At 28, France’s Julian Alaphilippe is now widely known for his brilliant riding in the 2019 Tour de France, where he held the yellow jersey for 14 of the 21 stages before giving way on the next-to-last day and fading to fifth overall.
But that’s not the same as winning and on Sunday, he claimed victory in the UCI World Road Championships with another of his patented late attacks.
That came near the end of a grueling 258.2 km route, including nine laps that each featured dual climbs up the Mazzolano and the Cima Gallisterna and then a downhill finish into the Autodromo Ferrari in Imola, Italy. Each lap included 550 m of incline!
There were attacks galore during the race, with Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (SLO) sprinting out of the seventh lap (about 40 km to go) and taking a 25-second lead into the final circuit. But he was caught on the ride on the Mazzolano and then the Italian team attacked with 20 km left, but not decisively.
A group of about a dozen riders jockeyed for the position up the final climb of the Cima Gallisterna, then Alaphilippe charged just at the top and teamed into the lead, breaking away from a group including Marc Hirschi (SUI), Primoz Roglic (SLO), Michal Klwiatkowski (POL), Wout van Aert (BEL) and Dane Jakob Fuglsang.
But Alaphilippe is an especially gifted downhill rider and he maintained a gap of 10-15 seconds all the way into the raceway, winning by 24 seconds. It was the first French victory in the World Road Championships since Laurent Brochard in 1997.
“For this moment it’s really hard to say something. I want to say ‘thank-you’ to all my teammates who really believed in me today. Everybody did a great job. It was a dream of my career. Sometimes, I was so close, and I was never on the podium. I came here with a lot of ambition and it’s just a dream day for me.”
Behind him, the race for second got tactical at the end and van Aert had the best finish to claim second over Hirschi, with Kwiatkowski fourth and Fuglsang fifth.
The UCI World Tour is now in full swing, with the famous La Fleche Wallonne classic coming in Belgium on Wednesday (30th), and the five-stage BinckBank Tour in Belgium and Holland starting Tuesday (29th). The Giro d’Italia comes on 3 October.
On Saturday, Dutch star Anna van der Breggen completed a historic double by taking off with 42 km remaining on the hilly, 143 km loop course in and around Imola. No one could stay with her and she won easily in 4:09:57, some 1:20 ahead of teammate Annemiek van Vleuten, the defending champion.
It was only the second time ever and the first time since 1995 that one woman won both the Road Race and the Individual Time Trial at the World Championships, matching the feat of France’s Jeannie Longo.
Said the winner, “It’s incredible. It was a really hard race, we were fighting from the beginning. The climbs were really tough. In the fourth lap, I felt strong. We made the race hard and I just went for it. I felt good but it was really hard. The circuit had some flat parts but it was very hard. I never expected this. This season is pretty good for me so far.”
The silver was itself a remarkable achievement for van Vleuten, who broke her left wrist just nine days ago in a crash during the seventh stage of the Giro Rosa. She out-sprinted Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini at the line, with both given the same time. Three-time World Champion Marianne Vos (NED) finished fourth.
The Dutch domination of women’s cycling continues unabated. Van der Breggen won her third Worlds gold – also the 2018 Road Race – and Dutch women have won the last four World Road Races and three of the last four Time Trials.
Van der Breggen has to be excited about the next three weeks, with six one-day races in Belgium and Holland, starting with La Fleche Wallonne Feminine on Wednesday in and around Huy (BEL), a race she has won each of the last five years!