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Alaphilippe punched clear on the steepest slopes of the final climb of the day to hold off a stellar chase group of five, taking the victory by over 20 seconds. The Frenchman’s victory rewarded the hard work of his team, who had piled on the pressure through the final three laps of the nine-loop circuit in Imola.
“It’s really hard for me to say something at this moment,” Alaphilippe said moments after his victory. “I want to say thank you to all my teammates who really believed in me today. Everybody did a great job.”
“It was always a dream for me in my career,” he continued as tears began to well. “Already sometimes I was so close and was never on the podium. And now, I came here with a lot of ambition and pfftt.. it’s just a dream day for me.”
Having gone into the Innsbruck worlds in 2018 as one of the favorites and coming away disappointed with eighth place, Alaphilippe’s rainbow jersey rounds out an illustrious palmarès that includes wins at Milano-Sanremo, Strade Bianche, twice at Fleche Wallone, and five stage victories at the Tour de France.
Having seen his yellow jersey snatched away from him at this year’s Tour de France and been pipped to a second Sanremo title by Wout van Aert this August, Alaphilippe bounced back to take a career-defining victory Sunday.
“I want to thank my team for all the effort they put in, to [national coach] Thomas Voeckler for the confidence he showed in me, and my family, friends, and my partner,” he said. “This is a dream for my career.”
Alaphilippe’s attack over the steep Gallisterna climb had drawn out the strongest selection, with van Aert, Hirschi, Kwiatkowski, Primož Roglič (Slovenia) and Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) forming the chase group behind. However, with the group fearing setting up van Aert for a sprint finish, the five failed to work together effectively, allowing Alaphilippe to ride uncontested as he made his madcap dash toward victory on the Imola race circuit.
“It was a perfect race from start to finish, we respected perfectly what we said at the briefing,” said Alaphilippe’s teammate Guillaume Martin. “We had planned to harden the race in the final two or three laps and then to follow, to accompany the blows.”
It took until the third-last lap of the 258-kilometer race for the action to spark into life as the French team began to rev its motor on behalf of Alaphilippe. The blue squad piled on the pressure over the steep summit of the Gallisterna climb as they began to shed riders out of the back of the bunch.
The Belgian team was next to start the pummelling, with all eight of its riders massing on the front at the start of the penultimate lap with Jasper Stuyven and Pieter Serry dictating the pace.
Despite the strength in numbers of van Aert and his Belgian team, Tour champ Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) was given the room to make the first meaningful attack of the race, making a move on the penultimate climb of the Gallisterna with 42km remaining while teammate Roglič sat back in the bunch. The superstar 22-year-old squeezed an advantage of 25 seconds as the Belgians continued to lead the chase as the Italian, French and Spanish teams sat close behind.
Pogačar was inevitably caught toward the start of the final lap as the bunch motored into the first of the two climbs on the Italian circuit. With the reigning yellow jersey caught, attacks began rolling with Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands), Damiano Caruso (Italy), Rigoberto Urán (Colombia), and Mikel Landa (Spain) among those making accelerations from the front.
The French team, still present in numbers toward the front, took responsibility for chasing down the attacks and the much-diminished front group all came back together again in the short flat section before the final ascent of the Gallisterna. Opportunistic skirmishes continued to fly, with Guillaume Martin (France) and a handful of others rolling the dice, though the Belgian team now policed the moves, with Tiesj Benoot and Greg van Avermaet repeatedly shutting down threats.
It was on the final climb of the 2.7-kilometer Gallisterna where the race was made. Swissman Hirschi was first to attack, followed by Van Aert, Fuglsang, Kwiatkowski, Alaphilippe, Roglič, Max Schachmann (Germany), and home-hope Vincenzo Nibali.
As the climb reached its fiercest 15 percent slopes, Alaphilippe launched a trademark out of the saddle attack, splintering the small lead group, with Fuglsang, Kwiatkowski, Roglic, Hirschi, and van Aert trailing a few seconds behind.
The Deceuninck-Quick-Step star kept piling on over the rolling crest of the hill as the chasers behind looked at each other and failed to commit to closing down the flying Frenchman.
With van Aert sensing his opportunity was starting to edge away from him, the brawny Belgian began putting vigor into the chase, however, with less than 10km to go, Alaphilippe continued to hold a gap of 15-20 seconds and maintained it through to the final stretch of the race on the Imola motor track.
The Frenchman came to the line solo, to take the first French title since Laurent Brochard won in 1997.
24 seconds later, van Aert won the sprint for second having led out the small bunch kick, and Hirschi shaded past Kwiatkowski to nab second and third place, respectively.
It was a day of perfect preparation for the French.
“When you have a precise plan, it’s easy to do it on a blackboard in the bus but it is more difficult to do it implement. We saw a tight-knit team all day,” Frenchman Martin said after the race. “I heard these weeks following the Tour de France that the French were in withdrawal from other nations – today we responded on the ground.”
World Championships ME - Road Race Results
|2||VAN AERT Wout||Belgium||0:24|
|21||VAN AVERMAET Greg||Belgium||1:34|
|31||MARTÍNEZ Daniel Felipe||Colombia||3:44|
|35||VAN BAARLE Dylan||Netherlands||5:48|
|41||LÓPEZ Miguel Ángel||Colombia||9:24|
|42||PIDCOCK Thomas||Great Britain||9:24|
|52||SÁNCHEZ Luis León||Spain||10:32|
|53||KUSS Sepp||United States||12:35|
|59||HIRT Jan||Czech Republic||19:42|
|64||OTRUBA Jakub||Czech Republic||21:59|
|71||ŤOUPALÍK Adam||Czech Republic||21:59|
|73||HAGEN Carl Fredrik||Norway||21:59|
|78||MEINTJES Louis||South Africa||21:59|
|80||CAICEDO Jonathan Klever||Ecuador||21:59|
|81||SHAW James||Great Britain||21:59|
|86||HAYTER Ethan||Great Britain||22:03|
Results provided by ProCyclingStats.