Hugs, high-fives and huge grins were the order of the day for Julian Alaphilippe's teammates after the Quick-Step Floors racer took a breakthrough win in La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. Amongst them, former winner Philippe Gilbert, as the team's road captain, was only too happy to pay tribute to the young Frenchman.
"We really believed in Alaphilippe and we were in a great position at the foot of the climb," Gilbert, himself 24th, told the Belgian press as he wheeled to a halt after the finish line, "and then he's done the rest of it.
"It really hotted up on the laps round Huy, but we were always on the front and in the thick of it, and that allowed us to keep Julian calm and wear down Movistar's strength, too."
The first key moment, Gilbert said, came when a group of two dozen riders broke away, including Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Max Schachman (Quick-Step Floors) at the very top of the first of the three ascents of the Mur. "There was a big split coming off the Mur, maybe 25 or 30 or so, and although that slowly came back, having [Max] Schachman stay ahead in the break meant that we could take things a bit easier with Julian behind, staying close to [Alejandro] Valverde (Movistar)."
As for the new young Quick-Step Floors star, Gilbert says that "Julian's very enthusiastic and sometimes has problems learning to channel his energy.
"But even if he's made a fair few mistakes in the past, he's definitely taken a step up this year. He's young and he's a great racer, he's got loads of potential, he'll go far."
Asked about his own chances on Sunday in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he is also a former winner, Gilbert was keen to play them down.
"I've been racing hard all the way through the cobbled Classics and I'm pretty tired," he said. "Physically, I'm on the limit, I could get a highish result, maybe, but my legs are pretty empty. My role here is more that of Capitaine de route" - one which, it has to be said, worked very well in this year's edition of La Flèche Wallonne.
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