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"No, no, no," says Julian Alaphilippe when the world champion is asked if he was surprised by Tadej Pogačar's sprint at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"I think it was smart to stay behind, it was a perfect moment to launch the sprint for him.
"He came with more speed, more power. It's a really beautiful victory for him, congrats, and I'm happy to be on the podium."
Proof that you can be a top competitor and a nice guy, the current world champion stretching that supposed paradox to its limit given that this is the second time he's been pipped on the line by a Slovenian at the oldest Monument. This time, at least, Alaphilippe didn't celebrate an eon before the finish line.
"Yes for sure I'd prefer to win but I think I can be happy," the Frenchman continued. "It was a really hard race, my team did a great job, I was focused on doing a good sprint but in the end Tadej was stronger so he deserves the victory, and it's nice to be on the podium... [but] second place," he laughs, perhaps already reminiscing as to what could have been.
"It hasn't really sunk in, it's too early to say, I came with the ambition to win, I wanted the best result possible...I tried to handle it as best possible and it was really hard up the final climb. Everybody worked together really well up until the last kilometre when it slowed down. Tadej played it really smartly, coming from behind. I have no regrets."
Liège was one of Alaphilippe's main goals of the year, the one he really wants, but he'll have ample opportunity in the years to come. For now, he can relax after a profitable spring campaign, before re-focusing for the summer's French Grand Tour, where the rainbow bands will surely only spur on his usual exploits.
"I don't know if [Liège] will be the main goal next year but it was a big goal for me this year," Alaphilippe said. "I think I did well to be on the podium behind the winner of the Tour de France, it's not so bad."
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