Julian Alaphilippe wins, loses, crashes out | An Autumn classics recap

The Giro d’Italia is still limping on. (Although it’s Covid-19 testing again today, so that sentence might not see out the afternoon.) Let’s take a break from Grand Tours this week though and instead turn our attention to the one-day racing that’s been taking place in recent weeks.

This October batch of classics kicked off in, um, September, with the World Championships.

Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen – who’d just won the Giro d’Italia for the third time – won both the road race and the time trial. The latter was somewhat by default though because 2019 world time trial champion Chloe Dygert had been way ahead according to the time splits only to suffer a tyre blow-out on a bend which ultimately resulted in a really rather gory leg injury.

Italian Filippo Ganna of Team Ineos won the men’s time trial. The 24-year-old is already a four-time world champion and world record holder in the individual pursuit on the track. He’s since been riding the Giro d’Italia, where he’s so far won two time trials and a road stage.

The men’s road road race was rather satisfyingly won by Julian Alaphilippe.

There are good world champions and there are okay world champions.

The world championships should reward the very best one-day racers; the kinds of exceptional riders who sometimes end up a little overlooked due to the sport’s monomania for the Tour de France.

Philippe Gilbert was a good world champion. Alejandro Valverde was a good world champion. Peter Sagan was a brilliant (three-time) world champion.

2019 world champion Mads Pedersen was not a good world champion. He hasn’t yet won much else of note, so his victory currently feels more like an aberration than an appropriate reward (although he did win Gent-Wevelgem the other day – a race almost big enough to warrant coverage in this article).

Julian Alaphilippe, in contrast, is a very good world champion. Compulsive attackers with his history of results deserve to be champion of the world.

The Frenchman attacked right near the top of the final climb. It was utterly predictable and utterly unstoppable. It was typical.

La Fleche Wallonne

La Fleche Wallonne was La Fleche Wallonne, which is to say it was a five-minute race up the Mur de Huy after an extraordinarily long preamble.

With two world championships and the Giro under her belt, Anna van der Breggen was clearly in form and being as she’d won the five previous editions of the race, it wasn’t a huuuuge surprise that she won again.

Marc Hirschi, the winner of Stage 12 of the Tour de France – but better remembered for his hairy descent on Stage 9 – was the quickest of the men.

Just to repeat what I said during the Tour: Marc Hirschi will be a major character next season.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege

The story of Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a preposterously easy one to tell.

It can be done in two photos.

(1) New world champion Julian Alaphilippe celebrates a few metres from the line

(2) The line

So it was that Primoz Roglic – who was himself denied at the 11th hour at this year’s Tour de France – managed an even greater heist to secure his first Monument.

“A little tension can’t hurt, right?” said an unrepentant Alaphilippe after getting away with the exact same blunder at Brabantse Pijl later in the week. “That way people don’t get bored.”

As I say, he’ll be a very good world champion.

Tour of Flanders

With Paris-Roubaix cancelled for viral reasons, the Tour of Flanders became the big cobbled classic of the year and also the final major one-day race of the season.

Apparently aware that he was the main protagonist in this batch of racing, Julian Alaphilippe decided to enter Flanders for the first time in his career. Alaphilippe being Alaphilippe, he duly shaped the race.

First of all, he diced the peloton with 45km to go, accelerating up the double digit gradient cobbles of the Koppenberg and ushering in a panicked sense of ‘every man for himself’ in the riders behind.

The Tour of Flanders is a very matter-of-fact race and the small group that formed behind him comprised the only riders who had ever really been in with a chance of winning.

Underlining this, the Frenchman was soon joined by Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, two titans of cyclo-cross who were everyone’s top two favourites for this particular race.

The two of them seem to have been winning as many races as they’ve been losing since moving to the road. That kind of win-loss ratio isn’t much to write home about in many sports, but in cycling where you’re up against 200 rivals, it’s really quite something.

But it’s not just your rivals who you’re up against in road racing. 10km after all but guaranteeing himself a podium spot, the world champion rode into the back of a race motorbike and broke a couple of fingers.

It seems that the bike had been slowing to get behind the three leaders but Wout van Aert decided to slipstream behind it for a picosecond all the same.

Alaphilippe had been third in the line and went from concentrating on the wheel directly in front of him to taking a hand off the bars to speak into his radio. When van Aert and van der Poel veered away at the last moment, he suddenly found himself off balance and a metre away from the bike and next thing he knew, his season was over.

Van Aert and van der Poel rode to the finish together, neither noticeably stronger than the other. Then they did much the same sort of sprint at the end.

Mathieu van der Poel won this time, but we’re probably going to get another chapter in this particular rivalry pretty much every Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix for the next few years.

What’s next?

I’ll bring you a recap of the second half of the Giro d’Italia next week. That much I’m sure of. Rather more problematically, the Vuelta a Espana starts tomorrow, so there’s an overlap.

I may do a recap of the first two weeks of that race and then another of the final week or I may just do one for the race as a whole. I’ll have to see how life and the race pan out.

It’s ridiculously late in the season and there is obviously the eternal looming threat of ‘circumstances’, but the Vuelta promises to be a fun race. Riders due to start include Primoz Roglic, Tom Dumoulin, Richard Carapaz and Thibaut Pinot.

Oh and also that lad Chris Froome. Remember him?

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