Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe says that he doesn't blame the motorbike rider with whom he collided during the Tour of Flanders in mid-October – a crash that ended his race while part of a lead breakaway trio with Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and eventual winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).
The Frenchman broke two of the metacarpal bones in his right hand in the crash, but was operated on the day after the accident and is now recovering at home in Andorra, according to French sports newspaper L'Equipe.
The crash happened with around 35 kilometres left to race. It appeared from the TV images that Alaphilippe had his left arm up to talk into his team radio just before hitting the motorbike, meaning that perhaps he would have also leaned his head over to the left to speak into the microphone and so not have seen first Van Aert and then Van der Poel flick left to avoid 'moto' rider Eddy Lissens' slowing vehicle.
"I was behind Van der Poel, on the left side of the road, and then [followed him] to the right side to take the draft, and, as he pulled away, I took the full force of the motorbike right in the face," Alaphilippe recalled to L'Equipe in an interview published on Wednesday. "I'm skilled on the bike – I manage to avoid obstacles, and to squeeze through tight spaces – but in this case, there was nothing I could do.
"I've heard people say, 'Yeah, but he was talking on the radio – he wasn't focused.' Whether I was looking ahead or behind me, whether I had my hands on the handlebars or not, whether I was having a drink… It wouldn't have changed anything. When Van der Poel moved across at the last moment, there was nothing I could do," he said.
"I didn't hear the sound of the motorbike, as we were riding so fast," continued Alaphilippe. "I'm not saying it was Van der Poel's fault for not warning me, and I'm not saying it was the motorbike rider's fault, as he had nothing to do with it – no, no, no.
"I heard that the motorbike rider felt guilty about what had happened, but he mustn't worry, and I hope that this interview will reassure him. I don't blame him; it was just a racing incident," he added. "Besides, I'm not a vindictive person anyway. And both Van Aert and Van der Poel sent me messages afterwards, too, which was nice of them."
Alaphilippe also described his fall as "frightening", saying that he'd never experienced any kind of similar crash during his career.
"Usually, you know when it's about to happen: you're going around a corner and it's slippery, for example, and you know you can't avoid it, but when it came to this crash…
"I'm doing OK now, and I know it could have been so much worse," he said. "In the days following the operation, I didn't expect to be in such pain. My hand was very swollen, and I couldn't sleep very wellI slept badly. But it's good to have had the operation, even though this isn't how I thought I'd be enjoying my winter break. I'm happy to be home and, above all, I'm happy not to be in so much pain anymore."
According to Alaphilippe, his Deceuninck-QuickStep team will meet up in Belgium at the start of November, which will give him the opportunity to visit his surgeon in Herentals to check on the progress of his hand.
"And to find out when I'll be able to go out on my bike again, for fun," Alaphilippe said. "It's autumn, and I love all the colours. It's my favourite season."
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