Julian Alaphilippe has hit the sort of form for the UCI Road World Championships that saw him finish on the podium at Milan-San Remo earlier this year, according to his coach, who is optimistic about the Frenchman's chances of becoming world champion on Sunday.
Alaphilippe's Milan-San Remo podium came on the back of a stage win and fifth overall at Paris-Nice, but his season was soon thrown off course by a knee injury sustained in a crash at the Vuelta al País Vasco. He missed the Ardennes Classics and the Tour de France, but came back in August, confirming his upward trajectory with a stage win at the Vuelta a España.
"That victory was unique, very different, because I'd come so far," the 25-year-old said on the Stade 2 programme earlier this week.
Finishing the Vuelta was crucial for Alaphilippe to get enough racing in the legs to think about being able to be in contention at the end of 267.5 gruelling kilometres in Bergen – a course that is well suited to his punchy characteristics. Since then he has taken it easy before ramping up his training again last Friday.
"After the Vuelta he needed to recover at home with his friends and family around him," Alaphilippe's cousin and coach, Franck Alaphilippe, said in Friday's L'Equipe. "He went for a couple of spins early in the week after the Vuelta, because it hits the body hard when you stop suddenly. Then he started training again on Friday."
According to the French newspaper, Alaphilippe was interval training on Monday and Tuesday, while on Wednesday he did six-and-a-half hours, two of them motor-paced to replicate the feeling of riding in the peloton at race-pace. On Thursday he did short explosive sprint work before arriving in Bergen on Friday, where he'll do a recovery ride before a course recon on Sunday.
"He had gas, we felt he was gaining in power," said his coach. "He has done the maximum in his preparation. I'm optimistic for Sunday. His form reminds of that which he had at the start of April before his injury."
Alaphilippe is the leader of the French team, who have left behind their sprinters to put eight riders solely at the disposal of the 25-year-old. It has been a season of ups and downs, but Alaphilippe is here to win.
"The clear objective is to become world champion," he said on Stade 2. "I'm not going there saying 'we'll see, maybe'.
"Honestly, the Worlds is a unique race because everyone is dreaming of the rainbow jersey. We have the cards to go there looking for a good result, and if that's the case then you have to go into it for the victory, and nothing less."
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