Julian Alaphilippe defends world title with stunning victory in Flanders World Championships

In one of the most memorable races in recent years, Julian Alaphilippe (France) astonishingly defended his title, and will wear the famous rainbow bands of the world champion for the second consecutive year.

Behind, Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands) finished second and Michael Valgren (Denmark) collected the bronze medal. A photo-finish denied Jasper Stuyven (Belgium) a spot on the podium.

His offensive began nearly 200km from the finish with the first of several French attacks as his team sought to animate the race and make it as hard as possible. Alaphilippe himself attacked with still 58km to ride, and drew out many of the other favourites who dragged themselves away as the race entered its dénouement on the final two and a half laps of the Leuven finishing circuit.

Twice, Alaphilippe attacked from this select group and twice he was brought back into the fold. An old French proverb states that there is “never two without three”, and twenty kilometres from the finish, Alaphilippe attacked for the third time on the Sint Antoniusberg. This time, no one could follow him, and he carved out a 30-second gap over his chasers, enough to celebrate as he soloed down the finishing straight. 

“Last year was a dream for me,” Alaphilippe said at the finish, “it was very hard and it’s emotional. I was very motivated. I wanted to do well for the team and get the best result possible. 

"The legs felt great and in the final I made the cut. This wasn’t planned. I went all out, I have no words. I thought of my little one on the final. There were many supporters for Belgium and they asked me to slow down. They weren’t sympathetic words but it gave me more motivation.”

How it unfolded

On a 268.3km course, through 42 short climbs and crowds so vast that some had taken to standing on walls, lamp posts or balconies, the race travelled from Antwerp to Leuven. Once one-and-a-half laps of the Leuven finishing circuit were completed, it was on for a lap of the hillier Flandrien circuit, four more loops of the Leuven circuit, and another Flandrien lap before two-and-a-half final laps of the Leuven circuit.

After completing the long, neutralised zone through Antwerp, the race seemed to pause at the flag drop, perhaps in a collective drawing of breath, preparing for the chaos about to unfold. 

The peloton lined itself out across the road, entered a tunnel and, then, as it emerged out the other side, Rory Townsend (Ireland) launched the first attack. His move failed, as did the subsequent counter-attacks and for the opening 10 kilometres the peloton remained a stubborn gruppo compatto, despite repeated attempts to form a breakaway.

Eventually, a group did escape. Townsend formed one-eighth of the move; he was joined by Jose Tito Hernandez (Columbia), Joel Burbano (Ecuador), Pavel Kochetkov (Russian Cycling Federation), Patrick Gamper (Austria), Oskar Nisu (Estonia), Kim Magnusson (Sweden) and Jambaljamts Sainbayar (Mongolia). Others looked to join them, but anxious to only allow a breakaway of manageable size to escape, Great Britain, Belgium and Denmark moved to block the road.

As the gap ballooned to six minutes, Tim DeClercq (Belgium) established himself on the front of the peloton where he shared the pace setting with Denmark, and the race settled into a short-lived, placid rhythm. 

Even this more sedate stage of the day was punctuated by incident. Ethan Hayter (Great Britain) crashed on the approach to the first climb while shortly afterwards Matteo Trentin (Italy), Davide Ballerini (Italy) and Mads Pedersen (Denmark) collided at the back of the peloton. 

Displaying their offensive strategy, France then launched their first attack of the day with 200km still to race. Twenty kilometres later, they attacked again through Anthony Turgis. He was shut down by DeClercq and brought back into the peloton. Another of the French riders, Benoît Cosnefroy then attacked on the first ascent of the Smeysberg, as the race entered the Flandrien circuit.

Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) and Magnus Cort (Denmark) joined him, and a gap emerged as Belgium blocked the peloton’s path on the narrow, cobbled climb. They remained out front as, behind them, the race exploded.

First, the peloton split on a flat, exposed section of the course, forcing Italy to chase back on. Then, on the Taymanstraat 174km from the finish, Stefan Bissegger (Switzerland) attacked and drew out an exceptionally strong group composed of representatives from multiple nations. 

