France is one of cycling’s traditional hotbeds, and they are surpassed in the all-time World Championship men’s road race medal table by only Belgium and Italy.
That said, with only eight world titles – alongside 12 silver medals and 15 bronze – they are something of a distant third, with Belgium on 26 and Italy on 19.
Their last winner? Laurent Brochard, all the way back in 1997.
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· Julian Alaphilippe
· Julien Bernard
· Rémi Cavagna
· Benoît Cosnefroy
· Tony Gallopin
· Christophe Laporte
· Anthony Roux
· Florian Sénéchal
Julian Alaphilippe tops the list alphabetically and metaphorically, carrying the hopes of his nation pretty much single-handedly. It’s not so much pressure that he’s shouldering, given how much success he’s already delivered this year, but his exploits do come with a certain degree of expectation.
Alaphilippe may have been knocked off the top of the WorldTour ranking by Vuelta a España winner Primoz Roglic, but he is still the outstanding rider of 2019, with one-day wins at Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche, and La Flèche Wallonne in the spring, and a Tour de France performance in the summer that will go down in history.
He has shown he can do pretty much anything – Classics, uphill finishes, time trials, mountains... even bunch sprints. It seems absurd that just 18 months ago he was scratching his head wondering where his first big win would come from.
The nature of the Yorkshire course is almost irrelevant; if Alaphilippe has the form he had in the spring and summer, he’s a grade-A favourite.
As for the rest of the team, Tony Gallopin is a solid road captain, while Benoît Cosnefroy could make an impact, despite being a late addition to the squad and despite crashing at the recent GP d’Isbergues. The 23-year-old won the U23 world title in 2017 and, although he lacks experience, is a big talent and an attacking rider who’s well suited to the Yorkshire course.
Alaphilippe has everything it takes to win in Yorkshire. The finishing circuit may not contain one key climb or obvious launchpad, but the undulations are sharp, and his punch will be a key weapon, particularly as the race wears on and those of others are chipped away.
The numerous shifts in momentum from the climbs and turns will suit his staccato style, placing a premium on positioning and bringing his bike handling and descending skills to the fore.
For a somewhat agitating rider who was once easily bored, the ‘busy’ nature of the course will suit him. Plus, he can clearly finish the race off, with a sprint that, at peak potency, can see off Peter Sagan and Alejandro Valverde (Milan-San Remo), and a whole peloton (Tirreno-Adriatico).
Aside from Alaphilippe, the team as a whole doesn’t seem to command the sort of authority you’d expect from one of the leading cycling nations.
The Yorkshire course is far from perfectly suited to Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet, or Warren Barguil, but they are still conspicuous by their absences, even considering injury, illness and fatigue.
Barguil in particular, given he’s the national champion and won that race on a circuit course that wasn’t overly hilly. Similarly, Bardet’s best results in recent years have come in one-day races, and the 2018 Strade Bianche showed he’s more than a pure climber. Senechal is more of a flat-land Classics specialists, and it’s similarly difficult to see Roux, Laporte, or Bernard with Alaphilippe deep into the race. Even the impressive Cavagna has a poor record in long, hilly, one-day races.
You could say Alaphilippe is good enough not to need a team but, nevertheless, there are still question marks surrounding his form, namely his ability to produce a third ‘peak’ after such an impressive and demanding 2019.
After racing – and winning – extensively after last year’s Tour, Alaphilippe ran out of gas and came up short in Innsbruck. This year he has eschewed the lucrative post-Tour criteriums and done just seven days of racing since July. He should, in theory, be fresher, but is without the reassurance of an obvious run of results. His performances in Canada – seventh at the GP de Quebec and 13th at the GP de Montreal – were neither cause for concern nor confidence.
View from France
Yves Perret – cycling communications professional, YP Médias.
The French team is well-stocked, and has a good deal of ambition, because we have the rider who has been number one in the world for most of the year, notably winning these kind of races.
France have fewer cards than Belgium or some other teams, but they can manage it. Benoit Cosnefroy is another asset – a courageous young rider who has been flying since the summer. It’s a nice team that has been put together, with a clear leader who has shown over the past year he can deliver when the expectations are high, and also when they aren’t. All these riders are very proud to represent their nation and I sense a true team spirit in the French camp.
Julian always seems to be in a good dynamic. In Canada, he showed he was capable of being up front, even if he’s short of the shape he had in Milan-San Remo or the Tour. However, I saw him evolve over the course of that week in Canada, and that was encouraging. Remember, he has still had two more weeks between Canada and Worlds.
The period after the Tour is always hard to manage, but he has managed it well. It’s super intelligent, what he has done. It’s what a rider with ambitions at the end of the season must do. He didn’t go around for 15 days racing criteriums and collecting money. He has the mark of a rider who is after performance – not money.
When all is said and done, it will come down to the circumstances of the race. A sprint of 15 riders is not what he prefers, so he will absolutely have to take risks at a certain moment. As we’ve seen, Julian is not afraid to do that.