Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe says that he intends to return to the Tour of Flanders next season after crashing out on his debut at the Belgian one-day race on Sunday. The road race world champion collided with a race motorbike while part of a three-man breakaway with Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert and eventual winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), and has been left wondering what might have been.
"I'm happy that I had the opportunity to discover the race as world champion and that I could show my rainbow jersey as part of such a strong team," the Frenchman said on his team's website on Tuesday. "It's left me wanting more, and I can already tell you that I want to return next year."
Alaphilippe appeared to be talking into his team radio – potentially with his head turned down to talk into the microphone – when he rode into a race-jury motorbike, flipping off his bike and fracturing two fingers, which put him out of the race. He underwent surgery this week, and will be in a cast over the next few weeks before he can resume full training again.
"That collision with the 'moto' happened, and my race was over in a second," said Alaphilippe. "My shoulder was hurting, my hand was hurting and I was in a lot of pain, and initially I was really scared that something bad had happened.
"Now, I can say I was a bit lucky, considering everything, although I can't stop thinking about what might have been if my race had continued," he said.
Far from being nervous about being a Flanders first-timer, Alaphilippe said that the knowledge of his more-experienced teammates, seemingly coupled with his own enthusiasm for the race, meant that he could stay relaxed and concentrate on racing.
"From the opening kilometres, I became aware of just how nervous this race is, and what an immense fight it is to be well positioned at all times, but I can't say I was nervous," said Alaphilippe of his Ronde debut.
"As strange as it may sound, I remained calm and always close to my teammates, who had a deeper knowledge of the parcours. Feeling that good, being really focused and into it, I decided to make my first move with 50 kilometres to go, and I gave it everything. I felt at ease on the bergs, and had no problem whatsoever when we tackled the first hills of the day, so on the Koppenberg I said that I should try something."
Alaphilippe had to attack again – on the Steenbeekdries – before the move stuck, and was soon joined by Van der Poel on the descent. Van Aert then joined up with the lead duo on the climb of the Taaienberg with just under 40 kilometres to go.
"Things were going smoothly, and we were working well together," said Alaphilippe. "We managed to open a hefty gap on the chasers, and I was on track for a top-three finish, at least."
Just a few kilometres further on, however, he was suddenly left sprawled on the ground, with his race over.
"But racing there at Flanders made me realise just how much I missed the cobbles," he said. "I love them – it's a completely different type of racing: wilder, more brutal, nervous, hard, really special. It's pure cycling."
A 'special, beautiful and bizarre' year
During what has been an up-and-down season for the 28-year-old, Alaphilippe is understandably left focusing on the more positive memories, and looking to the future, as opposed to his Flanders crash and his premature celebration at Liège-Bastogne-Liège two weeks earlier, which saw defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
"My year was special, beautiful and bizarre at the same time," he said. "I had some really fantastic moments and some bad ones, and experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, on and off the bike. At the same time, I'm sure it happened to many, because this year being marred by the pandemic threw everybody into the unknown. That's why just returning to racing in August after so many months of enforced break felt like a bonus."
Alaphilippe said that winning his world title in Imola, Italy, in September had been the highlight of his season.
"Becoming world champion was a longtime dream of mine – something I had been chasing for many years, and for which I worked very hard," he said. "Add to that my Tour de France stage victory, which came as a huge relief, plus the three days I got to spend in the yellow jersey and my Brabantse Pijl success a few weeks ago, and I can be really happy with the overall picture."
He would no doubt shrug off any suggestion of the 'curse of the rainbow jersey', and is instead looking ahead to more success as road race world champion.
"Next year, I want to honour this beautiful jersey as much as possible – and that's why my desire is to return to Flanders," said Alaphilippe.
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