Only Italy had missed this move and, as this new group bridged across to Cosnefroy, Evenepoel and Cort, the gravity of their task became ominously clear for it contained many of the biggest names in cycling. Kasper Asgreen (Denmark), DeClercq, Brandon McNulty (USA), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Netherlands), Arnaud Démare (France), Primož Roglič (Slovenia), Ben Swift (Great Britain), Imanol Erviti (Spain), Bissegger, Nathan Haas (Australia), Jan Tratnik (Slovenia), and Markus Hoelgaard (Norway) present with Cort, Cosenfroy and Evenepoel. 

By the time the race settled again, this group had a minute’s advantage over the peloton and another frantic chase for Italy ensued, led by the wounded Ballerini and Trentin. Helped by the fractious nature of the front group, only Asgreen and Evenepoel seemed committed, the gap began to fall so that as the race re-entered the Leuven circuit just 22 seconds separated these two groups. 

After 40 kilometres of furious racing, the peloton finally caught this group on the first lap of the Leuven circuit, and the early breakaway was mopped up too. 

As soon as the race regrouped, it split again; this time on wide, flat roads and Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) was caught in the wrong group. Though the peloton came back together again, attacks came thick and fast with the peloton so stretched out that it was only three riders abreast at its widest point.

Finally, still 92km from the finish, the elastic snapped and a small group containing Evenepoel, Andrea Bagioli (Italy), Ivan Cortina (Spain), Valentin Madouas (France), Rasmus Tiller (Norway), Robert Stannard (Australia), Mads Schmidt (Denmark), Tratnik, Dylan Van Baarle (Netherlands), Nils Politt (Germany) and Nielsen Powless (USA). 

This time, Great Britain were forced to take initial responsibility for the chase as the gap reached 40 seconds at the entry to the Flandrien circuit. Such was the fierce pace that 90 riders - about half the field - had abandoned by this point.

On the longer climbs of the Flandrien circuit, various attacks were launched from the peloton in an attempt to join the leading group. Only an acceleration from Alaphilippe could accomplish this, with pre-race favourite Wout van Aert (Belgium) stuck to his back wheel. A group containing most of the contenders, though stripped of Asgreen and Peter Sagan (Slovakia), followed them and bridged across to the front group, 58 kilometres from the finish.

As the gap hovered precariously at 15 seconds, Evenepoel sat on the front and dragged the front group away from the peloton. Alaphilippe attacked once more on the Smeysberg but he was caught by the group shortly afterwards. To deter further attacks, Evenepoel lifted the pace and remained on the front until 25 kilometres from the finish.

Once Evenepoel had exhausted his energy reserves, however, Van Aert and Belgium were vulnerable to attacks; a vulnerability that Alaphilippe exploited. 

On the Wijnpers climb, nearly obscured by the multi-coloured forest of flags that lined the road, Alaphilippe, set up by Madouas, attacked for the first time forcing van Aert himself to chase back on. His second attempt was also unsuccessful but his third attack distanced the remaining contenders. 

A small group comprised of Valgren, Stuyven, Powless and Van Baarle formed behind him, but they were unable to erode Alaphilippe’s advantage which grew in the final 20 kilometres, reaching 32 seconds by the finish.

