disappear, the duo attacked in the first 15km and weren’t caught until 145km later. Both riders gained the combativity award that day, and Julian had nothing but praise for his Etixx teammate. This wasn’t the younger of the pair’s first taste of success at the Tour either, he had been leading the youth classification and wearing the maillot blanc from stages 2 to 6. Alaphilippe’s successful season ended with a 10th place at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal in September.

I suffered a lot after yesterday’s stage, and I suffered a lot in his wheel today. I don’t know how he’s that strong but these kind of days are enriching for me, and chapeau to him.” – Julian Alaphilippe on teammate Tony Martin.

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Picture: Mantey Stephane/L’Equipe.

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Source: Twitter.com

His 2017 season has begun in fine form, gaining another young rider classification win at the Abu Dhabi Tour, as well as a top 5 placing. A hotly contested Paris-Nice (which saw Sky’s Sergio Henao win by 2 seconds from Contador, Trek) saw Alaphilippe lead for 3 days before unfortunately cracking on the penultimate stage, yet ultimately finishing 5th. He held four top-5 finishes, helped Quick-Step win the team classification and won yet another young rider classification with the points classification his also. He impressed with his stage 4 win, a 14.5km time trial – his first win in this discipline. 2017’s Paris-Nice was definitely one of the highlights of Alaphilippe’s cycling career so far.

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Photos: Christophe Ena/AP, Getty Images Sport.

After Sagan’s attack on the Poggio at Milan-San Remo shook the race up, dropped favourites and left teams improvising, Alaphilippe and Kwiatkowski (now Sky) were the only ones to follow. A fierce sprint could not have brought the riders closer, and Kwiatkowski took the win, with Alaphilippe just in 3rd.

Milano - Sanremo 2017

Photo: Cor Vos, LaPresse – D’Alberto/Ferrari.

It’s no secret Julian Alaphilippe truly is a remarkable rider, yet what makes him an even more exciting prospect is the fact he is only 24. His palmarès are indeed something to brag about, but this Quick-Step rider shows no doing of that. This cyclist is only going to get better, and this will be exciting to watch – not only for the French, but cycling fans alike.

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