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."
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