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Alaphilippe targets world championships as other stars bow out

The French star is rising to the challenge of swapping the yellow jersey for the world title in a bid for late-season form.

Julian Alaphilippe is hoping to swap the yellow jersey for the one with stripes.

With many Tour de France protagonists giving the upcoming world championships a miss — Egan Bernal and Vincenzo Nibali are the latest to bypass the Yorkshire worlds — the allure of the rainbow jersey is proving too strong for Alaphilippe.

The Tour de France hero is intent on racing the long and demanding Yorkshire course even as many of his compatriots have called stop on what’s been a demanding 2019 season.

“Others would have stopped, but for me, it’s all or nothing,” Alaphilippe told L’Equipe. “I know it’s going to be a lot of work, and I know what’s waiting for me. It’s all in the head.”

Alaphilippe’s commitment comes as the French confirmed its eight starters this week. Benoit Consefroy earned the final spot on the roster anchored by Florian Senechal, Tony Gallopin and Vuelta a España stage-winner Rémi Cavagna.

Alaphilippe’s proven fast kick and racing acumen make him the natural captain for French hopes.

Last year’s silver medalist Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot both announced early conclusions to their respective racing seasons following a hard-fought July that left both empty.

Several other top names are pulling their hats out of the worlds ring as well. Tour-winner Bernal was a late-hour non-starter for Colombia, with Carlos Betancur announced Tuesday to take his place. Former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) and Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) also renounced their world ambitions, citing fatigue and less-than-optimum form.

As the winner of such one-day races as Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo, Fléche Wallonne and Clásica San Sebastián, Alaphilippe will be a pre-race favorite on the long, technical and grueling Yorkshire course.

Alaphilippe admits it won’t be easy hitting peak form in time to tackle the demands of the grueling 285km worlds route.

The dashing Frenchman said that the magnetic draw of the rainbow jersey is what pulled him out of his post-Tour hangover. Alaphilippe was the sensation in July, carrying the yellow jersey deep into the final weekend before finally letting go to finish fifth overall. He didn’t touch the bike for more than two weeks, but revealed his worlds intentions by bypassing the post-Tour criterium circuit. He slowly regained contact with competition, and hit last weekend’s pair of WorldTour races in Canada as an important pre-worlds test.

“The sensations were pretty good,” Alaphilippe told AFP of his Canadian racing. “I’m taking a different approach to the worlds this year, but what won’t change is that I will give 100 percent.”

France has won eight rainbow jerseys in world championship history, but its last came more than two decades ago when Laurent Brochard won in San Sebastián in 1997. Since then, France has had to settle a few podium spots in the subsequent decades, most recently with Bardet’s silver last year.

On paper, the hilly and technical Yorkshire could suit Alaphilippe well. The biggest doubt seems to be if he can achieve winning fitness in time for the men’s road race on September 29. Last year, Alaphilippe was flying into Innsbruck as one of the five-star favorites, only to succumb on the final climb to Alejandro Valverde and others.

This year’s route across the hill country of Yorkshire is expected to be selective, but not nearly as demanding as Austria’s course in 2018. The route from Leeds to Harrogate traces much of the same stage featured in the 2014 Tour de France, capped by seven laps on a technical and undulating finishing circuit. Expectations are that it will come down to a reduced bunch sprint.

Alaphilippe can defend himself well in that scenario, but top rivals include Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands), Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) and three-time world champion Peter Sagan (Slovakia), among many others.

Alaphilippe’s season has already been a career-maker. If the French Musketeer could deliver the rainbow, he’d be one of France’s all-time greats.