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Alaphilippe recons Tour de France climbs in French Alps

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) ahead of stage 1 of the 2020 Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) ahead of stage 1 of the 2020 Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

After doing a reconnaissance ride of the route of the Tour of Flanders last week, Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe wasted no time in heading down to the French Alps to do a recon ride of some of the climbs that feature on the route of this year's Tour de France on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old Frenchman was set to ride his first Tour of Flanders in April, but the coronavirus pandemic has seen the Belgian one-day Classic pushed back to October. This year's rescheduled Tour de France, therefore – set for August 20-September 30 – will come before the 'spring' Classics, such as Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Alaphilippe joined teammates Dries Devenyns and Luxembourg road race champion Bob Jungels for a closer look at stage 17 of the Tour, in particular, which will start in Grenoble and feature the climbs of the Col de la Madeleine and the never-before-used Col de la Loze as its summit finish, which sits between the two ski resorts of Méribel and Courchevel.

"Another great day at work. One hell of a final climb up to the top of the Col de la Loze," wrote Alaphilippe on Twitter on Wednesday, accompanied by a picture of him posing inside a giant Frozen 2 – La Reine des Neiges 2 in French ('The Snow Queen 2') – movie picture frame with his teammates.

"Only a great champion will be able to win at the Col de la Loze," Tour director Christian Prudhomme says of stage 17 on the race's website, pointing out that the riders will have another seven kilometres to climb to the finish, with sections featuring gradients over 20%, after already having climbed some 15km to the resort of Méribel.

Midway through the 168km stage, which will take place on September 16 – just four days from the finish in Paris – the peloton will already have had to tackle the 17.1km-long Col de la Madeleine, with its average gradient of 8.4%.

However, as Het Nieuwsblad pointed out on Wednesday, Alaphilippe was the first rider over the summit of the Madeleine when it was last used on the Tour route in 2018 – a full 12 months before his surprise two-week stint in the leader's yellow jersey at last year's Tour, when he showed glimpses that he could perhaps one day be a serious overall contender at the race.

Two years ago, Alaphilippe was chasing the points on the Madeleine that would eventually secure him the 'king of the mountains' polka-dot jersey. But on the back of his 2019 Tour success, which sent France into rapture, with Alaphilippe only losing the yellow jersey – to eventual race winner Egan Bernal – on stage 19, which was shortened due to landslides in the French Alps, two days from the end of the race – he moved to play down his chances for the immediate future.

Some may view his recon rides this week as showing some intent to perform well overall, but it could, of course, simply indicate that Alaphilippe is looking to add a fifth Tour stage victory to his ever-growing palmarès, having won two at each of the last two Tours, or indeed another polka-dot jersey to his wardrobe.