Banged-up Alaphilippe carries momentum into Ardennes

Even though he lost a close sprint to upstart Mathieu van der Poel at Brabantse Pijl, Alaphilippe rolls into Amstel Gold Race with confidence.

Ending up on the wrong end of a high-profile duel with Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) at Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl doesn’t have Julian Alaphilippe down.

Instead, the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider only sees the upside from finishing second in a four-up sprint at the Belgian semi-classic.

Less than a week ago, Alaphilippe suffered a terrible crash at the Itzulia Basque Country that cast his spring classics campaign into doubt. So there was nothing to pout about after finishing second to the ascendant van der Poel.

“After my crash in the Basque Country, I had some rib injuries and it made it hard to breathe for a few days,” Alaphilippe said. “Of course I want to win, but this is reassuring for the Ardennes.”

Before van der Poel knocked him out of the headlines, it was Alaphilippe who was ripping through the 2019 season. The Frenchman already counts eight victories in 26 days of racing, including big wins at Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo.

In fact, van der Poel was the first to compliment his French rival.

“Alaphilippe is already a legend for me,” van der Poel said. “He is without a doubt the man of the spring. That’s not me. I won the sprint [Wednesday] because I was best on the day, but we were all on our knees. What Alaphilippe has done this spring is just incredible.”

That Alaphilippe bounced back from injury and raced to second after a less-than-ideal approach to the hilly classics is a hopeful sign for the Frenchman.

Wednesday’s high-profile duel with van der Poel only heightens expectations going into the hillier Ardennes classics where Alaphilippe will be on the hunt for victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Belgian monument that’s proven elusive so far.

“I don’t want to talk about the crash anymore,” Alaphilippe said. “The injuries were not so bad, but it was not an ideal approach to these races. I wanted to make [Brabantse Pijl] hard so it would help later. That’s why I have to be happy with the podium.”

Alaphilippe will head into the hillier classics as co-leader with Paris-Roubaix winner and teammate Philippe Gilbert, a four-time Amstel Gold winner. In four starts, Alaphilippe has twice been seventh and once sixth in the Dutch classic held in the Limburg region.

It’s in the even more explosive Ardennes classics, Flèche Wallonne and Liège, where Alaphilippe really shines. He was twice second up the Mur de Huy finish climb before finally winning Flèche last year. Alaphilippe was second to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in his first stab at Liège in 2015, and was fourth last year behind winner and teammate Bob Jungels.

With Jungels giving Liège a miss to prepare for the Giro d’Italia, Deceuninck-Quick-Step will rally around Alaphilippe and Gilbert for cycling’s “doyenne.”

With two victories and a second place in the season’s opening three monuments, Deceuninck-Quick-Step will be the team to beat.