Julian Alaphilippe retains men's road race world title in superb style

Frenchman Alaphilippe finally made an attack stick on the fifth attempt to take the 2021 crown ahead of Dutchman Dylan van Baarle and Denmark's Michael Valgren.

By Rory Jiwani
Picture by NVE

Julian Alaphilippe was at his scintillating best as he retained the men's road race world title at the UCI World Road Championships on Sunday (26 September).

The Frenchman attacked regularly inside the last 60km of the race in Belgium, with his fifth attempt to break the field, with 15km to go, proving successful.

After 268.3km in the Flanders region and nearly six hours of road cycling, taking in seven laps of a circuit in Leuven, Alaphilippe crossed the line 33 seconds ahead of Dutchman Dylan van Baarle and Denmark's Michael Valgren.

Alaphilippe is just the seventh man to retain the road race rainbow jersey with Peter Sagan - who won a hat-trick of titles from 2015 to 2017 - the last.

"I didn't honestly think this would happen. I didn't think it was possible. I'm so happy." - JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

Thrilling race in Flanders

An early eight-man breakaway was soon neutralised with Mads Pedersen and Matteo Trentin, who took gold and silver two years ago, both involved in a crash at the back of the peloton.

With 90km to go, Garcia Cortina attacked with most of the big names joining him in what would become the lead group.

Pedersen abandoned the race and, with just under 60km to go, Alaphilippe broke for the first time on the last set of steep climbs before the final two and a half laps of the Leuven circuit.

That helped splinter the field and then, with 50km left, he attacked again with Sonny Colbrelli taking his wheel.

The pair were quickly reeled in by a star-studded chasing pack including Olympic mountain bike champion Tom Pidcock, Mathieu van der Poel and Belgium's time trial medallists Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel, but Sagan was unable to stay in touch.

France, Belgium, and Italy all had three men in the front group, but Evenepoel, who had been at the sharp end for much of the race, dropped away 26km from the finish.

With just over 21km to go, Valentin Madouas attacked with team-mate Alaphilippe sticking to his wheel before pedalling clear himself.

Van Aert, Pidcock, and Colbrelli formed a chase group and they caught the Frenchman, but Alaphilippe then tried to stretch the field again and was visibly annoyed that no one wanted to help by taking a turn on the front.

It wasn't long before the reigning champion attacked once more, and this time he managed to establish a significant gap on his rivals.

Four men - home rider Jasper Stuyven, van Baarle, Valgren and Neilson Powless of the United States - tried to bridge the gap, but Alaphilippe was not for catching.

Powless was unable to land a blow in the sprint for silver with van Baarle just taking it on the line from Valgren and Stuyven, much to the home crowd's disappointment.

Pidcock crossed the line in sixth place clear of Czech Zdenek Stybar and van der Poel.

Speaking in his post-race interview, Alaphilippe said, "I had a lot of motivation, but I didn't have any pressure really. I just wanted to have the best result possible.

"I said to (team-mate) Florian (Senechal), 'Keep your energy, I'll do my best in front, and I'll create moves.' And I couldn't imagine doing a whole lap alone this morning.

When asked about his final decisive attack, he said, "It was horrible. It was so hard. I thought about my son. I just wanted to give everything for him.

"A lot of the Belgian fans asked me to slow down and they weren't very nice to me. That gave me extra motivation."

This was France's first gold of Flanders 2021 with Romain Gregoire, who took silver in the men's junior road race, their only other medallist.