New French national team coach Cyrille Guimard has named Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) as team leader for the World Championships road race in Bergen in September. A month out from the Worlds, Guimard has already announced four of his nine-man selection, with Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Anthony Roux (FDJ) all set to ride for France.
"I've put together the foundation of my team, taking into consideration the various elements of this Worlds course, which will, let's not forget, be 276 kilometres long," Guimard told France Cyclisme, describing Alaphilippe, Gallopin, Calmejane and Roux as the "spine of the French team."
"Julian Alaphilippe will be the natural leader. He'll have a close guard of solid, experienced riders around him in Anthony Roux and Tony Gallopin. Lilian Calmejane is younger but he already has a great palmarès and above all, he has great qualities as a puncheur."
Alaphilippe has endured an injury-hit season since impressing at Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo in March. A knee injury sustained at the Tour of the Basque Country forced him out of the Ardennes Classics, and the ensuing surgery ruled him out of the Tour de France. The 25-year-old returned to action in late summer and underlined his form with a fine victory on stage 8 of the Vuelta a España at Xorret de Cati.
Alaphilippe performed strongly in the French jersey last season, placing 4th at the Olympic Games in Rio and taking the silver medal at the European Championships road race in Plumelec. He was not part of the French team's calamitous showing at the Doha Worlds, where neither Arnaud Démare nor Nacer Bouhanni succeeded in making the decisive split.
"I have spoken with the lads and the feeling between them is excellent," said Guimard, who took over from Bernard Bourreau this season.
"They were the bones of the French team at the 2016 European Championships and they all spoke to me about that race. I have the leader of my team and three close lieutenants around him. The foundations are strong."
Guimard's first race in charge of the French team was the recent European Championships in Herning, where Bryan Coquard was the highest finisher, taking 14th place in the bunch sprint won by Alexander Kristoff (Norway).
It remains to be seen whether there will be room for Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in Guimard's selection for the Bergen Worlds. Guimard has spoken of his desire to bring a recognised sprinter as part of his nine-man team, but Bouhanni has been battling to recover his form in the wake of his heavy crash at the Tour de Yorkshire in April.
Bouhanni managed to return in time to ride – and finish – the Tour de France, and he has won stages of the Tour de l'Ain and Tour du Poitou-Charentes in recent weeks. Bouhanni placed 10th at the 2014 Worlds in Ponferrada, which took place on a course not entirely dissimilar to the Bergen circuit.
"If I'm called up, I'll obviously accept selection," Bouhanni told L'Équipe on Monday. "But for now, I haven't had any contact with Cyrille Guimard. I prefer to concentrate on my next races, in Brussels and Fourmies next weekend."
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