"Cycling wouldn't be what it is if we didn't have riders like Julian, who race on emotion," said Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere following Julian Alaphilippe's win on stage 3 of the Tour de France in Epernay on Monday – which was enough to also take the yellow jersey.
Alaphilippe is enjoying his best season yet – already, at this point of the year, more successful than his breakout 2018 season, when his wins included Flèche Wallonne, the Clasica San Sebastian and two stages at the Tour. This year, the Frenchman's victories already include Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and a second Flèche. Now, just three days into the 2019 Tour, he has another stage win, and cycling's ultimate prize on his shoulders.
Additionally, Lefevere recently persuaded the 27-year-old to re-sign for another two years with the team he joined in 2014. With interest from a number of other WorldTour teams, including the likes of Team Ineos, Monday's successes appear to demonstrate that it was the best decision for both Alaphilippe and Lefevere.
"What's fabulous about him is his ability to listen," Lefevere said in an interview with L'Equipe on Monday after the stage. "He used to be nervous, but now he rides a lot more calmly. He used to have trouble concentrating towards the end of a race, but he now controls himself perfectly.
"He now knows how to win a race, but it would be a lie to say that we imagined he would win like this today," he continued. "It wasn't only his attack on the Côte de Mutigny that was amazing, but also the way he was able to stay out on his own for 15 kilometres while being chased by a dozen riders – and not just any riders – who all also wanted to win. Not everyone could do what he did.
"He grew up with us," said Lefevere. "He's made progress every year since he joined the team six years ago, which is why we've repeatedly renewed his contract. If we hadn't believed in him, we'd never have kept him. But it would also be very pretentious of me to say that we'd always known that his career would go in the direction that it has."
Of the process of recently extending Alaphilippe's contract again, Lefevere said: "I felt that there was a real desire on his part to continue his adventure with us, and we also wanted him to stay. Standing between us was obviously the question of money, but both parties made an effort to make it work, and I liked that, too. He's very intelligent, and has a long-term vision, which means that he's not just looking for the 'treasure' straight away."
Perhaps keen not to show any favouritism towards Alaphilippe – although it's clear that the Frenchman is something special in the Deceuninck-QuickStep manager's eyes – Lefevere wanted to stress that the Tour's current leader is the product of a lot of hard work from a lot of people.
"It may not be a coincidence that I've been a team manager for 20 years," he said, which, coming from almost anyone else might have sounded like someone blowing their own trumpet. "I've had a lot of success with my riders; Julian is one of them, but he's not the only one. Nothing ever just falls out of the sky, and getting to a certain level is the result of people working together.
"And I just want to remind you that this is the sixth rider from the team to have worn the yellow jersey," Lefevere added, with L'Equipe remembering that Richard Virenque, Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel, Tony Martin and Fernando Gaviria have all worn the maillot jaune while riding for QuickStep.
Lefevere also implied that people had talked to him about Alaphilippe's chances of one day developing into a rider who could challenge for the overall classification at the Tour.
"But Julian has repeatedly told us that he has other goals before [considering] that," he said. "First, he wants to win the world championships, and then the Tour of Lombardy and the Tour of Flanders. Only then might he start thinking about the Tour de France."