Road

California first-timer Alaphilippe quietly confident of his chances on Mt. Baldy

Julian Alaphilippe burst onto the scene in the Ardennes and now tackles his first eight-day stage race as an outside favorite

SAN JOSE (VN) — He’s never raced in California, and he’s not familiar with Mt. Baldy, but 22-year-old French phenom Julian Alaphilippe is quietly confident of his chances on the monster climb that will almost certainly decide the overall winner of the Amgen Tour.

Judging by his spring results, Alaphilippe has reason to be confident. He was the revelation of the Ardennes Classics, taking seventh in the Amstel Gold Race, second in Flèche Wallonne, and second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège — his first attempt at any of those hilly spring classics. Following the Ardennes, Alaphilippe also finished in the top-three on a pair of stages at the Tour de Romandie.

And while he climbed with the best in the sport on the short, punchy climbs of the Ardennes, it’s uncertain how he will fare on a long, sustained climb like Baldy. Though the Baldy climb is only 7km, and will take the top pros less than 25 minutes, what stage 7 delivers is significantly more substantial.

The Amgen Tour stacks the Baldy climb on top of the 9-mile climb up Glendora Mountain Road, followed by 12 miles of twisting, uphill traverse back up Glendora Ridge Road. There’s only a brief respite before hitting the switchbacks of Mt. Baldy Road; all totaled, from the bottom of Glendora Mountain Road, across Glendora Ridge, and up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Area, it’s a 26-mile slog, with 5,300 feet of elevation gain and very little flat or downhill.

But first comes Tuesday’s stage 3, which features the climb of Mount Hamilton that tops out 30 miles from the finish in San Jose. It’s a course profile that could suit a breakaway, the climbers, or the sprinters.

“I’m happy to be here for my first time, and I’m looking at it day by day. I’m very happy with Mark’s victory, it’s been good teamwork, and today we will try with the yellow jersey,” Alaphilippe said Monday morning, prior to the start of stage 2, which was won by teammate Cavendish. “Maybe [stage 3] is a good opportunity. I want to see if my condition is good, and if it’s good … voila.”

And though Alaphilippe is not one of the big favorites for the win — that honor is shared Sergio Henao (Sky) and Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) — as each day of the race passes, Alaphilippe’s chances seem to improve.

Cannondale’s Andrew Talansky abandoned on stage 1, due to a respiratory infection, and Giant-Alpecin’s Warren Barguil was injured in a stage 2 crash that may keep him from continuing the race.

Several others are potential candidates for the podium, including Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin), Janez Brajkovic (UnitedHealthcare), and Phil Gaimon and Mike Woods (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies). But given his spring results, Alaphilippe should also be considered a real podium threat.

That doesn’t mean the young Frenchman is riding like a protected rider, however; on Monday in Lodi, Alaphilippe played a key role in Cavendish’s sprint lead-out train, alongside Mark Renshaw and Matteo Trentin.

“It’s my first time doing an eight-stage race, with mountains and a time trial, so I am just looking day after day,” Alaphilippe said. “I’ll do my best. There are a lot of good riders here. I’ll do my best to follow the best guys.”