Julian Alaphilippe withdrew from the Tour de Suisse last weekend ahead of the final stage to attend the birth of his first child, but the world champion returns to action on Sunday at the French Championships in Épinal, his final outing before the Tour de France.
Indeed, he was already back on duty on Friday afternoon, taking a break from packing his suitcase to speak with reporters during an online presentation to announce the arrival of a new sub-sponsor, Safety Jogger, for his Deceuninck-QuickStep team.
"I want to enjoy the first days of my baby but I’m already really focused for the Tour," said Alaphilippe. "You have to deal with that and enjoy as much as you can. I’m a little bit tired but I have no regrets and now I’m looking forward to being at the start of the Tour.”
After racing in Épinal this weekend, Alaphilippe will travel to Brittany on Tuesday to reconnoitre the opening stages of the Tour, which seem perfectly tailored to his qualities as a puncheur.
In each of the past two editions of the Tour, Alaphilippe has won a stage and worn the yellow jersey in the opening days, and he has designs on a similar grand entrance this time out.
"It’s not a secret that I’m really motivated for the first week of the Tour," he said. "It will be really important for me from the first stage until the first time trial [stage 5]. I really want to do a good start to the Tour and then see after what happens and go day by day. The first week will really be a big goal for me."
Alaphilippe was climbing strongly enough in Switzerland to lie third overall ahead of the final stage, but he downplayed his prospects of making a concerted tilt at the general classification on this year’s Tour.
In 2019, he led the race for ten days, only conceding yellow two days from Paris, where he placed 5th overall. Last September, he led the race early on but used the latter part of the Tour as preparation for the Worlds.
"I don’t want to say no, or that I will never do it. Maybe it’s something I can start to think about," Alaphilippe said of his long-term GC plans.
"I want to enjoy this Tour in the rainbow jersey. I want to do a really good start of the Tour and see after how it’s going. But to have the goal of starting a Grand Tour with victory in mind is something you have to think about with the team and your coach. I think it’s going to be hard for the Tour this year, but why not next year? We’ll see."
While the Tour’s Breton opening seems designed with Alaphilippe in mind, he was less convinced that this weekend’s national championships road race lent itself to his characteristics. Perhaps a greater complication is that he will line up on Sunday with just Remi Cavagna and Florian Sénéchal for company, while teams like Groupama-FDJ and Total Direct Energie will have at least five times as many riders.
"I’m going to try in any case. I’d have liked a more selective course, but I’ll give my all," said Alaphilippe.
"There aren’t many of us on our team, but Remi and Florian are on good form so we’ll see what we can do. It’s not ideal to be just three riders going up against teams with 10, 15 or 20 riders, so we have to race intelligently. We’ll see how the other teams control it and see if there’s a chance to open the race up a bit earlier."
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