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Alaphilippe: Better to be stripped of second place than first

Julian Alaphilippe of Team Deceuninck - QuickStep in World Champion Jersey shows disappointment during the 106th Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2020 (Getty Images)
Julian Alaphilippe of Team Deceuninck - QuickStep in World Champion Jersey shows disappointment during the 106th Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2020 (Getty Images) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Julian Alaphilippe has vowed that he will never again deviate from his sprinting line or celebrate too early, two errors he noted, that soured his debut appearance in the rainbow jersey at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The new world champion offered an apology to Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb), the rider principally disrupted by his movement to the left in the five-man sprint for the line, saying it did not reflect who he is as a rider. 

As for the early celebration, which allowed Jumbo-Visma's Primož Roglič to pip him to the line, there was embarrassment but also vague consolation, as his relegation by the race jury would have been harder to take had it stripped him of victory.

"I’m obviously disappointed not to have won," Alaphilippe said. "With a cool head, having recovered a little, I watched the footage and I really didn’t realise I’d made such a severe deviation. That was the first error.

"The second error was to lift the arms a bit too early. It’s the first time in my career that’s happened, and I think it’ll also be the last. I prefer to be relegated having finishing second, than if I’d have won. 

"I want to apologise for what happened to Hirschi, and thank my team for the work they did today. I’m still happy to show the jersey at this race, and I gave my all, but more than anything I’m sorry, and disappointed," the world champion said.

Alaphilippe sat up and raised his arms aloft with just under 25 metres to go in Liège, only for Roglič to creep up on his right and snatch it with a late bike throw. The Frenchman looked worried as they slowed to a halt, and after the result was confirmed he was called to the race officials’ video truck, where he was told he’d been relegated to fifth place for a dangerous sprint, which disrupted Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) as well as Hirschi. 

"Totally," was Alaphilippe’s response when asked if he felt the jury’s decision was fair. "Once again, I’m sorry for that involuntary deviation. I have no excuse. I’m sincerely sorry, because it’s not at all my way of doing things. It won’t happen again."

Alaphilippe was caught up in a crash with 80km to go but made his way back to the peloton and set his teammate Dries Devenyns to lead the way to the final climb of the Roche-aux-Faucons, where he created the decisive selection with a trademark attack. He, Hirschi, Roglič, and Pogačar arrived at the finish together and were joined by latecomer Matej Mohoric (Bahrain McLaren) for the sprint to the line.

"It was a nice day, a tough race with a lot of wind, and I gave my all. I don’t have any regrets, because even if I won, I would have been relegated. I honoured the jersey and it was a special feeling to race La Doyenne with it," Alaphilippe said. 

"I think I managed the finale well. It wasn’t easy - I felt the pressure of the jersey and all the riders working against me, but that’s normal. I made the selection on the Roche-aux-Faucons, but there was an attack from Hirschi that really hurt. 

"In the sprint, with the return of Mohoric, it was perfect, up until that deviation and up until I raised my arms too early. These are things that happen in a career - it's just a shame it happened at La Doyenne. As I said, it was the first and last time. In any case, we have a great winner in Primoz Roglič."

Alaphilippe insisted he had no regrets but he will be aware he passed up a golden opportunity to add a second Monument to his palmarès, and after placing second on his debut in 2015, his wait for the Liège crown goes on. Thoughts will now turn to the cobbled Classics and a debut appearance at the Tour of Flanders. 

"You have to move on quickly," he concluded. "I’ve had disappointments before in my career, and I’ll have more in the future."

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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.