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Full Results
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Julian Alaphilippe (France) 5:56:34
2Dylan Van Baarle (Netherlands) 0:00:32
3Michael Valgren Hundahl (Denmark)
4Jasper Stuyven (Belgium)
5Neilson Powless (United States Of America)
6Thomas Pidcock (Great Britain) 0:00:49
7Zdeněk Štybar (Czech Republic) 0:01:06
8Mathieu Van Der Poel (Netherlands) 0:01:18
9Florian Senechal (France)
10Sonny Colbrelli (Italy)
11Wout Van Aert (Belgium)
12Markus Hoelgaard (Norway)
13Valentin Madouas (France)
14Matej Mohoric (Slovenia) 0:04:00
15Giacomo Nizzolo (Italy) 0:04:05
16Nils Politt (Germany) 0:05:25
17Guillaume Boivin (Canada)
18Jan Polanc (Slovenia)
19Benoit Cosnefroy (France) 0:05:30
20Victor Campenaerts (Belgium)
21Alexander Kristoff (Norway) 0:06:27
22Mike Teunissen (Netherlands)
23Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spain)
24Diego Ulissi (Italy)
25Michael Matthews (Australia)
26Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
27Dylan Teuns (Belgium)
28Sebastian Schönberger (Austria)
29Bauke Mollema (Netherlands)
30Luka Mezgec (Slovenia)
31Tiesj Benoot (Belgium)
32Petr Vakoč (Czech Republic)
33Sven Erik Bystrøm (Norway)
34Vegard Stake Laengen (Norway)
35Ethan Hayter (Great Britain)
36Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)
37Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia)
38Patrick Gamper (Austria)
39Rui Oliveira (Portugal)
40Artem Nych (Russian Federation) 0:06:31
41Stefan Küng (Switzerland)
42Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spain)
43Imanol Erviti (Spain)
44Gonzalo Serrano Rodriguez (Spain)
45Silvan Dillier (Switzerland)
46Cesare Benedetti (Poland)
47João Almeida (Portugal)
48Primož Roglič (Slovenia)
49Yukiya Arashiro (Japan)
50Merhawi Kudus (Eritrea)
51Rasmus Tiller (Norway)
52Emils Liepins (Latvia)
53Carlos Rodriguez Cano (Spain) 0:06:39
54Michael Gogl (Austria) 0:06:40
55Nelson Oliveira (Portugal)
56Arnaud Demare (France) 0:06:48
57G Lawson Craddock (United States Of America) 0:06:49
58Gianni Moscon (Italy) 0:06:52
59Roger Adria Oliveras (Spain) 0:07:04
60Toms Skujins (Latvia) 0:07:07
61Yves Lampaert (Belgium) 0:07:22
62Remco Evenepoel (Belgium)
63Fabian Lienhard (Switzerland) 0:15:43
64Jhoan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Colombia)
65Nelson Soto Martinez (Colombia) 0:17:18
66Pascal Eenkhoorn (Netherlands)
67Nikias Arndt (Germany)
68Georg Zimmermann (Germany)
DNFAndrea Bagioli (Italy)
DNFNicholas Schultz (Australia)
DNFConnor Swift (Great Britain)
DNFRémi Cavagna (France)
DNFJan Tratnik (Slovenia)
DNFKasper Asgreen (Denmark)
DNFMichal Golas (Poland)
DNFRobert Stannard (Australia)
DNFAlessandro De Marchi (Italy)
DNFChristophe Laporte (France)
DNFAnthony Turgis (France)
DNFMaciej Bodnar (Poland)
DNFTim Declercq (Belgium)
DNFMads Würtz Schmidt (Denmark)
DNFJake Stewart (Great Britain)
DNFBen Swift (Great Britain)
DNFCaleb Ewan (Australia)
DNFMagnus Cort Nielsen (Denmark)
DNFSergei Chernetskii (Russian Federation)
DNFMikkel Bjerg (Denmark)
DNFLukasz Owsian (Poland)
DNFPavel Kochetkov (Russian Federation)
DNFAntoine Duchesne (Canada)
DNFPetr Rikunov (Russian Federation)
DNFBarnabás Peák (Hungary)
DNFJambaljamts Sainbayar (Mongolia)
