While we’ve been largely focussed on the nearly there-ness of George Bennett in his pursuit of the yellow jersey, Julian Alaphilippe is sitting pretty at the top of the general classification with a 1.12min lead over Geraint Thomas and 1.16mins over Egan Bernal. He is the new (well not quite new) darling of France, but could he go all the way to Paris in the maillot jaune?
1985. Every year since 1985 we’ve been reminded that France is waiting its next Tour champion. It was going to be Laurent Fignon. It was going to be Richard Virenque. It was going to be Christophe Moreau, Thomas Voeckler, Thibaut Pinot, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Romain Bardet. Still France waits. But now Julian Alaphilippe is here and of all the potential Tour de France French champions could it be that we’ve finally found the most complete French Tour candidate?
He’s been sensational this season with 11 wins to his name, and not just any ordinary 11 wins either. Fleche Wallonne, Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo have all gone his way along with stages at some of the biggest weeklong races on the calendar in Tirreno-Adriatico, Itzulia Basque Country and Critérium du Dauphiné. As we near the individual time trial of the Tour his name seems to be entering the periphery of our minds as a rider maybe we should’ve considered but didn’t in the GC candidate equation.
Alaphilippe has something that neither Thomas Voeckler a few years back, nor Pinot or Bardet now, possess. Alaphilippe is as close to the complete package of a rider that we’ve ever seen.
What sets Alaphilippe apart from the other big GC contenders – Bardet, Pinot and to a lesser extent Warren Barguil – is that Alaphilippe has this insatiable killer instinct that enables him to finish off whoever he comes up against. You can’t get to a bunch sprint, see Alaphilippe in the first 15 riders and rule him out. In a head-to-head fight for the finish line he would fancy his chances against almost anyone. Riders this season – just ask Jakob Fuglsang – have had to treat the Frenchman with wiliest cunning combined with the utmost respect when it’s come to facing off against him; to even stand a chance at getting the better of the man who is just 27 years old.
But . . . are we just getting ahead of ourselves? Are we just jumping on the bandwagon of over excitement that is somewhat reminiscent of the Voeckler era? Well, maybe, but Alaphilippe has something that neither Voeckler then, nor Pinot or Bardet now, possess. Alaphilippe is as close to the complete package of a rider that we’ve ever seen. He can climb, as was shown by his KOM win at the Tour de France last year along with his two stage wins. He can rival Nibali on a descent, and you’d be foolish to rule Alaphilippe out in a bunch sprint against anyone up to and including fast finishers of the calibre of Van Avermaet or Matthews. I think, therefore, that the jersey is safe through stage 12 in the Deceuninck-Quick Step camp.
Then we come to the stage 13 individual time trial. 27.2km in length, mostly flat but for a couple of short early rises and a ramp up to the finish. And Alaphilippe can time trial. This is one of the big things that set him apart from the rest of the French hopefuls. He can TT very well. He’s not a Froome, Dumoulin or Martin, but at the Critérium du Dauphiné he more than held his own against the likes of Kruiswijk, Yates, Fuglsang, Porte, Pinot, Quintana et al. At Itzulia Basque Country he beat Geraint Thomas and his Deceuninck-Quick Step teammate Enric Mas and finished fourth.
I think Alaphilippe will defend, and possibly even extend through stage 13. Which then leads up to the Tourmalet. How the young Frenchman navigates one of cycling’s mythical climbs will be the major test to confirm whether we are just going too far into the realm of fantasy or not. There will be nowhere to hide on that short power-packed stage and its final 19km climb with 7.4% gradient. If Alaphilippe can take on the established names get ready for him to hold on to yellow long into the third week . . . . and then . . . . .