The Tour de France took place without him, but the world didn’t stop turning for Julian Alaphilippe this July. Instead, it has simply brought him to incongruous places.
While the Tour peloton was grinding over the Galibier, Alaphilippe was labouring on the other side of the Alps at a training camp in Livigno. And, as the Tour reaches its denouement this weekend, the world champion is in action, of all places, on the Mur de Huy.
The Tour de Wallonie, which gets underway on Saturday, marks the beginning of the rest of Alaphilippe’s season. After his horrific crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, the Frenchman endeavoured to return in time for the Tour. Even though he recovered sufficiently to ride the national championships, he was not fit enough to take his place in QuickStep-AlphaVinyl’s team for the Grand Départ a week later.
“It hasn’t been too hard to watch it, I’ve been happy to follow my friends on television after training,” Alaphilippe told reporters ahead on Friday. “But I’ve had plenty to do, between training and my life as a father.”
Alaphilippe will have plenty to do in the weeks ahead, too. His programme from here to the end of the season is an intense one. After the five-day Tour de Wallonie, he lines out at next weekend’s Clàsica San Sebastian before riding the Tour de l’Ain (August 9-11) as a final tune-up ahead of the Vuelta a España. From Spain, he will travel more or less directly to Australia in search of a third successive world title before taking aim at Il Lombardia.
“I didn’t have luck in the early season, because I was ill too, and I wasn’t in the condition I wanted to be in,” Alaphilippe said. “It was a shitty sequence, to be honest, and when you’re in the rainbow jersey and things aren’t going as well as you’d like, it’s viewed as catastrophic.”
Alaphilippe’s season was interrupted by the two broken ribs, broken scapula and punctured lung he sustained in the mass crash before the Col du Rosier at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Those injuries kept him off the bike for almost a month, put him out of the Tour and forced him to redesign his season completely.
“The main objective this week is to enjoy it and get into race rhythm. Obviously, I’d like to attack and get results, because they’re races that suit me. But first, I have to see where I’m at. It will be good to chase results but also to build condition,” said Alaphilippe.
“This is a different programme for me compared to other years, and I’ll try keep some freshness for the end of the season, because I want to finish it better than I started it. I’ve been training at altitude. I didn’t do crazy training to be ready immediately, but I’m still curious to see how I do in Wallonie before San Sebastian. With the Tour de l’Ain, that’s a good block before the Vuelta.”
Alaphilippe last raced the Vuelta in 2017, another season blighted by injury, and he came away from the race with a stage win and sparkling late-season form, getting within a few hundred metres of a rainbow jersey and then placing second at Il Lombardia. He dismissed the idea that completing this year’s Vuelta might not be compatible with racing for a third consecutive world title in Wollongong two weeks later.
“Doing the Vuelta with that in my head is a good thing,” said Alaphilippe. “But honestly, I have no idea about the Worlds course. I know it’s in Australia, and it will be difficult, but I don’t know much more. It’s in the back of my mind and it’s coming up, but it’s still a way off and there are other races before then.”
Alaphilippe will be on rather more familiar terrain when he pins on a race number at the Tour de Wallonie on Saturday, where the opening stage brings the race from Temploux to a finale atop the Mur de Huy. In April, the three-time Flèche Wallonne winner finished off the podium there for the first time in six attempts, but on Friday, he downplayed the idea that he felt the need to prove a point on a climb that had become his personal fiefdom.
“It’s not ‘my’ Mur de Huy, not all, I’ve just won up there two or three times,” Alaphilippe said. “I love that finish as much as I hate it. But after two weeks in Livigno, I don’t know if it’s possible to win there on Saturday. I did a lot of climbing in the altitude camp, but I haven’t done specific efforts to prepare like I would do for Flèche Wallonne. I’ll try to enjoy it, even if it always hurts getting up there.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.