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Julian Alaphilippe: Dreaming of another rainbow jersey

MUR DE HUY BELGIUM APRIL 21 Julian Alaphilippe of France and Team Deceuninck QuickStep sprint on arrival during the 85th La Fleche Wallonne 2021 Men Elite a 1936km race from Charleroi to Mur de Huy 204m FlecheWallonne on April 21 2021 in Mur de Huy Belgium Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Julian Alaphilippe pulled on the world champion’s rainbow jersey for the final time at last weekend’s Primus Classic in Belgium. Before his last outing in the coveted rainbow bands the Frenchman shared his personal experience about his year in this exclusive piece for Cyclingnews.

It’s Friday night, and it’s getting late. Tomorrow I race the Primus Classic here in Belgium and it will represent my final outing in the rainbow jersey. It will be the last time I will wake up and put on the most beautiful jersey in all of cycling, and my last opportunity to honour racing as the men’s road World Champion.

This year has been an incredible experience but as I reach this point, I find myself briefly looking back. As a rider we rarely have the chance to dwell on the past. The racing comes too fast, with such intensity. But right now, in my hotel room, and with the jersey on my bed I have the chance to savour this feeling one last time.

My first memories of the rainbow jersey go all the way back to my first days in cycling. I was just starting out, but I learnt pretty quickly that the world champion was lucky enough to have a special jersey that they could wear all year round. My pursuit of a Worlds win became a dream from an early age and only intensified when I entered the professional ranks. I would always watch the rider in the jersey because they always stood out, and because they always raced like a champion.

I can remember racing my first World Championships in 2010. I was a teenager at the junior cyclo-cross Worlds in Tabor, in the Czech Republic. It was a huge event for me at the time and I was just happy to be there but I was highly motivated and thrust to the front of the race. I ended up taking second to Tomas Paprstka and while that was a good result, all I can remember was how disappointed I was to be so close but so far away from the victory, especially because it came down to a two-man sprint. That race inspired me to one day become a world champion.

I also remember Tom Boonen winning, and Cavendish too. They were big stars on the scene when I was developing. Peter Sagan was just coming through too and I remember that every world champion was a huge star in the sport, they were all big names. At the time I could never imagine that I would put my name on the list of World Champions.

I love the rainbow jersey. It’s a beautiful combination with the white background.

I’ll never forget my victory in Imola. There was so much raw emotion and feeling that day. It felt like time had stopped for me. When I went back to the hotel, I was able to share the moment with my teammates and the staff. It was incredible to go straight from there to the Classics and immediately take part in the biggest one-day races. I know that the season didn’t end well with the crash in the Tour of Flanders but that whole period for me was special.

The experience of wearing the jersey for the past year is complicated to describe. There have been so many different emotions along the way. Maybe I won’t be able to draw real conclusions until after the Flanders Worlds or perhaps during the winter when I have time to slow down, take stock, and understand.

This season has taken so much energy and focus from me, both in terms of enjoying the stature of being a world champion but also when it comes to my performances.

I’ve tried to give my best in every race I’ve lined up for and that’s not always easy when you’re the world champion. Everyone looks at you, you can feel it, and they expect you to win every race. I’ve learned to accept that; to always give my best but also enjoy every moment too.

Julian Alaphilippe wins 2020 UCI Road World Championship

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you have the jersey it’s just different

When I look at my season as world champion, I think that I can be satisfied. I’ve tried to give everything for my goals, my team, and my jersey. I was proud to race the Classics in the rainbow jersey and it was the same at the Tour de France this summer. I created a lot of memories. 

When I talk about the pressure it’s not always about the outside world. It’s more about the responsibility that I’ve put on my shoulders. I always want to make a difference in races and show my qualities, while at the same time I always want to progress. But when you have the jersey it’s just different. It’s hard to explain but you end up putting a bit more pressure on yourself.

I don’t know if there was one moment that stood out as being the most difficult in terms of being the world champion but I want to remember the special moments like La Flèche Wallonne and of course winning the first stage of the Tour de France. The victory on stage 1 was just a few days after the birth of my son and taking that win will always mean the world to my family and I.

So, tomorrow is my last race, and to be honest the result is not important. This is one race where I just want to appreciate everything that I have. I want to go out there and enjoy every single one of those 197 kilometres. I want to savour waking up and pulling on the jersey for one last race. I want to be in the peloton and look down one last time and see the rainbow that I’ve worked so hard to honour.

Soon I will head to the World Championships with a different mindset to the one I had in Imola. Perhaps I’m a bit more relaxed this time around, but I go there with high motivation and a strong team. But tonight, tonight I dream. My time in the rainbow jersey is almost complete but I dreamed once, and it came true. Maybe if I dream once more…

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