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Julian Alaphilippe: It’s all down to the legs in Provence mountaintop showdown

World champ picks out Nairo Quintana as key rival as Tour de la Provence heads toward finale on the Montagne de Lure

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MANOSQUE, France (VN) – World champion Julian Alaphilippe picked out 2020 Tour de la Provence champion Nairo Quintana as the main danger as this edition of the French stage race heads for its finale on the Montagne de Lure on Sunday afternoon.

“There won’t really be any tactics, it’ll just be down to how you’re feeling. The best legs are going to talk on that climb,” Alaphilippe said Saturday.

The Frenchman will start the third stage in second place, two seconds behind race leader Filippo Ganna, but suggested that the danger is likely to come from another direction as he goes searching for overall victory in his first competitive outing of this season.

“We know who the strongest teams are. We’ve seen that the Arkéa team is well represented with a Nairo Quintana who’s in very good form,” said Alaphilippe.

The world champion has 30 seconds in hand on the Colombian going into Sunday, when the race concludes with the 13.4km ascent of the Montagne de Lure, which rises steadily at 6.7%.

“I’m just going to give my maximum, enjoy myself and hurt myself in order to see how far I can go,” said Alaphilippe, who also highlighted that his team has a second card to play in eighth-placed Ilan Van Wilder, who is currently 27 seconds down on Ganna.

“Whatever happens, I’m happy with my return to racing,” Alaphilippe said after second place in Manosque had enabled him to gain two bonus seconds on Ganna, who was third in the uphill sprint won by Cofidis’s Bryan Coquard.

“I didn’t expect to be any better than this,” Alaphilippe continued. “It could have been a lot worse. I didn’t expect to do such a strong time trial and to be at the front beyond that. It’s a good sign for what lies ahead.”

Other contenders for the Provence title include Total Energies’ Pierre Latour, who is third at 14 seconds having already finished fourth at last week’s Étoile de Bessèges. Behind the Frenchman, there are three talented youngsters: Astana’s Samuele Battistella, Trek-Segafredo’s Mattias Skjelmose and Movistar’s Matteo Jorgenson.

And what of Ganna?

Following stage one he shot down this correspondent’s query about his GC chances on the Montagne de Lure with two words.

“88 kilos,” Ganna said as he pointed to himself.

However, according to Ag2r-Citroën’s Aurélien Paret-Peintre, who is also in the GC battle, Italy’s world time trial champion shouldn’t be overlooked.

“He’s shown in the past that he’s been very good in the mountains. This climb should suit him: it’s long, but quite tactical because it’s rolling,” the Frenchman told L’Équipe. “Of course he can win. For me, he’s the favorite.”