Julian Alaphilippe (France) could only express disappointment in his performance during the elite men's road race at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck on Sunday. The Frenchman went into the race as the favourite but fell apart on the steep slopes of the Höttinger Höll and was forced to watch his opportunity to win a world title ride away from him.
"Personally, I'm disappointed. I have no excuses," Alaphilippe told Cyclingnews. "The last climb was just too hard for me. My legs didn't have anything left. Everything was OK, but I just exploded, and I lost so much energy in the last climb."
The elite men raced a gruelling 258km that included an 84km loop from Kufstein to Innsbruck. They then raced seven laps of a 23.8km circuit, with each one featuring the 7.9km Igls climb.
On the last circuit, the men raced up the decisive 2.9km Höttinger Höll, with grades as steep as 28 per cent, a climb that was predicted to be the deciding point of the race.
The French team also included pure climbers, Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, but Alaphilippe's successful season with wins at Flèche Wallonne, two stage wins at the Tour de France, and Clasica San Sebastian made him one of the top contenders.
Bardet also had a good season with third at Critérium du Dauphiné, sixth overall at the Tour de France and eighth at the Deutschland Tour, and his one-day successes stood out, too, with second at Strade Bianche and third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Pinot recently finished sixth overall at the Vuelta a España where he won two stages.
The support team of Tony Gallopin, Anthony Roux, Warren Barguil, Alex Geniez, Anthony Roux and Rudy Molard, worked tirelessly throughout the race to keep Alaphilippe, Bardet and Pinot in the best possible position ahead of the Höll climb.
"It was a really hard day like I expected, and I am proud about how the French team raced today," Alaphilippe said.
As expected, the decisive attacks happened on the Höll climb with Alejandro Valverde (Spain), Michael Woods (Canada) and Gianni Moscon (Italy), making the front split. The move also included Bardet but saw Alaphilippe unexpectedly fall off the pace. Moscon was also distanced on the steepest part of the climb and wasn't able to reconnect on the descent.
"I totally exploded, and I could not recover once I got over the top," Alaphilippe said.
Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) used his time trial skills to catch back up to the three leaders, and the race ended up in a four-way sprint won by Valverde, the new world champion. Bardet took the silver medal, Woods the bronze, and Dumoulin placed fourth.
"It was a really hard race, and in the end, it was sad that we didn't take the rainbow jersey, but it was a really good performance from Romain Bardet, who took second place behind Valverde - that is a really good performance."