Julian Alaphilippe described himself as "super-happy" after claiming his maiden win of the season on stage two of the Tour of the Basque Country.
It looked as if the breakaway rider Ibon Ruiz (Equipo Kern Pharma) was going to take a memorable victory after being out front all day alongside three others, but the peloton caught the Spaniard inside the final 500m, paving the way for Alaphilippe to win after a "perfect" leadout from Remco Evenepoel.
It was the world champion's first victory of a 2022 campaign that was interrupted recently after getting sick in the aftermath of Tirreno-Adriatico, the Frenchman happy to raise his hands in the air for the first time since he defended his rainbow jersey last September.
"I am super-happy because it's my first victory of the season," he said afterwards. "I really wanted to be here this week: it's a nice, really hard race.
"We have Remco here for GC and I am here to try and win a stage, so I am happy to win today."
The following four stages all represent further opportunities for Alaphilippe given the punchy parcours, but he revealed that he was also here in preparation for the Ardennes Classics; he is a three-time winner of La Flèche Wallonne and has twice finished second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"I feel super-happy and feel good physically," he aded. "I have a lot of motivation after being sick after Tirreno.
"For sure I haven't had the best preparation before the Ardennes Classics, but I am happy to be here and it's super cool to win the stage today."
His teammate Evenepoel sits five seconds adrift of defending champion Primož Roglič after the stage one time trial, and Alaphilippe warned that the young Belgian faces a big challenge to better the Slovenian.
"Of course I hope Remco can take the GC," he added. "But the level is pretty high and when you see the performance of Primož yesterday... we will work hard every day."
Thank you for reading 10 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.
20 year-old sprints to clean sweep at British Track Champs
Emma Finucane wins two titles on the closing day of the championships
By Vern Pitt • Published
Marius Mayrhofer pulls off surprise win at Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race
DSM rider breaks down with emotion after he crosses the finish line
By Stephen Puddicombe • Published