Tour de France 2020

Alaphilippe hunting stages but not ruling out a GC challenge at Tour de France

French star plans to start season slightly off the boil to allow form to last a busy schedule set to run through the fall.

Julian Alaphilippe is hoping to light up the entire post-COVID season with ambitions across a range of events.

As one of the most versatile riders in the peloton, Alaphilippe’s resumed 2020 calendar is set to include the last-gasp sprint of Milano-Sanremo’s Via Roma, the steep climbs of the Ardennes, the cobbles of Flanders, and maybe even the podium in Paris.

Having taken the world by surprise and gripped his nation’s hearts with two stage wins and 14 days in the yellow jersey at last year’s Tour de France, the Deceuninck-Quick-Step star isn’t publicly planning on another raid on the race’s yellow jersey this summer. Instead, the Frenchman intends to do what he does best – to race with panache and aggression, without concern about defensive GC riding. However, if that throws him into contention for the overall, well, c’est la vie.

“He does not go to fight for a place in the general classification, instead he wants to have fun by being on the offensive,” said Alaphilippe’s coach and cousin, Franck Alaphilippe.

“I think he sets himself the ambition to race for victory in one or two stages, and he is right to say that,” Franck told Ouest-France this week. “Despite what happened last year, he does not want to play for the general classification. For now, like him, I stick to that, it is his wish, and it is already very good if he succeeds. He could also why not aim for the polka-dot jersey, depending on the course of the race.”

Going into last year’s Tour, the yellow jersey was far out of Alaphilippe’s eye line, with his team confirming at the start that his ambition was to snipe for stages. Nonetheless, he found himself in the leader’s jersey by stage 3 and held it for the next two and a half weeks. Cousin Franck acknowledged that Julian’s message this year is remarkably similar, and that a GC challenge is never out of the question.

“It is true, and that does not mean that this year it will not happen, either, like last year,” he said. “The overall, following the 2019 Tour de France, of course, he is thinking about it. From time to time, he evokes it elsewhere, but it is not yet for this year.”

Rather than stacking his eggs into a Tour de France basket, Alaphilippe is hoping for success through a multi-faceted season.

The Frenchman’s schedule will allow for little let-up, kicking off in Italy at Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo in early August, the Criterium du Dauphiné and Tour later in the summer, then the world championships and Ardennes and cobbled classics through the fall. As a result, the French pair intend for Julian to be on a low heat for the return to competition on August 1.

Alaphilippe sprinted out of a select group on the Via Roma to take his first monument at last year’s Milano-Sanremo. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“Julian is not early, he is not late either, in the sense that he voluntarily decided not to be 100 percent by early August,” Franck said of his cousin’s form.

While the cousins accept that starting the season underbaked may impact the 28-year-old’s chances of defending his titles at Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo, it will ensure he keeps cooking through to the close of the classics season in October.

“It [his form] will have to last over time, because after the Tour, Julian will still have big goals,” Franck Alaphilippe said. “The end of the season will be very short and at the same time very dense, with a lot of races, so this program seemed relevant to us to finish the season in good shape too.”

After the Tour, Alaphilippe will head to the world championships, where the hilly Swiss course will put him into the short-list of favorites. And after that, early October will see him defend his title at La Flèche Wallonne and look to better a run of near-misses at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Amstel Gold. Last on the likely schedule will be a first-ever start at the Tour of Flanders on October 18.

There’s a whole host of opportunities for Alaphilippe to choose from in his 2020 calendar. After the unprecedented success of 2019 that gained him the Velo d’Or ‘best rider’ award, here’s hoping he treats the cycling world to more swaggering displays of panache through the second-half of a year largely denied the sparkle of racing.