Julian Alaphilippe was elected The team‘Champion of Champions’ for the third consecutive year after having preserved his rainbow jersey in spectacular fashion at the World Championships in Leuven.
To mark the prize, the QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl rider participated ina joint interview for the newspaper with Bernard Hinault, and the discussion inevitably turned to the Tour de France, where Alaphilippe placed 5th overall in 2019 after wearing the yellow jersey for two weeks.
Alaphilippe wore yellow and won stages at the opening of the last two Tours, but he hesitated to engage in a concerted incline in the general classification despite his remarkable performance in 2019.
Hinault suggested that Alaphilippe should be sure of his form before aiming for the Tour as it would be a “big risk”, and the world champion agreed with that assessment.
“It’s a perfect summary. And the problem is, you can never be sure of your shot, ”said Alaphilippe. “Why risk suspending a season for just one goal? All I have to do is get sick or fall after two days of racing, and it’s all gone. You cannot plan anything on the Tour.
Alaphilippe also acknowledged that the lay of the land has changed since his remarkable and unexpected adventure on the 2019 Tour due to the arrival of Tadej Pogačar and a new generation of talent.
“If it has to happen, it will. I am still motivated to do the Tour de France but I am almost 30 years old. Now there are 22 year old riders who are on the podium in their first three week races, riders like Pogacar who are winning everywhere, all the time, ”said Alaphilippe.
“I don’t compare myself to them. I try to build the best possible career within my means. People forget how difficult it is to win even one stage of a Grand Tour. The general level is extremely high. Half the peloton spends the season at altitude. At the start of each race, it’s war. I just stay focused on what I do best, and I want to keep the notion of fun intact, because it’s only sport. You always want to do better and that’s normal, but there is also life.
Hinault, the last Frenchman to win the Tour in 1985, was not always generous in his appreciation of the generations that followed him, but he had words of encouragement for Alaphilippe and his aggressive racing style.
“Of course we are similar. In the modern peloton, you are one of those rare runners who have momentum, who don’t think twice and who rush at the slightest opening, ”Hinault told Alaphilippe. “You, Mathieu [van der Poel], Remco [Evenepoel], you make such a change. For a long time, the big teams reigned and the rest were not allowed to move. You’ve decided to change that and it’s great to see.
Alaphilippe has yet to present his full racing program for 2022, but he has already confirmed that he will skip the cobbled classics in order to focus on the Ardennes. The Tour will be on his program again, as will the World Championships, even if he was still hesitant to think of a third consecutive title.
“At the team training camp, all the guys were already telling me: ‘Have you seen the Worlds route, there will be a climb on the final circuit!’ I told them, ‘Two seconds! I haven’t even digested the last title yet … ‘There will be other races to be won by then,’ said Alaphilippe, who also noted that suffering was part of the game.
“There is a very big mental part, it’s undeniable. You have to love to suffer to win races and you have to be able to dig deep into the pain to do great things. You have to be a masochist to ride a bike, it’s such a difficult sport. The guy who tells you he doesn’t like pain, he’s not going to have a great career. All of this can be worked on in training, but there is a huge psychological dimension that comes into play to go even further, to go beyond your own limits. Everyone trains hard these days, all the teams are at the top of their game. It’s the head that makes the difference.