Buoyed by Deceuninck-QuickStep's early season run of success and his own victory at Saturday’s Strade Bianche, Julian Alaphilippe has admitted that a hat-trick of victories at Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo is possible.
Davide Rebellin and Philippe Gilbert are the last two riders to win the Ardennes hat-trick – Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne – while Fabian Cancellara is the only rider to have won all three of the Italian March races, in 2008.
Now, Alaphilippe is ready to give it a try, having built his early season around the March races, considering them more important than a second victory at Flèche, which he secured last season.
"I don't know. I hope I can do it. I’ll certainly try my best," replied Alaphilippe when Cyclingnews asked about the chances of him completing the Italian Trittico.
"Strade Bianche was my first big goal – maybe more so than Flèche Wallonne – so I'm really happy to have won it. Now I want more, and I'll be focused for Tirreno-Adriatico and for Milan-San Remo. But I'm also relaxed because I've already won four races, and winning Strade Bianche as I did was really special."
Alaphilippe rode the Vuelta a San Jun and then the Tour Colombia 2.1 stage race as important early-season preparation, staying on in Colombia for extra altitude training. He and Deceuninck-QuickStep identified Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo as three achievable goals that perfectly suit the Frenchman's abilities and racing skills. He will take a break as other riders target the cobbled Classics and then return for the Ardennes Classics.
In an ever-more focused sport, Alaphilippe has opted for two sets of goals within one spring campaign.
"It's the first time I'm doing it," he said. "My shape is good, and it's going to be a long way until Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and so I've got to recover as best as possible between every race. I don't need to do a lot of training now; I just hope to stay good and so perform between now and Liège."
Alaphilippe has already won four times in 2019, while his Deceuninck-QuickStep team has won 15 races, including all five big one-day races, including Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne and Strade Bianche.
They are on a roll, with their success throwing off any pressure and inspiring further success.
"The problem is that now we've got to win every day, every time we race. When we don't win, it's not normal, but when we start wining again, it's not normal, either, " Alaphilippe joked.
"Of course, we're happy with the start of the season. It's an incredible start for all of us. We don't want to stop winning; we hope it's just the beginning.
“There's no secret to it," he continued. "When you have a good riders who work for each other, with top staff and a top team spirit, and you win from the start of the season, you have less pressure, and with less pressure comes better results."
To win Tirreno-Adriatico, Alaphilippe and Deceuninck-QuickStep will have to perform well in Wednesday's opening team time trial, and then try to pick up the 10, six and four-second time bonuses awarded on each stage.
Alaphilippe knows he will need a cushion of at least 10 seconds on time trial rivals such as Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb).
"The Tirreno course is a good parcours for me, but with two time trials, it's not great," he admitted.
"I'm not bad at time trials, but I don't love them. Guys like Tom Dumoulin, Primoz Roglic and Geraint Thomas, they're really good in time trials, so we'll see happens. We're here to win stages with me and Elia Viviani. We'll think about the GC after the team time trial, and then race day-by-day."