When Julian Alaphilippe attacks, you know about it. The elastic swing of his bike from side to side. The gritted teeth. That sense of kinetic energy, coiled up like rubber bands in a golf ball, waiting to spring free.
On Sunday at the World Championships, Alaphilippe won in much the same way that he did in Imola a year earlier. Like a storm marching in from the horizon, the pressure piled on at the front of a reduced peloton. And then there was Alaphilippe on the front with a slope as a springboard from which he could leap.
The imperial phase of Julian Alaphilippe has lasted so long that it’s hard to recall a time before it. Since the 2019 Tour de France – when he held a rapt homeland in his palm for almost a full three weeks – Alaphilippe’s best has been the measure by which other riders are measured.
In the years since then, the Frenchman’s biggest wins have been the ones with an emotional core nestled within. In that humanity lies his secret weapon, as a rider and as a marketable commodity. He rides as he is – mourning, in love, smitten with his son, overexuberant.
At the Flanders Worlds, we got vintage Alaphilippe: a sequence of stinging accelerations, a tenacious stretching of the gap, and then total commitment to the line.
When he reached the finish line – arms flailing about with exhausted abandon in his victory salute – he became the 13th dual World Champion, and just the seventh to defend it. But he was also just Julian Alaphilippe, riding his bike as Julian Alaphilippe does.
“I want to continue to attack, to enjoy, to race with panache – even if I lose sometimes or a lot of times,” he said in his post-race conference. “I want to give everything to try and win, with my heart, and that’s even more beautiful when you have the rainbow jersey on your shoulders.”