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Julian Alaphilippe says ‘weight of rainbow jersey’ dragged him down in 2021

France's first world champion since 1997 discovered the rainbow jersey comes packed with expectations and burdens.

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BRUGES, Belgium (VN) — There was no curse for Julian Alaphilippe in 2021, but there was a burden.

The flamboyant French captain didn’t win much in his season in the rainbow jersey, but what he did win was big: a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico, Flèche-Wallonne and a stage and spell in yellow at the Tour de France.

“I wanted to honor the jersey in every race I started,” Alaphilippe told Sport. “It was not easy to win in the rainbow jersey. It’s a jersey that changes a lot of things. I was more targeted.”

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Alaphilippe won France’s first elite men’s world title since 1997, and catapulted into the spotlight.

There wasn’t quite a “curse” for Alaphilippe, but the wins didn’t come as easy. There also seemed to be a spark missing in his kick.

“I don’t know if the jersey gives wings,” he admitted in the interview. “What I do know for sure is that the rainbow jersey weighs very heavily. I was also busier with commitments away from the races.”

French bring squad to support him in rare repeat bid

The French star, whether he likes it or not, will be among the frontline favorites in Sunday’s 270km elite men’s road race.

The hilly, technical course is well-suited for Alaphilippe’s explosive style.

On Wednesday, the French federation confirmed its starting lineup, and the roster is packed with strong, classics-style riders to support him.

“Ala-panache” looks to be hitting some good late-season form, especially since he did not race the Olympic Games or the Vuelta a España. Though he did not win, he was third overall at the Tour of Britain, and battled with worlds-favorite Wout van Aert in many key stages.

Alaphilippe could become the first rider to repeat the world title since Peter Sagan won three in a row in 2015-2017, even if he isn’t fully convinced.

“If I lose the jersey in Leuven, it might be a liberation a bit in terms of pressure and media attention,” he said. “But I won’t say no to a new rainbow jersey.”