Alaphilippe sacrificing races for freshness ahead of Yorkshire Worlds
Frenchman learns from 2018 disappointment, gives up post-Tour de France criterium cash
Nearing the end of a dream 2019 season, few would blame Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) for being satisfied with his lot.
With 12 new additions to his palmarès including wins at Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and two stages of the Tour de France – not to mention fifth overall there after spending two weeks in the yellow jersey – the Frenchman has packed more success into a single year than most riders see in their entire careers.
But despite his astounding successes from January to July, there could yet be more to come as Alaphilippe and his inner circle plan a third act to his phenomenal 2019. The World Championships road race in Yorkshire is the final goal of his season, after the spring Classics and Tour de France.
Getting there in top form, for a third peak in five months, will take some managing though. It was a balance he couldn't strike in 2018, finding success in April and July before his bid for Worlds glory stalled on the brutal, near-30 per cent slopes of Höttinger Höll in the race finale in Innsbruck.
This year, things could be different, with Alaphilippe's cousin and coach Franck Alaphilippe outlining a revised run-up to a Worlds featuring a less brutal course in an interview with l'Equipe.
"After the Tour, he was at the end of the line," said Franck. "At the end he put pressure on himself; he knew he wouldn't win it, but he played the game. If he hadn't cut down [his time on the bike], it would have been difficult to make the end of the season.
In the week after the Tour, Alaphilippe took on a light schedule, riding two hours of the Clásica San Sebástian and just one post-Tour criterium. Then came 12 days off the bike before he resumed training last week.
"Obviously, a recovery is a bit complicated, and there's always doubt," Alaphilippe continued. "After a two-week break, will the condition be good in September? Julian was doubting it even before the start of the Tour.
"He said that he didn't have the same feelings as the previous year, but we saw what he gave. He's someone who needs racing to reassure himself."
Rejecting what would have been a deluge of offers to race various post-Tour criteriums meant missing out on the sizeable appearance fees. However, saving energy to recover from the demands of a taxing Tour de France could bring an even bigger reward down the road.
In the end, he restricted himself to the Aix-en-Provence criterium, 'winning' the race ahead of Cofidis rider Christophe Laporte.
"He could have made a lot of money," said Thomas Voeckler, manager of the French national team, and someone who knows exactly what Alaphilippe has been through, having spent long stints defending yellow at both the 2004 and 2011 Tours de France.
"His decision shows his state of mind," he continued. "Especially since he was decompressing. I've been through this – I know what he feels, what he needs."
Alaphilippe is set to be the leader of Voeckler's squad, and one of the big favourites for victory on a course "tailor-made for him", according to the ex-pro. With 3970 metres of elevation, punchy climbs galore, and an uphill finish, Alaphilippe will possibly be the only true contender on the French team.
It's doubly important then, that his buildup and preparation for the race are spot-on.
"The World Championships is in just over five weeks. I think – I hope – that I have reassured Thomas about Julian's motivation," said Franck Alaphilippe. "On physical fitness, it is true, that we are still far from the peak.
"Next week he will do some training with intensity before the Tour of Germany. This four-day race should give him a boost."
Alaphilippe will then head to Canada for the first time since 2016, to race the Grands Prix Québec and Montréal. Six race days is a far cry from the 13 he completed last year, where he took overall victories at the Tours of Britain and Slovakia.
"With the base he has acquired from his big season – and his talent – this programme will be enough," said Voeckler. The new plan is to conserve Alaphilippe's energy, rather than spend it chasing more wins at lesser races.
"Each time the scenario was the same," Alaphilippe says of his cousin's preparation in 2018. "He took the leader's jersey, which forced him to race at the front, to accumulate pressure. He left some energy there.
"That plan didn't work," added Voeckler. "This time it will be different. Julian will have more 'juice' than last year. We will do everything to ensure that his physical condition is optimal."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Prior to joining the team, he had written for most major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly, Rouleur, and CyclingTips.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France and the spring Classics, and has interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.
As well as original reporting, news and feature writing, and production work, Daniel also runs The Leadout newsletter and oversees How to Watch guides throughout the season. His favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Volta a Portugal, and he rides a Colnago C40.