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Julian Alaphilippe returns from COVID to race on same roads as worlds success

Frenchman joins Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl squad in Tour of Leuven.

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Seeking to turn around a season blighted by injury and illness, double world champion Julian Alaphilippe will return from COVID-19 in Sunday’s Tour of Leuven-Memorial Jef Scherens.

The Frenchman is hoping that some of the magic from his victory in Leuven at last year’s worlds will transfer to his participation in the race. As noted by his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team, it features many of the same roads that formed part of the 2021 world championships.

Alaphilippe desperately needs some better fortune after what has been a difficult season. He was sick at the start of the year, had a spectacular fall in high winds in Strade Bianche and was then a non-finisher in the Brabantse Pijl in April. He came down in a spill after a risky passing maneuver by his own team car sparked off a fall in the peloton.

Alaphilippe had a more serious crash four days later in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, breaking his scapula and two ribs and suffering a punctured lung. He spent time in the hospital during his recovery and was out of action for two months.

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He returned to racing at the French nationals but after finishing only 13th there, was passed over for Tour de France selection.

The double rainbow jersey winner finally seemed to have turned a corner when he won the opening stage of the Tour de Wallonie on July 27th, only to withdraw from the race after the second stage due to a positive test for COVID-19.

It’s been a frustrating few months but he and his team hope that better days are ahead.

“The hilly 199.3km circuit features many of the roads that Julian tackled last September on his way to a second consecutive rainbow jersey, meaning the attackers will have the upper hand at this 55th edition,” said sports director Rik Van Slycke.

“We have a couple of guys who came out from illness, so it remains to be seen what we can do on Sunday,” Van Slycke said. “As always, the motivation is there and we hope for a good outing on this hard course that will include some climbs from last year’s worlds.”

The team will also include Iljo Keisse, Stijn Steels, Zdeněk Štybar, Bert Van Lerberghe, Stan Van Tricht plus the neo-pro Martin Svrcek, who is making his debut for the team at the race.

Alaphilippe is also due to compete in the Tour de l’Ain next Tuesday and is listed for the Vuelta a España.