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Julian Alaphilippe scored a stunning second world title with a huge attacking ride in Flanders on Sunday.
The Frenchman launched a series of moves through the final that blew a group of pre-race favorites, including Wout van Aert (Belgium), Sonny Colbrelli (Italy) and Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands), from his wheel as he rampaged to his title defense.
“I came here relaxed and motivated this week and have worked well the past few days. I knew what I had to do, the course suited me. But even then, I never thought I’d go this far in the final,” Alaphilippe said.
“I went for it, my first attack followed by a second. And then it was giving everything … how I hurt myself. I have no words for this triumph.”
Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands) and Michael Valgren (Denmark) rounded out the podium as Belgium missed the medals after a day of dominating the action.
The 25-year-old American Neilson Powless had a standout race to finish fifth.
This is the best American placing in the Men’s Road Race since Chan McRae in 1999. Some of the members of the team weren’t born until 2001. https://t.co/rX0hudwRQk
— USA Cycling (@usacycling) September 26, 2021
Alaphilippe had formed part of a stellar lead group that went into the final 30 kilometers of Leuven loops after the Frenchman forced the decisive split with 60km to go in the Flandrien section of the race. Italy, France and Belgium all had three riders in the front selection of 17, with Powless, van Aert, van der Poel, Valgren and Jasper Stuyven (Belgium) among those in the attack.
Alaphilippe laid the first of a series of world title-defending hammerblows at 20km to go, launching a huge attack on the Wijnpers climb. The Frenchman continued attacking in the kilometers afterward, and the series of accelerations saw van Aert struggle, leaving Jasper Stuyven to mark.
Powless, Valgren and van Baarle joined Stuyven in the chase behind Alaphilippe while a group of top-tier favorites including van Aert, van der Poel and Colbrelli suffered behind and were never to be seen again.
Alaphilippe began to look fatigued through the final 10km but somehow kept gaining ground over the four-strong chase group as the quartet behind began thinking about the sprint for the medals rather than making a raid on the rainbow jersey.
With the chase behind malfunctioning, Alaphilippe had the road all to himself as he soloed up the grinding finishing straight, applauding the stacked crowds as he crossed the finish line for his second world title.
2021 UCI ROAD WORLD CHAMPION!
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) September 26, 2021
Powless led out the sprint for silver 30 seconds behind the Frenchman, but van Baarle and Valgren won the photo-finish sprint to score silver and bronze.
Van der Poel, van Aert and Colbrelli followed in a group a further 50 seconds back. Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) had played a major part in the race, marking every key move and motoring in the chase groups for van Aert before blowing up at 30km to go.
Evenepoel everywhere in early moves
The race made for a firecracker as attacks started flying far earlier than expected.
Evenepoel marked out an attack from Benoit Cosnefroy (France) at 180km to go. More than a dozen riders jumped across soon after, and Evenepoel wasn’t shy in cranking the pace rather than slowing the move for van Aert in the peloton behind.
Italy was the only major nation to miss the first break and were forced to burn through matches for some 50km as they pulled back the escape group.
The Belgian squad massed to the front to exert control through the middle of the chaotic race. The entire team lined up at the front for around an hour and set a searing pace that stopped attacks. Nils Politt Germany) finally broke the deadlock at 90km to go after a series of attacks from the French.
Evenepoel was again the first to mark and 9 other riders representing all the major nations except Great Britain dashed across, but this time, the Belgian wunderkind played a more cagey game as he raced for his captain van Aert.
Alaphilippe forces the final selection on Flandrien circuit
The race started to break to bits on the Flandrien circuit. Riders fell out of the break to leave just Powless with Evenepoel and three others while the peloton fragmented behind.
Alaphilippe’s all-attacking ride kickstarted at 60km to go on the steep Bekestraat cobbled climb. The defending champ turned on the gas as van Aert and Stuyven stuck to his wheel. Van der Poel, Colbrelli, Pidcock, Stybar, Valgren and van Baarle were among those that dived across with the trio to catch the five leaders and create the extra strong lead group that went on to contest the finale.
Evenepoel continued his huge day as domestique by pulling the group through the start of the final circuits before finally blowing up, his work for van Aert done.
For his country, for his teammates 💫
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) September 26, 2021
World Championships ME - Road Race Results
|2||VAN BAARLE Dylan||Netherlands||0:32|
|5||POWLESS Neilson||United States||0:32|
|6||PIDCOCK Thomas||Great Britain||0:49|
|7||ŠTYBAR Zdeněk||Czech Republic||1:06|
|8||VAN DER POEL Mathieu||Netherlands||1:18|
|11||VAN AERT Wout||Belgium||1:18|
|23||GARCÍA CORTINA Iván||Spain||6:27|
|32||VAKOČ Petr||Czech Republic||6:27|
|33||BYSTRØM Sven Erik||Norway||6:27|
|34||LAENGEN Vegard Stake||Norway||6:27|
|35||HAYTER Ethan||Great Britain||6:27|
|57||CRADDOCK Lawson||United States||6:49|
|65||SOTO Nelson Andrés||Colombia||17:18|
Results provided by ProCyclingStats.