Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) missed out on this seventh win of the season Wednesday at Brabantnse Pijl, finishing second in a four-up sprint at the end of the race to Matthieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), but the winner of Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche will take confidence from his aggressive racing heading into the Ardennes Classics next week.
“My team did a superb job, and on the last lap I decided to attack," said Alaphlippe, who abandoned the Tour of the Basque Country last week after being involved in a high-speed crash ion stage 4. "Over the top of the climb we were five riders, and I rode full gas to help this move go all the way to the line."
Alaphilippe helped form the winning breakaway when he, Van der Poel, Tim Wellens (Lotto Souydal) and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), bridged across to solo escapee Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) on the final lap of three finishing circuits in Overijse, Belgium.
Wellens attacked over the Holstheide climb and was followed by Alaphilippe, Van der Poel and Matthews, while Impey lost touch with the group with just over 10km to go. The leaders worked well together and held off the chase with a small gap, but Alaphlippe attacked as they approached the final two climbs.
The Deceuninck-QuickStep leader's move wasn't enough to drop Van der Poel, however, while Wellens and Matthews initially lost contact but then clawed their way back. Van der Poel led the breakaway onto the final climb of the Schavei and then under the flamme rouge with Matthews, Alaphilippe and Wellens on his wheel.
A lull in the action briefly pushed Matthews into the lead, but the cat-and-mouse games continued as the field was quickly closing from behind, causing Van der Poel to jump with 250 metres to go. Alaphilippe, Wellens and Matthews tried to respond, but none could come around the Dutch champion, with Alaphilippe collecting the second prize and Wellens landing third.
Although disappointed to miss out another win in what has already been a stellar season for the 26-year-old Frenchman, Alaphilippe took a glass-half-full approach.
"This morning I was already happy to be back racing, and now I am content having finished on the podium, although I would have liked to win, as this is in my nature," he said. "In the end, it was a good test and a nice comeback, which gives me confidence going into the Ardennes Classics.”
Alaphilippe will face Sunday's Amstel Gold Race next before trying to add another Flèche-Wallonne title to his pal mares on April 24. Liege-Bastogne-Liege, on April 28, will close out his Ardennes campaign. Alaphilippe was fourth in Liege last year.