Alaphilippe defiant and ready for Tour de France yellow jersey defence

It's clear that mental strength alone will not win Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) the 2019 Tour de France, but on the eve of three crucial Alpine stages, the maillot jaune of this year's race was adamant he has "never felt as motivated" to defend his lead.

In the yellow jersey since the end of the first week and the winner of two stages to boot, Alaphilippe endured the 200-kilometre slog on stage 17 through south-eastern France. For all the pace had been relatively calm and the race incident-free, he looked as weary as the rest of the peloton as he fielded his umpteenth round of questions from the press.

But if there is one thing Alaphilippe is not lacking, it is defiance. And at the stage finish in Gap, he insisted that whilst "physically it's been hard for me, mentally I've never been so strong, I've never felt so motivated. I'm going to defend a yellow jersey I never imagined that I would be wearing at this point in the Tour."

Alaphilippe said the final transitional stage of the Tour de France had been incident-free for himself, and with teammate Kasper Asgreen in the break of the day, he could afford to take things calmly back in the main bunch.

"I'm tired like everybody else is. It's not just that every minute of rest counts, it's almost every second at this point," Alaphilippe argued. "It was a straightforward day, but I have to save energy and try to recover as much as I can."

As for what is coming up, Alaphilippe says he knows the Izoard from a reconnaissance ride. But no matter the mountain, he is expecting attacks from his rivals, with Ineos and Jumbo, the strongest climbing squads, most likely to kick off the action.

"Of course Ineos are going to make the race hard and they'll try to pull things apart. I have a solid team, but I don't have a team for the mountains," Alaphilippe recognised.

He predicted, too, that whilst there are three tough Alpine stages, the first blows struck by his rivals in the mountains on stage 18 would be ones that fell the hardest, "because that day is the hardest of them all."

Alaphilippe knows that after his signs of weakness on the second big Pyrenean stage, his rivals will be looking for any chink in his armour. But the Frenchman insisted that even as the pressure mounted around him, come what may he would go on racing proud or what he has achieved with his head held high.

"So whatever happens, I'll have no regrets. I will give it everything," Alaphilippe promised. Just, in fact, as he has done up to now.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.