At 2.4 kilometres and an average gradient of nearly nine per cent, the final climb on stage 2 of the Tour de Suisse suited Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) perfectly, and the world champion duly went on the offensive in his first road race since the Spring Classics.
Set up by his trusty teammate Dries Devenyns, Alaphilippe accelerated repeatedly on the Litschstrasse climb, creating a selection of just nine riders. However, the finish line was still 7km away and among that group was the fast finisher Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).
The Dutchman struggled initially but managed to claw his way back towards the top, while he proved similarly unshakeable as Alaphilippe and Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) tried to open a gap on the descent.
In the end, Van der Poel didn't hang around for a group sprint, attacking on the flat in the final few kilometres before dispatching Schachmann in a two-up dash for the line.
"It was a nice final with the series of climbs and the rain. It was very slippy. I tried to go for it and made a small selection but afterwards on the flat, when it all came together, there was a moment of looking around, Mathieu went, and was very very strong," Alaphilippe said.
"I think it would have been complicated for me to win in a sprint, so for that reason I'm not too disappointed, but it's a shame we didn't work together straight away."
Alaphilippe crossed the line in eighth place, towards the back of the group that finished three seconds behind Van der Poel and two seconds behind Schachmann. Not that he knew it at the time, but it was a second short of landing him the overall lead of the race, as Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) fought gamely behind to just cling onto his yellow jersey.
"That's how it is," said Alaphilippe with a shrug, unconcerned about missing out on a day in yellow.
Still, after placing fifth in the opening time trial, he has proven he is in good form after his break, with a view to the Tour de France, which starts on June 26.
"I'm very happy with my form. I did a good time trial and I was up front today. I hope it continues this week."
Alaphilippe now lies second overall, just a single second down on Küng and a single second up on Schachmann. Tuesday's stage 3 should see a larger bunch finish, although the finale itself is slightly uphill, while stages 4 and 5 feature hilly terrain that should hand him the advantage over Küng before he has to worry about the pure climbers on the more mountainous stages later in the race.
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