As a first-year neo-pro in 2014, Julian Alaphilippe lined out at the final edition of the Tour of Beijing as a relatively unknown rider. At the inaugural edition of the Tour of Guangxi, as the WorldTour returns to China, the Quick-Step Floors rider starts the six-stage race as the rider to beat in the eyes of the local press.
Alongside sprinter Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) and the sole Chinese rider in the race, Meiyan Wang (Bahrain-Merida), Alaphilippe was selected as one of three riders on stage at the pre-race press conference. Alaphilippe hasn't raced since Il Lombardia, where he finished second to Vincenzo Nibali to continue his strong comeback from the knee injury that saw him miss the Ardnesses Classics and Tour de France.
The Tour of Guangxi is Alaphilippe's first stage race since the Vuelta a España, where he took a debut Grand Tour stage win, and despite his favorite status from the Chinese press corp, the 23-year-old played down his chances for the win.
"I am really happy to be here to finish my season. For the race, I know there is some opportunity for the sprinters so we have a good chance with Fernando Gaviria," Alaphilippe said, mentioning his Colombian teammate.
With the majority of the stages for the sprinters, Gaviria will have greater opportunity for stage wins, but with stage 4's short, punchy finish suited to his capabilities, Alaphilippe added he is motivated for the best result possible.
"For me, I don’t know. I know there are two hard stages that can be good for me, but it depends on the legs and how I feel. I will try to do my best and do a good result at the end," he added.
During his career, France, Spain and Belgium are the three most common nations that Alaphilippe has raced in. Three nations of cycling's European heartlands. However, the Frenchman has still spread his wings with race days in Canada, Australia, Brazil and Azerbaijan. When asked about the WorldTour's return to China and global expansion, Alaphilippe was quick to back the continued expansion of the sport.
"For me, it’s nice because I love traveling and discovering a new place. It’s also a good opportunity for all the countries in the world to discover the WorldTour."
With the opening stages of the race suited to the sprinters, Alaphilippe will have time to find his legs before the stage 4 summit finish where the Chinese media will be expecting the Frenchman to cross the line first. And "if everybody is happy, it is good" he concluded.
The Tour of Guangxi starts Thursday with a city circuit race in Beihai.