Reigning World Champion Julian Alaphilippe has proved himself as one of the all-time greats by defending the rainbow jersey in the cycling heartland of Flanders.
Raced over the most arduous and thrilling World Championship course in years, and in front of hundreds of thousands of screaming fans, the atmosphere was absolutely electric.
Alaphilippe’s win was well against the odds with Belgian, Dutch, British, Italian and Australian ‘super teams’ and race favourites
He is now the first Frenchman to win back-to-back World titles, and will no doubt do all he can to defend the rainbow jersey and win a third in Wollongong in 2022.
“I have no words, I am just so happy! I worked hard for this and had good legs, but I didn’t dare to dream about retaining my title,” said the 29yo.
“It’s insane, that’s all that I can say. An amazing victory which wouldn’t have been possible without my incredible team, who protected me all day long and guided me excellently in the final part of the race.”
Alaphilippe and his French teammates rode the 268.3km race from Antwerp to Leuven, incredibly tactfully, the team going on the attack with more than 180 kilometers to go.
A strong hint of what was to come occurred with 58km from the finish, with Alaphilippe put the hammer down on the Bekestraat climb.
Several riders managed to come across, forming a strong 17-man group which also featured Andrea Bagioli, Evenepoel, Florian Sénéchal and Zdenek Stybar. They quickly put two minutes between them and the large chasing group, in part thanks to Remco, who dug deep at the front.
After the young Belgian peeled off the front, France took over the reins and brought Alaphilippe in position. Two kilometers later, the reigning champion went again, but the result was the same.
At 17km to go Alaphilippe unleashed again, this time on the Sint-Antoniusberg climb, and gained a ten-second gap into the last lap.
Four riders tried to counter and formed a strong chasing group, but the Frenchman defended and went into the final ten kilometers some twenty seconds ahead.
Shaking his head in disbelief as he passed the 1km to go, he knew he had the race in the bag.
“The plan was to counter in the final kilometers, but I sensed an opportunity and rode on instinct. As soon as a gap was there, I rode my heart out to remain at the front. The Belgian supporters told me to slow down, but that only motivated me to go harder.”
“I left everything on the road, and while I was doing that, I kept thinking of my son, Nino. Winning the Worlds again is incredible”, said Julian after one of the most impressive victories of his career and one of the most memorable World Championship races in memory.
Dutchman Dylan Van Baarle finished second, with Dane Michael Valgren third.
Michael Matthews was the best-placed Australian, the Canberran finishing 25th – just ahead of his nemesis and three-time World Champion Peter Sagan.