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Mixed feelings for Julian Alaphilippe after Milan-San Remo defeat

Alaphilippe with Van Aert on the run-in to the finish of Milan-San Remo (Image credit: Getty Images)

After last year winning Milan-San Remo for the first time in 13 years with Julian Alaphilippe, Deceuninck-QuickStep came within half a wheel's length of repeating the feat on Saturday afternoon, as Alaphilippe almost became the first man to retain the title since Erik Zabel back in 2001.

The Frenchman again instigated the decisive attack of the race atop the Poggio, just 6.5km from the line in San Remo, blasting away from the peloton on the famous hill and leaving almost all of his competitors in the dust.

Strade Bianche winner Wout van Aert was the only man who managed to stay in contact, keeping Alaphilippe in his sights before joining him on the descent and then outsprinting him by a few inches on the Via Roma. 

Alaphilippe said afterwards that he felt both happy and disappointed about the result. 

He had needed a late bike change just before the Cipressa, nervously waving his arm at his team car as he called for service in the streets of Imperia. He got back on before the climb but who knows how much it cost him. Perhaps the extra few watts needed to fully distance Van Aert on the Poggio or beat him in the sprint. 

"I have mixed feelings for sure," Alaphilippe soon after the race, cancelling much of his disappointment during along ride back to the Via Roma after his fast finish launched down to the San Remo seafront.   

"I'm really happy to be on the podium. I knew that Wout would be really strong; he was the biggest favourite and deserved the victory.

"I went full gas on the Poggio and he was with me. On the downhill, I felt I couldn't make the difference alone, so we worked together until the last two kilometres. In the end it was a hard sprint, fighting against each other, but in the end the stronger one won and that's how it is."

While Alaphilippe was Deceuninck-QuickStep's main leader for the race – an obvious choice given his 2019 success – the Belgian team came armed with several options and had five riders riding together after the Cipressa, with Alaphillippe and sprinter Sam Bennett still options at that point.  

Zdenek Štybar was eventually team's next-best finisher, with Bennett fighting but ultimately failing to stay with the chase group on the Poggio. 

"It felt different to other years. It was a harder race," the Irish champion said after the finish. 

"The heat got to me. I think it got to a lot of guys. The race started earlier with this parcours and we've only raced a week and so it that made it feel harder.

"On the Poggio I just didn't have the legs, there was nothing I could do. Alaphilippe was strong and almost won it…

"I felt OK earlier but then blew. I also had a flat on the top of Poggio but that wasn't the problem, even if I almost fell going over the top and on the corner. You could say I blew and the tyre blew."

Disappointment in San Remo aside, Deceuninck-QuickStep did manage to taste success at the end of a tough week for the team after Fabio Jakobsen's crash in Poland. Remco Evenepoel won stage 4 of the Tour de Pologne in spectacular fashion and looks set to clinch the overall on Sunday.

Alaphilippe, meanwhile, will head to the Critérium du Dauphiné next week ahead of an assault on the Tour de France at the end of the month. Bennett will also be in France in September, taking the Tour de Wallonie as a build-up race to the Grand Tour.