French national coach Thomas Voeckler has shed light on his team's successful tactical strategy following Julian Alaphilippe's repeat victory at the World Championships on Sunday, revealing that his 18-kilometre solo attack was not pre-planned. Such were Alaphilippe’s doubts that at one point, the Frenchman even asked if he should work for teammate Florian Sénéchal and ride for a sprint finish.
Voeckler, who has been in charge of the French team since 2019, said that he and his team had planned to start attacking early on during the 268.3-kilometre race in Flanders. That came to fruition as Anthony Turgis and then Benoît Cosnefroy launched the attacks with a massive 180 kilometres to go.
Later on, after Alaphilippe made the first of his countless moves at 58 kilometres to go, he dropped back to the car in discussions spotted by the following TV motorbike. Voeckler revealed that Alaphilippe was asking if he should work for Sénéchal.
"He was wondering if he has to work for Sénéchal in the sprint," Voeckler told Cyclingnews after the race.
"He asked me, and I said no, Madouas is there to work and Sénéchal can look after himself in the sprint.
"And you, go with your instinct – that's the way you're the best. He asked me 'do I attack, or not?' I said 'you follow with the attacks and then you go', but finally I told him 'you decide on your instincts' and after he attacked several times.
"The attack at 58 kilometres was planned, but what didn't work was that he prolonged his effort too much the first time. Either it works and you go on or it doesn't and you stop. I took the liberty of telling him to stop. Then he came to see me in the car and we had that vital talk.
"We wanted to launch attacks before the others and have them think we were crazy. We knew it would be a race of movement and we wanted to start them before everyone else. We always wanted to be one step ahead."
Voeckler added that he told Alaphilippe to only keep on riding if nobody else had come with him, for fear of wasting energy to no benefit. Alaphilippe eventually made it away on his own, shedding the remains of the 17-man lead group on the Sint Antoniusberg in Leuven with 18 kilometres remaining.
That was the winning move, with Alaphilippe steadily building his advantage from an initial 10 seconds to almost 30 at the finish.
However, making the move so far from the finish was not the plan, said Voeckler.
"It was not the plan. So early it was not the plan. Maybe I need to stop this work because I need to live 20-30 years and those guys will kill me too early. Julian did the opposite of what I told him, he scared me.”
While France put in place their project to blow up the race early – making it among the most entertaining and action-packed World Championships in recent memory – other teams were more circumspect – Italy's riders, for example, said afterwards that they took on specific marking roles on favourites like Wout van Aert and Alaphilippe himself.
Voeckler said that a defence-first tactic like that, in which the team would ride a more reactive than proactive race, was never in his mind.
"I said to the French press that if we focused only on Wout, we'd do the same as all the other nations. I told my riders that the worst thing to do is to focus on Van Aert because we're in Belgium, he's the best, and there are many teams who will do this.
"So, we have to take care about the Belgian team and Wout but it wasn't the goal and it was forbidden to focus only on WVA. It's like in football – if you play against PSG and you put four players on Mbappe, the others will benefit.
"What a champion Alaphilippe is!" Voeckler concluded.
"I want all people who love sports in France to savour these moments. I pretend to say I have a small part in that, but it was minimal. I was able to install a kind of spirit here. I was able to make clear to them where and when to go, without radio and on a course like this. We wanted a race of movement, not to suffer. We were actors with the most beautiful reward."
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