While Mads Pedersen became a well-liked custodian of the rainbow bands after his shock victory at Yorkshire 2019, Julian Alaphilippe is a rider who looks like the rainbow jersey was made especially for him.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who begrudges him the victory either, the Frenchman unable to wear his heart anywhere but his sleeve, attacking with his trademark guile to leave rivals huffing his exhaust fumes all the way to the finish line on the Imola race track.
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“For the moment it’s really hard to say something, I just want to say thank you to all my team-mates who really believed in me today,” Alaphilippe said after the finish line, the French team having shepherded him through a gruelling 250km circuit in Italy.
As the realisation of his achievement dawned on the Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider on the approach to the finish, the emotion came pouring out. His teeth usually bared in a snarl when attacking a bike race now became visible as his lip trembled and he looked up towards the sky.
His father Jacques passed away three months ago, the son already dedicated his stage two Tour de France victory to his dad at the end of August as he pulled on the yellow jersey.
At the French Grand Tour Alaphilippe had seemed weary, weighed down by the expectation of a nation and having been cooped up indoors during lockdown, a task not dissimilar to keeping a class of primary school children orderly during wet play on an overcast day.
Whatever the reason, Alaphilippe was not the same rider of 12 months ago. Despite the race lead leaving the Frenchman prematurely after an irregular feed saw him docked seconds, he had not looked himself, trying to force proceedings at his home Grand Tour to little avail, much to everyone’s surprise.
His exploits so far in his career mean he will never be underestimated whichever start line he turns up at, but much of the pre-race chatter circled around Wout van Aert. But when he hit out with 17km to go on the final climb, the Alaphilippe of old was back and there was little doubt he would cross the finish line first.
“It was a dream of my career, you know,” Alaphilippe continued. “Already some times I was so close and finally…I’ve never even been on the podium.”
8th in Austria in 2018 and 10th in Norway in 2017, Alaphilippe rarely has to wait to take what he wants in bike racing, but finally, the world champion’s jersey is his.
“I came here with a lot of ambition and I just…it’s just a dream day for me.”
On the podium, Alaphilippe sobbed as the French national anthem blared out. LouLou-mania is only just beginning.