With his neatly trimmed goatee and dashing brilliance on the bike, Julian Alaphilippe is France's new musketeer, stealing hearts and putting his rivals to the sword, writes Pete Cossin
French former riders Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler’s long-time team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau once said that if he could marry the natural talent of the former with the ferocious determination and tactical nous of the latter, he would have a world-beater.
In essence, he would have created Julian Alaphilippe, cycling’s number one rider, who cemented his unquestioned position as the darling of French fans during the Tour de France’s opening week with a show of flair that both underlined his qualities as one of the sport’s greatest entertainers and once again suggested that the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider is perhaps the long-awaited successor to Bernard Hinault as the race’s champion.
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Watching the irrepressible Alaphilippe in full flow, eyes flashing, feet dancing, tongue lolling as he squeezes every last physical resource out of his body, the comparison with Voeckler, whose two long stints in the yellow jersey anointed him as France’s chouchou for a decade, is obvious.
However, it is the differences between the pair that make Alaphilippe remarkable. He is more talented in almost every aspect of racing. What’s more, while Voeckler’s showiness often appeared forced and even an act, his 27-year-old compatriot is, insist those who know him well, completely authentic in his emotions.
Seeing him break down when he was attempting to describe the feeling of having the maillot jaune on his shoulders for the first time behind the podium in Epernay was one of the race’s most defining moments, and one that captured better than anything the grail-like status of the 100-year-old jersey.
Alaphilippe’s route to cycling’s summit mirrors that of the former legends of the road whose style he has reawakened. His father, Jacques, was a musician whose band played at bals, dances in small towns in central France. When that work started to dry up, he turned organising loto (bingo) nights to make ends meet.
Born in Saint-Amand-Montrond, a small town whose main claim to fame is that it sits in the very centre of France, Alaphilippe spent his first six years living in a three-story apartment block that overlooked the town’s velodrome, where his cousin Franck ran a training centre. The eldest of three brothers — middle brother Bryan races for a French second-division team — Alaphilippe trained as a motor and bike mechanic, racing at weekends for the US Saint Florent club and honing his skills after work on a cyclo-cross circuit close to home.
Read the full feature in the July 18 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, price £3.25