Today at the Tour: Alaphilippe’s emotional day in the Alps

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He plays the drums. He was a junior cyclocross star. He can pop a mean wheelie.

And now, Julian Alaphilippe is a Tour de France stage winner.

On Stage 10 from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand, the 26-year-old Frenchman took his first Tour stage win by riding into the daylong breakaway and then catching lone leader Rein Taaramäe (Direct Energie) two kilometers from the top of the Col de Romme, the penultimate climb on an Alpine stage with five categorized climbs. After taking maximum KOM points, the Quick-Step Floors rider opened up his gap on the descent of the Col de Romme and then held it over the day’s final climb and descent of the Col de la Colombière.

Crossing the line, Alaphilippe collapsed into the arms of team staff, tears streaming down his face. It was the first stage win for a French rider at this 2018 Tour, and it came with the polka-dot jersey as a prize.

Julian Alaphilippe was one of France’s biggest stars in the sport even before he took his first Tour stage win.

Alaphilippe’s stage win was approximately the 150th victory for Quick-Step Floors in 2018, give or take 100. It also served as confirmation of the Frenchman’s impressive diversity. He can win uphill sprints, as he did at Flèche Wallonne in April. He can win weeklong stage races, as he did at the 2016 Amgen Tour of California. And he can win mountain stages at Grand Tours on the strength of his descending skill, or, as he did at the Vuelta a España last year, with a very quick sprint from a small group.

In his Tour de France debut in 2016, Alaphilippe finished second to Peter Sagan on Stage 2 at Cherbourg, and fourth on Stage 20 in Morzine. He’d finished in the top five on three stages heading into Stage 10. At Le Grand-Bornand he got it right, and in a big way, finishing with a gap of over 1:30 to second-place finisher Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida).

“It’s a lot of emotion, because it’s not easy to win a Tour de France stage,” Alaphilippe said. “In my first participation two years ago, I came close, but I missed out. To win this way goes beyond my expectation. I’m lost for words. Since last night, I was determined to break away today. But I didn’t think I’d be able to ride like this in the finale.”

At a Tour where one of France’s greatest riders of the past 20 years is saying goodbye, Alaphilippe’s victory was welcomed by the French public. Charismatic and accessible, polite and modest, he’s on a short list of France’s biggest stars of the sport, alongside Romain Bardet, Warren Barguil, Thibaut Pinot, and Arnaud Démare. And while Bardet is chasing the podium in Paris, and Barguil and Démare are chasing stage wins, Alaphilippe now has both a stage win and the KOM jersey.

Unlike those riders, Alaphilippe has spent his entire professional career on a Belgian team, rather than a French team. His path to the WorldTour began with cyclocross, and the bike-handling skills he developed are evident. He took a silver medal at the 2010 junior cyclocross worlds and won World Cup races in the junior and U23 categories, earning a spot on the French Army amateur squad, L’Armée de Terre, before riding with Etixx-iHNed, Quick-Step’s feeder team, in 2013. He joined the Belgian WorldTour team the next year, at age 21.

The one thing missing from Alaphilippe’s palmares is a Monument, though he’s been very close. In 2015 he finished second to Alejandro Valverde at his Liege-Bastogne-Liege debut, when he was just 22. (He also came close to an Olympic medal in 2016, finishing fourth in the road race after crashing on the final descent.) Last year, he finished third to Michal Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan at Milan-San Remo, and second to Vincenzo Nibali at Il Lombardia, five weeks after taking his first Grand Tour stage win, at the Vuelta. It was a strong comeback after a knee injury at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco led to surgery, forcing him to skip the 2017 Tour de France.

Julian Alaphilippe, winner of the 2013 UCI Cyclocross U23 World Cup event in Rome.

In several interviews, including his post-race interview Tuesday, Alaphilippe has made a point to mention his family. “I’m thinking about my family and I’m really glad to have made them happy,” he said at Le Grand-Bornand. And his family’s influence runs deep. He’s coached by his cousin, Franck Alaphilippe. His younger brother, Bryan, spent three years racing with L’Armée de Terre. His father, Jo, was an orchestra conductor, which led to him learning to play drums at a young age — he still practices regularly — and play in his father’s band.

“My father was an orchestra conductor, maybe that’s why I love music and rhythm,” Alaphilippe is quoted as saying on Quick-Step’s team website. “Like riding, music gives me an outlet for my energy. Music is very important in my life, I love it and it gives me the energy I need every single time.” He lists The Police and AC/DC among his favorite bands.

Prior to this Tour de France, Alaphilippe’s 2018 season already included wins at Colombia Oro y Paz, Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Flèche Wallonne, and Critérium du Dauphiné. He was targeting his first Tour stage win atop Mûr-de-Bretagne on Stage 6, but could only finish fourth behind winner Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates).

In his Liège-Bastogne-Liège debut, a 22-year-old Julian Alaphilippe finished second to Alejandro Valverde.

“I was a bit disappointed to not win at Mûr-de-Bretagne,” Alaphilippe said. “That finale suited me. I just lost to a stronger rider. I wanted to make it up and the way I won today is the best answer I could give to myself. I’m proud and happy of what I did today. The polka-dot jersey wasn’t on my program but as I was at the front, I tried to get it as well. I really wanted a Tour de France stage victory, and now I have it.”

Alaphilippe’s ride across the Alps Tuesday made him the 50th French rider to lead the mountain classification at the Tour de France, however taking home the polka-dot jersey isn’t a goal.

“It’s an honor to wear the iconic polka-dot jersey, but I’m not thinking yet of winning it,” Alaphilippe said. “I will just take it day by day, while at the same time continuing to help my team and Bob [Jungels], who is fifth in the overall standings. There’s a long way to go until Paris and we hope to do other beautiful things before we reach it.”

Julian Alaphilippe

Team: Quick-Step Floors
Nationality: French
Age: 26
Height: 173cm (5-foot-8)
Weight: 62kg (137 pounds)
Birthplace: Saint-Amand-Montrond, France
Turned professional: 2014
Professional victories: 12

CyclingTips editor Neal Rogers is writing a daily column during the 2018 Tour de France, focused on analysis, commentary, and opinion.

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