After finishing a clearly disappointed runner-up in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday and then passing an almost sleepless night such was the extent of euphoria, France’s new Classics sensation Julian Alaphilippe has described himself as "pleased" with his second place behind Alejandro Valverde in La Doyenne.
Speaking to L'Équipe after flying to Switzerland for Tuesday's start of the Tour de Romandie, Alaphilippe admitted he had gone over the finale time after time in his head. Initially upset having got so close to victory, he revealed that his feelings have changed to pleasure at being so competitive in the toughest one-day race on the calendar.
"I realised what I had achieved thanks to all of the messages that I received from France and Belgium," said the 22-year-old Etixx-QuickStep rider. "I had just finished second in the most beautiful race in the world to Alejandro Valverde… I’m very satisfied. No, not very satisfied, but pleased with myself."
Alaphilippe pointed out that he was in such a bad state having made a huge effort to defend the interests of Etixx team leader Michal Kwiatkowski on the penultimate Saint-Nicolas climb that he couldn’t have imagined then that he would finish second a handful of kilometres later.
"On the descent I did everything I could to recover. We turned left and there right in front of us was the wall [up to the finish in Ans]. That really motivated me. I told myself that victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège would be decided at the top. I wasn’t overawed. But I do need some more experience, to get to know the final, and the race’s tricky and most strategic points," explained the Frenchman, who was quick to underline that second place on his Liège debut doesn’t mean he’ll win the race next year.
What he did acknowledge after an Ardennes campaign in which he finished seventh at Amstel Gold and second in Flèche Wallonne and Liège is that he has discovered the races for which he is tailor made. He described how he first got to know the races when he was racing for the French army team in 2011.
"We went to the finish of Flèche Wallonne. Philippe Gilbert won it and that inspired me. His style as a puncheur really motivated me," said Alaphilippe, who added: "He sent me a message of congratulation on Sunday. He thought of me even when he was also in demand, which was really cool."
The diminutive but powerful Alaphilippe, who hails from St Amand Montrond in the dead centre of France, is already being talked up as a potential Grand Tour climber. But he insists that, although he likes the hills, mountains offer a very different challenge. Fans of the Classics will also be glad to hear that he wants to keep and improve on the characteristics he already has.
"I don’t want to squander my ability, I want to keep that dynamic side, to be a puncheur, with my nice little finishing kick. For now I want to stick with that. The Ardennes suit me very well," said the Frenchman, who said he has started talks with Etixx team manager Patrick Lefevere about extending the contract that runs out at the end of this season.
Before then, Alaphilippe will line up in Romandie and make his Grand Tour debut. In the former, his brief will be to help team leader Rigoberto Urán in the mountains and collaborate with Gianni Meersman in the sprints. As for the latter, he doesn’t expect to get a call up to the Tour de France and believes his first three-week race will be the Vuelta a España in late August.
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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