Julian Alaphilippe solos to heroic defence in men's 2021 World Championships road race

The French icon launched a trio of blistering attacks in the final 20km to crack his rivals

Julian Alaphilippe wins the 2021 Road World Championships
Julian Alaphilippe wins the 2021 Road World Championships
(Image credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Julian Alaphilippe put in superhuman ride on the roads of Flanders to defend his World Championships road race title.

The Frenchman put in three unmatchable attacks in the closing 20km of the elite men's road race on Sunday (September 26) after a brutal 200km of racing, riding Alaphilippe solo to take his second consecutive world title.

While the other pre-race favourites, including Wout van Aert (Belgium) and Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) neutralised each other in the closing kilometres, Alaphilippe was able to extend his advantage in the final 10km to take another unforgettable victory.

The battle for the podium places came down to a four-rider sprint, with Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands) taking second, Michael Valgren (Denmark) in third, while Jasper Stuyven (Belgium) missed out in his home city, finishing four. 

Tom Pidcock was the best finisher for great Britain, breaking free in his group on the final climb to finish sixth. 

How it happened

The men’s road race at the Flanders 2021 World Championships was fought over a brutal 268km, starting from the city of Antwerp, before looping around the region and finishing in nearby Leuven. 

Men's road race profile

Men's road race profile

(Image credit: UCI)

After the opening 56km from Antwerp to Leuven, riders then faced loops of two different circuits - the shorter Leuven circuit around the city and the longer Flandrien circuit that wound out into the famous hills of Flanders, with more than 40 climbs on the way to the rainbow jersey. 

The race was decided after a final two and a half laps of the city circuit, with the Keizersberg, Decouxlaan, Wijnpers, and the Sint-Antoniusberg the final four climbs of the day before the punchy uphill run to the line. 

Early in the race, a group of five riders from the smaller nations were able to attack and get an immediate gap, with Colombia, Ecuador, Russia, Estonia and Sweden all represented with one rider each, before Ireland’s Rory Towsend joined representatives from Austria and Mongolia to make it eight riders out front. 

After a crash-marred opening 50km, the break held their advantage at around four minutes, before the race exploded into life still with 180km to race.

Benoît Cosnefroy of France was the rider who launched the attack from the bunch, with Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) immediately following, while Magnus Cort (Denmark) also followed suit. 

Evenepoel’s presence in the group caused some panic, as Italy were forced to chase back in the bunch. 

A flurry of attacks from the bunch resulted in the Evenepoel group swelling to around 15 riders, including Primož Roglič (Slovenia), Evenepoel’s team-mate Tim Declerq and Kasper Asgreen of Denmark. 

The day’s early breakaway still had 1-30 over the bunch with 150km to race, while Evenepoel’s group was around 35 seconds in front of the peloton, as Declerq acted as a calming presence for the young Belgian star, who was putting in big turns on the front of the group.
But with 130km still to race the Evenepoel group was swept up by the bunch again and just a few kilometres later the early break was also pulled back, the race together again. The race burst into life again inside the final 100km, as Ivan García from Spain attacked and Evenepoel followed yet again, with nine riders getting a gap on the bunch, pulling the advantage out to 30 seconds over the next 10km. 

Having missed the move, the British team were forced to put in huge effort to chase and with 70km to go the new break had almost a minute on the bunch. 

With 50km to the line, reigning champion Alaphilippe set a blistering pace on the Bekestraat climb, tearing the race to pieces, with only a handful able to follow.  

Alaphilippe’s move helped an elite group of favourites, including Wout van Aert, Pidcock, Stybar, and Mathieu van der Poel, bridge across to the Evenepoel group.

As the Evenepoel and Alaphilippe groups merged, there were 17 riders in the leading group, including the key favourites Van Aert and Van der Poel, and it increasingly looked like the winner would come from that selection.  

After leading that group for a huge stint, Evenepoel finally cracked after one of the most impressive support rides in memory at the Worlds, leaving Van Aert and Stuyven the two representatives for the home nation in the front group. 

With 20km still to race, Alaphilippe launched a huge effort to distance his rivals, only to be caught a kilometre later as the group came back together. 

Alaphilippe attacked again shortly after but was followed, then finally launching a third enormous kick Alaphilippe finally broke free on the Sint-Antoniusberg, getting a 10 second advantage. 

Stuyven, Powless, Van Baarle and Valgren were the only riders able to follow, as they held superstar Alaphilippe to a slim 20 second advantage.

Meanwhile the Van Aert and Pidcock group started to slip back and inside the final 10km they were out of contention, as Alaphilippe was now 50 seconds ahead.

But the Powless-Stuyven group were still in the fight for the rainbow bands, as they were just 20 seconds in arrears with 7km from the finish. 

Alaphilippe however was untouchable and only extended his lead on the final lap, allowing him to celebrate on the crowd-packed final rise to the line, as the magnitude of his second world title settled in. 

In the group behind, it was Van Baarle who won the sprint for second, Valgren in third, while the on-paper fastest sprinter Stuyven missed out on the medals in the city of his birth, making him the best-placed finisher from the host nation 

Road World Championships 2021, men's road race: Antwerp to Leuven (268.3km)

1. Julian Alaphilippe (France), in 5-56-34
2. Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands), at 32s
3. Michael Valgren (Denmark)
4. Jasper Stuyven (Belgium)
5. Neilson Powless (USA), all at same time
6. Tom Pidcock (Great Britain), at 49s
7. Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic), at 1-06
8. Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands), at 1-18
9. Florian Sénéchal (France)
10. Sonny Colbrelli (Italy), all at same time 

Alex Ballinger
Alex Ballinger

Alex is the digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter and now as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output.

Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) and joining CW in 2018, Alex has covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers. 

Away from journalism, Alex is a national level time triallist, avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.