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Julian Alaphilippe braces for cobblestone clashes with Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel

Frenchman throwing full focus into classics campaign before contemplating Tour de France, Olympics and worlds.

Julian Alaphilippe is not going to let a disaster crash with a race moto curb his classics ambitions.

The world champion is eyeing a return to the Tour of Flanders and debut appearance at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this spring and is ready to come out swinging as he does battle with Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.

Alaphilippe’s 2020 season came to an abrupt end last October as he went toe to toe with van Aert and van der Poel on the home stretch into Oudenaarde, Flanders. The world champ clipped a race moto, clattered to the floor, and fractured his hand in two locations, robbing himself of a near-guaranteed podium finish in his first appearance at De Ronde.

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The 28-year-old is looking to pick up from where he left off this season as he looks to take it to his rising young rivals on the Belgian cobbles. Alaphilippe said that the pair’s dominance would not alter Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s offensive, controlling strategy in one-day racing.

“I don’t think we’re going to change anything, our team has always had the same mentality,” Alaphilippe said. “This team will not think of other riders, but of its own strength.”

“When you have riders like Wout and Mathieu at the start of a race, they are the big favorites. But on our side, we always take our responsibilities. We always try to do something in the race to aim for the victory – we don’t really think about the other riders.”

Alaphilippe is planning to start his season at the Tour de la Provence next month before making a career-first appearance on the cobblestones of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. From there, he is toying with taking a ride at Tirreno-Adriatico before making a return to the Tour of Flanders in a bid to finish off what he started last fall.

An untimely end to Alaphilippe’s 2020 Flanders hasn’t put him off from making a return. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

The Deceuninck-Quick-Step ace is the latest in a line of one-day specialists braced against questions of the dominance of Van Aert and van der Poel. Also this week, Trek-Segafredo pair Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen both separately pointed out that the two all-terrain terrors were beatable.

Alaphilippe has one extra hurdle to leap over in his cobblestone quest, however. The hand that he smashed into the tarmac of Flanders is still on the mend and the ongoing injury is curtailing his training efforts.

“My hand is still recovering,” he said. “I still can’t sprint yet. It goes step by step, day by day. I still need some time, which is normal with such an injury. I hope everything is okay before we start hitting the cobblestones.”

The Tour de France, Olympic Games, and rainbow-jersey defense are also all on Alaphilippe’s provisional agenda for 2021. Like last year, there would be no yellow jersey campaign on the roads of France this summer as the Frenchman keeps his powder dry for the Olympics and cobblestone worlds in the months that follow the Tour.

Despite the stacked summer ahead, Alaphilippe is wasting no energy worrying about quarantine considerations and the fine-details of the Tour, Olympics, and worlds just yet.

“My first goal is to perform well in the first part of the season, from my first race in the Tour de La Provence to Liège-Bastogne-Liège,” he said. “For now I am really focused on the first half of the year, the second part will concern the Tour de France and the Olympic Games, then the worlds a little later, but I still have time to think about all this. ”

From February in Provence to September in Flanders, it all adds up to a busy year for Alaphilippe. Though as the flamboyant Frenchman pointed out, it’s not every year that a rider gets to wear the rainbow jersey.

“I want to do justice to that jersey and show it as much as possible,” he said. “I just want to perform as well as possible, like other years, but maybe even more with this jersey around my shoulders. But I will be sure to not forget to enjoy it, because a year is only short. This jersey motivates me. ”