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Julian Alaphilippe ready to ‘take risks’ in world championship challenge

Frenchman considers himself outside favorite at head of injury-stricken team for Sunday's race in Imola.

Julian Alaphilippe is ready to roll all the dice and embrace an underdog role at Sunday’s road world championships.

The worlds’ Imola circuit, to be raced nine times for a total of 258 kilometers Sunday, centers around two short steep climbs of under three kilometers, both packing ramps of up to 14 percent. On paper, it’s Alaphilippe’s dream playground.

However,  Alaphilippe and his French team is only branding itself outsiders against the likes of Wout van Aert and his fleet of Belgian rouleurs and Slovenian duo Primoz Roglič and Tadej Pogačar.

“Having reconned the route, I am very happy with the circuit, it bodes for a difficult race, very tiring,” Alaphilippe said. “It corresponds more to my characteristics than that of Aigle-Martigny [the originally planned Swiss circuit]. We come with great motivation, a very strong team but we are not the ultra-favorites.”

Alaphilippe’s summer season has been marked by flashes of brilliance but also moments of appearing to be going through the motions. While attacks at Milano-Sanremo, the French nationals, and in the early part of the Tour de France suggested the 28-year-old baroudeur was back at his 2019 best, the second half of his Tour and sluggish ride at Strade Bianche showed glimpses of tired legs or missing motivation.

While many riders are pointing their fingers in Alaphilippe’s direction when asked of the major threat for the title in Imola, the Deceuninck-Quick-Step star is looking to deflect attention elsewhere.

“It is difficult to come up with a favorite,” he said. “There are really a lot of riders who can win. I expect a completely different race at this than we could see on the Tour. Fuglsang? He is a runner capable of being world champion, even more on a circuit like this.”

The French team will be without grand tour stars Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, both still nursing injuries from this month’s Tour. Alaphilippe will be relying on climbing support from the likes of Guillaume Martin, Kenny Elissonde, and Julien Bernard in a race that Alaphilippe forecasts to be “wearing,” with all the action “condensed into the finale.”

While keen to talk down his chances, Alaphilippe isn’t prepared to go down without a fight.

“We’re outsiders but that doesn’t mean we don’t have ambition,” he warned. “You have to take risks … We must keep this goal in mind even if a podium is unlikely. The world championship makes all riders dream; it’s one of the major objectives of my career.”