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LEUVEN, Belgium (VN) — There’s no changing Julian Alaphilippe, and the cycling world should be happy about that.
In an attritional world championships, when many big names were racing cautiously to save their legs for a reduced bunch sprint, Alaphilippe refused to comply.
The flamboyant Frenchman raced with trademark panache, and attacked no less than five times in the closing laps to blow up the race, and bring the rainbow jersey back home.
“I don’t want to become a robot,” Alaphilippe said with defiance. “I want to attack with panache, and I want to give everything to try and win, and it’s even more beautiful when you have the rainbow jersey on.”
Also read: Dazzling Double — Alaphilippe wins in Leuven
Alaphilippe raced like a world champion of old on Sunday, and became the first since Peter Sagan to defend his title.
No regrets, no holding back
On Sunday in front an estimated crowd of 1 million fans, there was no talk of power meters, or controlled racing tactics.
This was Alaphilippe at his very high-risk, unleashed best.
“Since 2014, I am still the same kind of rider,” he said. “I don’t want to change anything. I take a lot of pleasure racing like this. Cycling is already a hard sport.”
After complaining earlier this week about how difficult it was sometimes to have the rainbow jersey throughout the 2021 season, it might have been surprising to see him attacking with such flourish.
🥇 JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE 🇫🇷
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) September 26, 2021
France had Florian Sénéchel waiting for the bunch sprint, and a flock of riders marking the moves.
Alaphilippe had a free role, and he didn’t hesitate when he sensed that pre-race favorites Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel could not follow his early sorties.
“My role today was to try something, and I was not here to wait for the sprint,” he said. “When I decided to attack the first time, it was to test the legs and see how they would react from behind.
“When I went away with [Sonny] Colbrelli, he was very strong and there were two or three Belgians behind, so I knew it was not the right moment,” Alaphilippe explained. “When I decided to attack again, I gave everything.”
Unleashed and unabashed
Alaphilippe wrenched free of a group of four chasers. With Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands in the chasing group, the main pack was more or less neutralized behind.
That opened the door for Alaphilippe to pour it on, and he rode solo for nearly the final two laps in the city loop packed with more than 350,000 fans.
“The fans were so loud, and it was amazing to feel so many people on the road,” he said. “On the last lap, the Belgian supporters asked me to slow down — and a few more things, I will not say more — and I think that gave me even more motivation.”
Julian Alaphilippe’s palmares
Clasica San Sebastian
Seven Grand Tour stages
— CafeRoubaix (@CafeRoubaix) September 26, 2021
Alaphilippe was free at last.
Unburdened with the pressure of last year, or even as France’s last home in the Tour de France from 2019, when he held the yellow jersey for two weeks, Alaphilippe could race his race.
Alone at the front, legs burning with lactate acid, his tongue wagging out of his mouth, he was racing like a banshee.
“I love to attack. I love to race,” he said. “I love it when there is movement in the race.
“When you have the rainbow jersey, everyone is looking at you, and try to destroy you when you are not so good,” he said. “I will never change. Even if you lose sometimes, it’s even more beautiful when you win.”