Julian Alaphilippe's second consecutive stage victory at the Vuelta a Pais Vasco gave Quick-Step Floors their 23rd win of the 2018 season and confirmed the aggressive Frenchman as a major contender for the Ardennes Classics, and especially Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The Frenchman's natural aggression, his ability to jump away on climbs and then defeat his rivals with a powerful final sprint have sparked comparisons with Paolo Bettini.
Bettini - nicknamed 'Il Grillo - the Cricket' for his aggressive style, completed his transformation from team player to team leader in 2000, when he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege while riding for Mapei-Quick-Step. He stayed with Patrick Lefevere's team for the rest of his career, going on to win a second Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2002, two world titles in 2006 and 2007, Milan-San Remo in 2003 and Il Lombardia in 2005 and 2006.
Alaphilippe rose through the Quick-Step development team and his career seems set to follow a similar trajectory to Bettini's.
The ever-cheerful Frenchman turned professional in 2014 after also taking second in the junior Cyclocross World Championships. He will lead Quick-Step Floors in the Ardennes Classics later this month, in the hope of transforming his run of placings into career defining victories.
Bettini believes it is Alaphilippe's time.
"To be considered a major Classics contender you've got to prove your ability over and over again. However, Alaphilippe seems ready to take that big, big win. He's also in the right team to do it because a rider like him has to be at Quick-Step," Paolo Bettini told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"I'd say he is a lot like me: he's explosive, he jumps a lot and is fast in a sprint. He's perhaps even a better climb than I was." Bettini admitted.
"I turned 26 on April 1 2000 and a few weeks later I won my first Liege-Bastogne-Liege, my first big Classic win. Alaphilippe will be 26 in June, so it's time for him to win in the Ardennes."
"He could have already won a world title if he'd kept Gianni Moscon with him in the finale of the race in Bergen. But he's naturally aggressive and went for it, just as I'd have done," Bettini pointed out.
"Now he seems more confident in his ability. That always gives you an extra edge and makes him a favourite for the Ardennes."
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