The cobbles are calling Julian Alaphilippe this year, and the French star has been to check them out.
Alaphilippe is set to make his Tour of Flanders debut in 2020, and has been scouting key sectors of the race at a Deceunick-Quick-Step team camp this week.
“Doing a recon of Flanders was exciting, and although it was my first time here, I learned many things, got a lot of advice,” Alaphilippe said. He rode with a small group of his team’s classics squad in a loop that included the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg, and Koppenberg.
The 28-year-old has become one of the riders to beat in the Flemish classics and other one-day races, with wins at Milano-Sanremo, La Flèche Wallonne, Strade Bianche and Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian. He is still yet to race cobbled monuments the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix in his prolific career, but this October, De Ronde is top priority.
“Everybody knows that De Ronde is an iconic race and to discover it is a challenge for me,” Alaphilippe said in a team release. “Having this goal of being on the start line this year motivates me a lot and makes me eager to be there in four months’ time. I don’t know how I will perform, but what I do know is that I’ll work hard for my condition, so I can do my best here.”
This fall’s classics have been subject to a number of tweaks and adjustments as organizers look to shave time from the races in recognition of the stacked October schedule. Scoping out those amendments had formed the key motive behind Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s camp this week.
“We did a long recon of Gent-Wevelgem and twice the final part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen,” said team coach Koen Pelgrim. “There have been some changes to the parcours, so it was useful to go and have a look. That was more important than having structured training sessions.”
The team will now recharge the batteries before heading to the Italian Dolomites for a training camp at altitude through July.
“There it will be more essential to organize structured training days and get everyone ready for the restart of the season,” Pelgrim said.
Alaphilippe, who lit up last year’s Tour de France with two stage wins and 14 days in the yellow jersey, was planning to place the Tour and Olympics at the peak of his 2020 schedule after a run at Flanders and the Ardennes classics. He is yet to confirm his full schedule for the revised season since coronavirus led to the postponement of the Games, but a debut on the bergs of northern Belgium is a certainty.
“We know that Julian is very strong on shorter climbs, but cobbled climbs aren’t the same,” Pelgrim said. “It was good for him to take on the Flemish cobbled climbs with his teammates.”