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Julian Alaphilippe: ‘Wout and Mathieu are the big favorites’

World champion champing at bit to notch first win in 2021 at Strade Bianche showdown.

According to some insiders in the bunch, Julian Alaphilippe could be the only rider strong enough to take on Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel during this year’s spring classics.

The peloton will see its first glimpse this weekend as the trio crosses paths for the first time in 2021 on the white roads of Saturday’s Strade Bianche.

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“It’s clear they are the favorites,” Alaphilippe said Thursday. “You have seen the shape of van der Poel the last couple of days. It’s a beautiful race that suits perfectly for van der Poel. And you saw last year, van Aert was very strong, and even if it’s the first race, he can win. For my side, I am happy to take the start with a big motivation. We have a strong team, and we have to be smart.

“In the end, the race is really hard,” he said. “The legs talk.”

Alaphilippe was quick to add that it’s not just a race against the two up-and-coming classics stars. The peloton is packed with riders who’ve already revealed early glimpses of top form, and several teams are bringing top squads to open a month of racing in Italy, with Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo later this month.

“We have a good start list for this edition of Strade Bianche. There are a lot of big names, and it will be some good riders who can win the race,” he said. “For sure, Wout and Mathieu are the big favorites.”

How important is Strade Bianche? Alaphilippe recounted his dramatic victory in 2019, and said the race ranks right up there with cycling’s legendary monuments.

“It is not a monument, but it deserves to be one,” Alaphilippe said. “It is right up there with the monuments. For me, it is one of the most beautiful races on the calendar. I was watching it on TV before I raced it. I was so happy to win it when I did after such a hard race.”

Last fall, Alaphilippe barnstormed to France’s first rainbow jersey since 1997. It appeared he had won in his first race in the world champion’s jersey at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, only to be pipped at the line and then later relegated.

He quickly won his next race — Brabantse Pijl in — and then crashed out of Tour of Flanders after riding into the winning break with van der Poel and van Aert.

Van Aert leads while Alaphilippe flips in midair behind him
Alaphilippe was in a three-man break with van Aert and van der Poel, until he crashed out at the 2020 Tour of Flanders. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images.

Alaphilippe was asked about the pressure that comes with the weight of the rainbow jersey. He said if anything it’s propels him to race even more aggressively.

“I always race with an attacking style, with an offensive tactic,” he said. “The fact that I have the rainbow jersey doesn’t change me at all. I try to race in the same manner in the way I won the world champion’s jersey. Having this jersey on my back gives me great pleasure.

“I want to win as soon as possible, the form is there,” he continued. “I want to get the first win in the rainbow this season. I won last year but I am feeling good right now and I think I will be feeling better and better.”

Even a forecast of rain isn’t going to change his approach to the first major race of the 2021 season.

“I never did Strade Bianche in the rain. I hear if [there’s] rain, it won’t be so cold,” he said. “It won’t be a problem, and I am also looking forward to this Strade Bianche even in this weather.”

Rain or show, Alaphilippe always delivers a good show.