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French team chief Voeckler on UCI Road World Championships: ‘We will not race anti-Belgium’

'We are not racing to make someone lose, but for the French team to win,' says French national team coach Thomas Voeckler.

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The French national team will start as two-time defending champions in the elite men’s road race Sunday at the UCI Road World Championships, even if its two-time defending champion Julian Alaphilippe will not be at 100 percent.

The deep French squad promises to race to win, and vows not to race a negative race against heavily favored Belgium in Wollongong.

“We are not going to do an anti-Belgium race,” said Thomas Voeckler, French national coach. “Because that would mean that we don’t focus on the other favorites like Biniam Girmay, Mathieu van der Poel or Tadej Pogačar.

“We are not racing to make someone lose, but for the French team to win.”

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The ex-pro is two-for-two so far as national team coach with les bleus, thanks to Alaphilippe’s unbeatable legs in 2020 and 2021.

Alaphilippe’s already said he’d be happy to see one of his teammates take the win even as he vows to go down swinging. Benoît Cosnefroy was a late arrival, and Voeckler also brings Romain Bardet, Christophe Laporte and Florian Sénéchal.

“We have to be careful and not fixate on the Belgian team, despite the two exceptional riders they have,” Voeckler said in a media day. “I will take into account that Julian fell at the Vuelta, and there are other riders who are very fit, to whom the course corresponds, so we had to adapt.”

In 2020, Alaphilippe delivered France’s first world title since Laurent Brochard in 1997. Last year, Alaphilippe defended with a spectacular late-race attack in Leuven that no one could match.

Voeckler said he’s already designated a protected rider for Sunday, but will not reveal it to the media.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m giving up on Julian Alaphilippe, otherwise he wouldn’t have flown 24 hours to come and spend a week with friends,” Voeckler said.

For Sunday, the ex-pro said the Wollongong course is harder than everyone thinks.

“I had said for a while that it was harder than we thought, it was confirmed on reconnaissance,” Voeckler said. “Anything can happen.”

The French team meet the press this week in Australia. (Photo: WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)