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Julian Alaphilippe racing on pride and Kasper Asgreen saving the day

Only 87 riders finished a brutal edition of Strade Bianche that left the world champion banged up and unsure about starting Tirreno-Adriatico.

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SIENA, Italy (VN) — Julian Alaphilippe rode on the pride of the rainbow jersey to finish Strade Bianche.

The French world champion was one of the main protagonists in a brutal, high-speed crash about 80km to go in the iconic race across the Tuscan hills.

A strong gust of wind hit the peloton, creating a ripple at the front of the race. An Alpecin-Fenix rider went down at the nose of the peloton, and Alaphilippe catapulted over the handlebars.

At the finish line, Alaphilippe told reporters he was banged up, and said he could not counter Pogačar’s big move after his dramatic, high-speed crash.

“My back hurts,” Alaphilippe said. “I couldn’t avoid the crash. I was swept up by the wind, and there was a rider from Alpecin-Fenix who fell right in front of me.”

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Alaphilippe started as a five-star favorite Saturday. With the likes of Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, and Peter Sagan all giving Strade Bianche a miss, many expected the race to play out as a clash between Alaphilippe, a winner here in 2019, and the rising star of Pogačar.

When Tadej Pogačar attacked to victory at 50km to go, Alaphilippe had chased back onto the peloton, but simply didn’t have the legs to counter.

Alaphilippe: ‘Me? My back hurts’

Alaphilippe was caught up in a massive pileup in Saturday’s Strade Bianche.

Pogačar was also caught up in the massive pileup that caught out nearly three dozen riders, but the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl star was among the worse off. Riders were literally getting blown off their bikes.

Alaphilippe somersaulted over the handlebars, landed on his back, and then skipped further down a field before a bike landed on top of him.

Luckily, he was not seriously injured, and was able to finish the race. A dozen other riders were also involved, and several more were unable to finish the race.

“We couldn’t do much today in the end. Pogačar was in really great form,” Alaphilippe said. “Asgreen was third, so that’s OK.”

Alaphilippe later said, “me? My back hurts,” as he pedaled away from a horde of journalists crowding in around him at the Piazza del Campo.

In a message posted later on Twitter, the French star hinted that he will wait to see how he feels before confirming he will be starting Monday’s opening stage at Tirreno-Adriatico.

“Things were going pretty well, until I decided to touch the earth,” Alaphilippe wrote. “Some good back pain, so we’ll take stock tomorrow before the departure of Tirreno-Adriatico.”

Alaphilippe was looking sharp going into his first major goals of the 2022, with Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, the Tour of the Basque Country, and the Ardennes classics all lined up.

Doctors will check Alaphilippe’s condition over the next few days before confirming he will start Tirreno. He finished 58th on Saturday riding on the pride of the rainbow jersey on a brutal day when only 87 riders finished the race.

Kasper Asgreen saves the day for the ‘Wolfpack’

Kasper Asgreen saved the day for the team with third. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

With Alaphilippe banged up and out of the frame, Tour of Flanders winner Kasper Asgreen saved the day for the so-called “Wolfpack.”

“Our plans changed after Julian’s crash, which came at a bad moment,” Asgreen said. “He came back, but to do that used a lot of energy which he didn’t have in the final part of the race. Even in these conditions, he worked hard and kept the pressure on, which later played into my favour. The way we worked as a team today was truly impressive, all the guys were great and did a fantastic job, and for that they deserve credit.”

Asgreen attacked out of a chase group that included second-place finisher Alejandro Valverde and American rider Quinn Simmons.

“When I got over the first steep ramps of Sante Marie I began thinking I could get something out of the race. I jumped from the chasing group at what I felt was the right moment, and kept going,” Asgreen said. “It was hard, but I believed in myself and had a lot of motivation to show that I can perform at my third participation here. I am happy I could crack the podium and with how my shape is evolving. Now I’m looking forward to Tirreno-Adriatico and the classics season.”