Speaking to the press on the eve of the race, Alaphilippe openly acknowledged that he was lacking his top form, suggesting he’d have to make up for it with desire.
The Frenchman certainly goes into the race without the run of results that preceded his last appearance in 2019, when the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider won Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and stages in Tirreno-Adriatico and Itzulia Basque Country before his second straight triumph atop the Mur de Huy.
Although he raced the Tour of Flanders in the autumn last year, this is the first time he has combined the cobbled and Ardennes Classics in the spring. After placing 16th at San Remo, he was 22nd at Dwars door Vlaanderen, 42nd at the Tour of Flanders, and sixth on Sunday’s Ardennes opener, Amstel Gold Race.
“It’s different. For sure I’m not especially in the same shape like last time in Flèche,” Alaphilippe admitted.
“I did Flanders and some Flemish classics so it’s completely different, the preparation. A lot of guys came from the Basque Country. I try to manage my shape as best as I can. I was not disappointed after Amstel because I gave everything. In the end the strongest riders were in front.”
Alaphilippe made his debut at La Flèche Wallonne in 2015 and finished runner-up behind Alejandro Valverde, a result that repeated itself 12 months later. He missed the race due to injury in 2017, but returned to beat Valverde in 2018 before seeing off Jakob Fuglsang to win again in 2019. He missed last year’s autumn edition to focus on ‘physical and emotional recovery’ after winning the world title.
“On paper, this is the race that suits me really well. I did it four times and was always on the podium. I really love this race and it’s a good final for me, that’s for sure, but in the end you need really strong legs. This year I don’t know if I can make it, but I’m sure with my motivation, the condition I’m missing is here, so I will give everything.”
La Flèche Wallonne was where the Belgian made a name for himself in the second half of last year, putting on a show by surviving from the breakaway until the foot of the Mur de Huy.
Vansevenant has hit the ground running in his first full season as a professional, winning the GP Industria & Artigianato and placing 11th overall at Itzulia Basque Country. At Amstel he finished 67th but was a ball of head-bobbing, out-of-the-saddle energy as he rode through the field after repeated crashes, and still found the strength to pull for Alaphilippe in the finale.
“For sure he’s really strong and really motivated. He shows his character every race he starts,” Alaphilippe said.
“For sure tomorrow it’s a really good opportunity for him to show his power. He will be protected until the real final, when it’s going to be really important.
“It can be really hard race because some teams have two or three cards to play. The race can be open from far away but also on the local circuit. It’s hard to predict the scenario, but the ideal scenario for us is for Mauri and I to be in the front for the final lap and the last time up the Mur de Huy.”
Vansevenant himself, however, seemed to lean towards the more audacious, speculative approach that won him so many plaudits last year.
The Belgian dismissed concerns he was suffering any effects of his crashes on Sunday, but doubted he has the raw punch needed to come out on top in the march up the achingly-steep Mur de Huy.
“For me, the damage after crash is not so bad. Hopefully I’m fully recovered and we can make a hard race again,” Vansevenant said.
“I prefer to make the race hard because I know already I’m not the most explosive rider. For me it’s very difficult to explode on the Mur de Huy, and to be on the podium. I know it’s better for me and for Julian to make the race hard and bet on two horses.”
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