DNFNickolas Zukowsky (Canada)
DNFJack Bauer (New Zealand)
DNFIgor Boev (Russian Federation)
DNFMichael Schär (Switzerland)
DNFFernando Gaviria Rendon (Colombia)
DNFLucas Eriksson (Sweden)
DNFMikkel Honoré (Denmark)
DNFOskar Nisu (Estonia)
DNFNathan Haas (Australia)
DNFStefan Bissegger (Switzerland)
DNFMarco Haller (Austria)
DNFEvaldas Siskevicius (Lithuania)
DNFBrandon Mcnulty (United States Of America)
DNFMatteo Jorgenson (United States Of America)
DNFHarrison Sweeny (Australia)
DNFFred Wright (Great Britain)
DNFKim Magnusson (Sweden)
DNFJosef Černý (Czech Republic)
DNFJuraj Sagan (Slovakia)
DNFKarl Patrick Lauk (Estonia)
DNFPascal Ackermann (Germany)
DNFSebastian Langeveld (Netherlands)
DNFJuan Sebastian Molano Benavides (Colombia)
DNFAlvaro Jose Hodeg Chagui (Colombia)
DNFYuriy Natarov (Kazakhstan)
DNFRory Townsend (Ireland)
DNFClément Russo (France)
DNFPolychronis Tzortzakis (Greece)
DNFReinardt Janse Van Rensburg (South Africa)
DNFStanislaw Aniolkowski (Poland)
DNFDavid Per (Slovenia)
DNFLuke Rowe (Great Britain)
DNFLuis Guillermo Mas Bonet (Spain)
DNFEder Frayre Moctezuma (Mexico)
DNFRyan Mullen (Ireland)
DNFRobin Carpenter (United States Of America)
DNFPier Andre Cote (Canada)
DNFMartin Laas (Estonia)
DNFKrists Neilands (Latvia)
DNFJose Tito Hernandez Jaramillo (Colombia)
DNFAndré Rodrigues De Carvalho (Portugal)
DNFJohn Degenkolb (Germany)
DNFQuinn Simmons (United States Of America)
DNFAnatolii Budiak (Ukraine)
DNFOscar Riesebeek (Netherlands)
DNFFranklin Archibold Castillo (Panama)
DNFBenjamin Perry (Canada)
DNFAleksandr Riabushenko (Belarus)
DNFDomen Novak (Slovenia)
DNFMichael Kukrle (Czech Republic)
DNFPatrik Tybor (Slovakia)
DNFDawit Yemane (Eritrea)
DNFMartin Pluto (Latvia)
DNFShane Archbold (New Zealand)
DNFMatteo Trentin (Italy)
DNFDavide Ballerini (Italy)
DNFMarc Hirschi (Switzerland)
DNFRyan Gibbons (South Africa)
DNFDanny Van Poppel (Netherlands)
DNFLuke Durbridge (Australia)
DNFDmitrii Strakhov (Russian Federation)
DNFConnor Brown (New Zealand)
DNFNatnael Berhane (Eritrea)
DNFMark Cavendish (Great Britain)
DNFAlex Aranburu Deba (Spain)
DNFEdward Dunbar (Ireland)
DNFRigoberto Uran (Colombia)
DNFErik Baska (Slovakia)
DNFHugo Houle (Canada)
DNFOleksandr Prevar (Ukraine)
DNFYevgeniy Gidich (Kazakhstan)
DNFOdd Christian Eiking (Norway)
DNFMetkel Eyob (Eritrea)
DNFSergio Andres Higuita Garcia (Colombia)
DNFJayde Julius (South Africa)
DNFSebastian Novoa (Ecuador)
DNFBayron Guama (Ecuador)
DNFMiles Scotson (Australia)
DNFAndreas Kron (Denmark)
DNFYlber Sefa (Albania)
DNFMads Pedersen (Denmark)
DNFMaximilian Schachmann (Germany)
DNFAlex Kirsch (Luxembourg)
DNFTom Scully (New Zealand)
DNFJoel Burbano Coral (Ecuador)
DNFOrluis Alberto Aular Sanabria (Bolivarian Republic Of Venezuela)
DNFRafael Reis (Portugal)
DNFWilson Haro (Ecuador)
DNFEduard-Michael Grosu (Romania)
DNFCristian Pita (Ecuador)
DNFAntonio Eric Fagundez Lima (Uruguay)
DNFNorman Vahtra (Estonia)
DNFAndrii Kulyk (Ukraine)
DNFDmitriy Gruzdev (Kazakhstan)
DNFMykhaylo Kononenko (Ukraine)
DNFGustav Basson (South Africa)
DNFDaniil Fominykh (Kazakhstan)
DNFSarawut Sirironnachai (Thailand)
DNFKévin Geniets (Luxembourg)
DNSAlexis Quinteros (Ecuador)

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