World champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) will return to aim for victory in the Tour of Flanders in the spring, before lining up for the Tour de France and the Olympic Games road race later in the summer.
The Frenchman memorably crashed out of Flanders on his debut in the reorganised 2020 edition, having made it into the leading trio with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). Alaphilippe suffered a broken hand after crashing into a stationary motorbike with 35km to go and was forced to abandon.
It was a sour end to what had been another stellar season for Alaphilippe, winning a stage at the Tour de France with a stint in the yellow jersey before taking his first world road race title at the World Championships in Imola, Italy.
The 28-year-old says he is now more motivated than ever to head to Flanders in search of victory, and says his hand injury suffered in October is not completely healed but not far from being back to normal. His early-season run will start with an Omloop Het Nieuwsblad debut before concluding with Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April.
“My hand is better than at the last training camp in December, but it has not yet fully healed,” Alaphilippe said at the Deceuninck-Quick-Step training camp in Spain. “I still can’t sprint yet. It goes step by step, day by day. I still need some time, which is normal with such an injury. I hope everything is okay before we start hitting the cobblestones.”
“Bad memories [of Flanders], no. Only with the crash, but otherwise it was a good memory because it was a great atmosphere in the team. It was my first time and I was happy with the race we did as a team. I’ll be even more motivated to return for sure. The team really loves the Classics, so it was a good atmosphere. I’m looking forward to going back.”
Alaphilippe remained coy on his return to the Tour de France, where he insists a hunt for stages remains the goal over a general classification tilt. He put in a surprising performance to come close to overall victory at the 2019 Tour, holding yellow for much of the race before finally succumbing in the Alps in the third week and dropping to fifth overall, but has since played down any ambitions for GC victory.
“I know I won’t ride the Tour de France for the general classification, but we never know,” Alaphilippe said. “In 2019 it was a good surprise for me, but my first goal is to perform well in the first part of the season. [The route] looks good. I don’t know about the stages. For me the Tour comes later after the first part of the season, but I just saw that there are some really nice stages which really suit me well, so I’ll be really motivated. For the rest, we’ll see.”
With the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing, it is unclear whether riders will be able to complete the Tour de France, which finishes on July 18, and head straight to Tokyo for the Olympic road race just six days later on July 24. Alaphilippe was clear that the Olympics is high on his priorities, but didn’t indicate which he would pick if he had to choose between the Tour and the Games.
From there, the focus will be on a potential defence of his world title, with a tough road race course in Belgium potentially suited to Alaphilippe’s multifaceted abilities.
“The World Championship race in Belgium will be fantastic. We hope by then to be back to normal and that there will be the public on the side of the road,” he said.
“I’ll think about the defence of the title later, first there are many other goals to stay focused on and, given that a year goes by quickly, first of all I want to enjoy this jersey.
“Compared to a year ago I no longer feel pressure, I am motivated as always. Tokyo 2020 is clearly a goal that I have set myself. We will see if we will be forced to choose between the Tour and the Olympics”