For those who have studied the “curse of the rainbow jersey” in cycling, you will likely have to put your studies on hold this year. Current world champion Julian Alaphilippe appears primed to show off his distinctive jersey all year long.
And if the Tour de la Provence provides any clues, the 28-year-old Frenchman, who has earned a reputation as one of the most explosive riders in the peloton today, will be a constant force on the front throughout the 2021 season.
- Julian Alaphilippe’s symbolic Specialized S-Works Tarmac
- Julian Alaphilippe, Egan Bernal pass Ventoux climbing test
Already in the opening stage Alaphilippe blew the race open with a blistering 70-kilometer attack along with Italians Giulio Ciccone and Gianni Moscon. And when the move was finally caught in the finale along the Mediterranean Sea, Alaphilippe instantly shifted into leadout mode, helping to launch his teammate, Davide Ballerini to victory.Surprisingly his Tour de la Provence debut was the first time that Alaphilippe actually started his season on home soil. But clearly he did not come to save energy.
“I usually start my season in South America,” Alaphilippe told VeloNews in a telephone interview on Monday. “But it was a real pleasure to start my season here in France, especially with the world champion jersey. I was super happy to be at the Tour de la Provence. It was really great. I hope the public appreciated the race. I know that for me it was an enormous pleasure to be here.”
While a crash at the front of the pack dashed his chances on stage two, he was back on the attack on stage three, with its much-anticipated mountain-top finish to Chalet Reynard on the slopes of the legendary Mont Ventoux.
The Tour de la Provence is the first race to finish on the Ventoux so early in the season and there were plenty of unknowns. First there was the snowfall the night before that simply put the feasibility of a mountain-top finish into question. And many of the riders themselves were simply uncertain about their condition on such a tough test so early in the season.
Alaphilippe had reason to be nervous, as he suffered from the abrasions from the crash the day before. But he passed the test with flying colors, finishing third on the stage behind the overwhelming strength of the Ineos Grenadiers and the one-two punch of Colombian riders Ivan Sosa and Igan Bernal. But Alaphilippe led the chase and was clearly one of the strongest in the stage.
And just to show that he still had plenty of fight in him, he went on the attack early on stage four, picking of the handful of bonus seconds needed to catapulted him into second-place overall just in front of Bernal. No, make no doubt about it — the world champ came ready to race.
“It was four days of really intense racing for the team with Davide Ballerini showing that he was really very, very strong. We were very happy to ride for him,” Alaphilippe said, looking back on the season opener.
“And on a personal level, I was really happy with my condition. I was even surprised to be so strong on the Ventoux. Sure, I would like to have won that day, but I was not disappointed in the least finishing behind the Colombian duo at Chalet Reynard. Now I just have to stay on track and keep working hard for the objectives which will be coming up soon.”
For Alaphilippe, who has spent his career with the Belgian Deceuninck-Quick-Step team, the northern classics are the focus of his early season, and he is scheduled to race Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, all with an eye on victory.
“What race would I most like to win with the rainbow jersey on my back? Oh that is a hard question,” Alaphilippe muses, when considering some of the races he still dreams of winning.
“You know me and you know my desire to perform well all of the time. But this year I am really focusing on the classics at the beginning of the season and I really hope to be brilliant in this first part of the season when I return to the Tour of Flanders again, and other races like the Fleche Wallonne, which I have already won twice. And then of course there is Liège-Bastogne-Liège where I really hope to let the jersey shine. It’s going to be a huge challenge to race all out through Liège. It’s going to be a huge block of racing.”
And then of course there is the Tour de France this summer, where he has been one of the primary actors the past three years, winning the polka-dot best-climbers jersey in 2018 and wearing the yellow jersey both in 2019 and 2020.
Ironically the yellow jersey would pose an unlikely problem for Alaphilippe this year, as he would have to hang up his rainbow stripes while sporting the Tour’s golden fleece. But he still hopes to make his mark. “I just really hope to show of the rainbow-stripes and to honor it by racing the way I like to race. It’s going to be special.”
Clearly for Alaphilippe, sporting the rainbow stripes has only increased his already insatiable appetite for attacking.
“I am not going to change anything,” he insists. “I just want to race the way I like to race bikes. I really like to blow the racing up. That is the way I like to race and I am going to continue racing that way. And I think that people really appreciate seeing the world champion’s jersey being active in the races. It’s important for me to be a real actor and to be on the attack. Nothing will change. But you can expect to see me on the attack and riding with panache.”