Julian Alaphilippe's breakout 2015 season, which included two runner-up finishes in the Ardennes Classics, came to a disappointing conclusion when the 23-year-old Frenchman picked up a case of mononucleosis toward the end of the year. Although he's training again after a two-and-a-half month hiatus, just where he'll start his 2016 campaign is still undecided.
Alaphilippe jumped into the headlines last year when he stormed into the Ardennes Classics, where he finished seventh at the Amstel Gold race while working for Etixx-QuickStep teammate and race winner Michal Kwiatkowski. He followed that with two second-place finishes to Alejandro Valevere (Movistar) in Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
From there he grabbed two podium finishes at Tour de Romandie before abandoning that race, then carried his good form into the Tour of California, where he won the stage to Mt. Baldy and eventually finished second to Peter Sagan by three seconds. His results began to suffer after that, however, and his season ended with a DNF at the World Championships.
Alaphilippe is back on the bike now and has been riding with his team at a recent training camp, where Cyclingnews caught up with him for an interview.
Cyclingnews: How has the training camp been going for you?
Julian Alaphilippe: The training camp has been OK. It is good for me and also for the team. I can train a little bit more than the first training camp, because my mononucleosis is better and better. But it's not really finished, so I take it step by step and I want to take my time.
CN: How hard has it been to train and to focus in the off-season since you've been ill?
JA: It has been really difficult. After my break I needed to stay two-and-a-half months waiting with no training because I was really fatigued and really tired. This moment was really hard for my head and also my body because I couldn't train and I couldn't do anything. So now I'm really happy to be on the bike, but it's really, really slow.
CN: Has this been disappointing after the successful season you had in 2015?
JA: Of course it's not easy in my head after a good season in 2015, but that's OK. I takes things how they come. I didn't have a choice. It is like it is. I didn't do a winter like I wanted to do, but that's the situation right now and there's nothing I can do to change it except doing my job very well and training and try to win.
CN: How do you look back at 2015? It was a good year before you got ill.
JA: I'm very happy with my season because there are some very good memories and some good races. It was also a good step in my progression. I hope it's just a start.
CN: Did you expect to do so well?
JA: No, no, no. You hope every day for the best, but I didn't expect the two podiums in the Classics or my victory in the mountain stage. It wasn't something I was thinking about before, but it's always good when your work pays off.
CN: Do you have a favourite moment from 2015?
JA: No. We did a lot of moments. Of course, when you win a race it is something unforgettable, but also the Classics season was really good for me and Paris-Nice with a stage close to my home. We had the yellow jersey with Michal Kwiatkowski. It was a good race for my memory. Also after that the Tour of California.
I was a little disappointed about the World Championships when I knew I had my virus because I could not finish the season the way I wanted. But OK. I was happy with my season.
CN: After your successes in 2015, are you confident heading into 2016?
JA: In my head I am confident. I have confidence in my team also. So it's something really important to come back. If I feel good I can go, but if I need a little bit more time I can take time. I wait for the team doctor to start the season. But OK, I am confident.
CN: What is coming up for you for the first few months of the season?
JA: I don't know at this moment. My first goal is to finish my virus and to start the real preparation. At this moment I can train, but really slowly and not specific effort. It just takes time. At this moment I don't know when I'll start the season. Maybe in February, but we don't know.
CN: Will you have enough time to prepare before the Ardennes?
JA: I hope yes, for sure. When you finish two times in the podium you want to come back and try to win. This year it's a little bit special after a bad winter, so maybe I can train and do some races before the Classics. I'll do my best and my maximum to be in good shape for the classics, but I don't know at this moment.
CN: If you're well again, back to 100 percent, can you repeat what you did in 2015?
JA: I hope. I hope. I don't know. For sure I will work for that, but it's not clear. I need to ride. It's not a race where you go with a lot of energy. You need to be in top condition. It's not easy. So I don't know at this moment.
CN: Last year you worked for Kwiatkowski, this year Dan Martin is on the team. How does that change things for you?
JA: It's really good news for the team, because all the pressure doesn't fall on me. It's also important to have two leaders, and a leader like Dan Martin is really good because he has a lot of experience and he knows very well all the Classics. It's also good for me for learning and getting experience with him. So it's really good to be with him.
CN: What's on your calendar after the Classics?
JA: I don't know. Maybe I need to have a big tour for myself as a professional. I've never ridden a big tour, so why not the Tour de France. I don't know. It's something in my head, but I can't talk now about my program after the Classics because I don't know when I will start my season.
CN: Looking to the future, what type of rider do you see yourself as? Do you see yourself as a one-day specialist or developing into a stage racer?
JA: I don't know. For this moment I show my condition for a puncheur. My style is an attacker. But also for the one-week stage race it is something I like. So it's a mix together. I need to learn again. I don't have a big, big, big experience. And I have never ridden a big tour, so I have a lot of things to discover and learn for the future. It's really only now to say I'm a rider for the Classics, I'm a rider for the stage races. I don't know.
CN: You really like being aggressive.
JA: Yeah, yeah. I really like that.