Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert will return to racing action on Sunday for the start of the Critérium du Dauphiné stage race in France – one of the two traditional routes to the Tour de France.
While the team's Tour de France GC hopeful Enric Mas will head to the Tour de Suisse, which starts the day before the end of the Dauphiné, Alaphilippe and Gilbert head to this year's Grande Boucle on the hunt for stage wins, with the Dauphiné signalling the start of the second half of both riders' seasons.
The pair last raced at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, having both won races earlier that month: Paris-Roubaix in Gilbert's case, while Alaphilippe won Flèche Wallonne. Gilbert has also won a stage of the Tour de la Provence this season, while Alaphilippe's nine victories already this year include Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche.
They will have similar roles to each other at the Tour in July, with both riders capable of winning stages, while Alaphilippe will also try to defend the polka-dot jersey he took as the winner of the mountains classification.
The two riders experienced mixed fortunes at last year's Tour, however. While Alaphilippe took two stages en route to being crowned 'king of the mountains', Gilbert crashed on the descent of the Col de Portet d'Aspet on stage 16, fracturing his knee cap, which kept him out of action until the GP d'Isbergues in late September – which he won.
Twenty-six-year-old Alaphilippe's future with Deceuninck-QuickStep was recently assured thanks to a contract extension that will keep the Frenchman with the Belgian WorldTour outfit until at least the end of 2021.
"This is the team that gave me the chance to turn pro six years ago, and where I feel at home. It's my second family and I am very grateful for all the support I have received over the years as part of the amazing 'Wolfpack'," Alaphilippe said after re-signing with the team, referring to it by its self-styled nickname.
Having recently completed a team training camp, Alaphilippe and Gilbert will be hoping for a smooth run-in to the start of the Tour in Brussels, Belgium, on July 6, using the Dauphiné to hone their form, and possibly return to winning ways already ahead of July. Alaphilippe won a stage at the race last year, while 36-year-old Gilbert won a stage at the Dauphiné back in 2006.
"The Dauphiné is more than just a test for the Tour de France," said Deceuninck-QuickStep's Brian Holm in a press release. "It's a great and spectacular race in its own right, which this season continues the trend of past years, putting a hard course favouring the climbers on the table.
"We go there with a balanced squad, headlined by our two Monument winners – Julian and Philippe – who have recently completed an altitude training camp, but the depth of the team gives us the possibility to fight for a good result with other riders, too. The summer starts here and 'The Wolfpack' are prepared to leave their mark on as many races as possible," said the Dane.
The rest of the seven-man squad is made up of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Zdenek Stybar, recent Tour of California stage winner Rémi Cavagna, sprinter Alvaro Hodeg, Tim Declercq and Petr Vakoc.
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