Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe has been awarded the 'most-combative rider' award at this year's Tour de France, following his 14 days wearing the yellow jersey, with the Frenchman only losing the race lead two days before the finish in Paris.
The 2019 race will likely be remembered as France's most successful Tour de France since Bernard Hinault's victory in 1985. And although neither Alaphilippe, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Groupama-FDJ's Thibaut Pinot nor Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) were able to pull off the ultimate achievement of victory, the nation was nevertheless hugely entertained by its home riders this year.
Alaphilippe, who finished fifth overall, had fans believing that he might just be able to pull off the seemingly impossible for much of the race, while Pinot was arguably an even more likely candidate for overall glory – but had to pull out through injury on the same day that Alaphilippe's dream died.
Bardet, meanwhile, had a terrible start to the race, but turned things around in the final week by taking control in the 'king of the mountains' competition and taking that polka-dot jersey all the way to Paris, while former mountains-competition winner Barguil fought his way through the Alps into a top-10 finish in Paris.
But few would begrudge Alaphilippe having been awarded the Tour's 'Super Combatif' prize – a unanimous decision by the jury – for the way he won stage 3 in Epernay to first take the maillot jaune, only to lose it three days later, but then regain it on stage 8 to Saint-Etienne thanks to some truly aggressive racing.
He then held on to it for a further 11 days: winning the individual time trial in Pau while wearing yellow, and thus extending his lead, before surviving through the Pyrenees in a most unlikely manner, sticking to the overall favourites' wheels on the climbs, and then doing the same for much of the Alps – all in a dogged display that both surprised his rivals and delighted his fans.
"It was a dream to wear the yellow jersey, even for a day," Alaphilippe told France TV in Paris on Sunday. "In the end, I wore it for 14 days, and won two stages, so it's been something that I'll never forget. I've made a lot of people very happy, which in turn has made me very happy."
Asked whether he ever thought that he could actually win the 2019 race, the 27-year-old replied: "I'm not going to say that I never believed I could win it, but it wasn't in my head. To win the Tour, you have to have worked towards it for months, or even years, in advance. So fifth place overall is more than I could have ever hoped for.
"I think it's more fun to have worn the yellow jersey for 14 days and to have won two stages than to have done nothing and finished third overall," he added.
Alaphilippe admitted that trying to win the Tour overall may be a goal he works towards in the future "but not next year" – and that instead he wants to concentrate on trying to win the Tour of Flanders one-day race next spring.
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