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World champion Julian Alaphilippe celebrates his 2021 Tour stage victory: Can he still do it?

Photo: Christophe Petit Tesson / AFP

One more turn, out of the shadows and into the sun, then Julian Alaphilippe takes a look over his shoulder.

Nobody can catch up with him anymore.

The escapee hits his chest with his fist and heaves his bike over the finish line.

In Siena's Piazza del Campo, the Frenchman becomes king of the Strade Bianche, the white streets of Tuscany.

He left the Belgian Wout van Aert behind the city walls on the last climb and left the Dane Jakob Fuglsang behind in the narrow streets of Siena.

Julian Alaphilippe later speaks of the “perfect race” that he ran in Tuscany in 2019.

He will always remember that.

The player

This Saturday the peloton will roll over the white streets of Tuscany again (from 12 p.m./TV: Eurosport).

But this time Julian Alaphilippe, 31, is no longer one of the favorites.

He has had two years without any big victories, and even his boss is now publicly pillorying him.

“I lack a bit of self-confidence because I was used to playing to win for years,” said Alaphilippe on his team’s podcast before the start of the classic season.

»After a few difficult seasons, you lose a little of the feeling of playing for victory in the last kilometer of a tough race.«


Alaphilippe says really play.

Maybe because for years everything seemed so easy for him.

Strade Bianche in 2019 was the start of one of the most exciting seasons of Alaphilippe's career.

In the same year he won Milan-Sanremo, one of the five monuments of cycling, and the classic Flèche Wallonne.

He fought his way into the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, in the Pyrenees Alaphilippe made his compatriots dream of the longed-for French Tour victory.

He wore the Maillot Jaune for 14 days and won two stages; the then 27-year-old only had to give up the overall lead in the Alps.

In the years that followed, Alaphilippe won the Flèche Wallonne again, he dedicated a stage victory in the Tour de France to his recently deceased father, and he raced to the world championship title twice.

Alaphilippe is a puncheur, a stage hunter and classics specialist, an instinctive rider who likes to ride in the hills, poke and attack his opponents.

Someone who takes risks and is sometimes punished and sometimes rewarded for it.

French cycling fans suffer and celebrate with their “Loulou,” as they call him.

Is Alaphilippe worth the money?

Recently, however, there has been little to celebrate; in the past two years, Alaphilippe has hardly won any important races.

At Strade Bianche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, for example, he fell badly and injuries set him back.

And stage victories in the Tour of the Basque Country and the Critérium du Dauphiné are not enough for a rider like him.

After his great success, Alaphilippe signed a new three-year contract with the Soudal-Quick Step team in 2021, he is expected to earn around 2.3 million euros per year.

This means he is likely to be one of the ten highest paid riders in Peloton.

However, team manager Patrick Lefevere has been publicly emphasizing since the end of 2022 that he also wants to see the corresponding performance from Alaphilippe.

“He has the salary of a champion, but he also has to prove that he is still one,” the boss told the Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure at the time.

Alaphilippe hasn't shown it yet.

That's why manager Lefevere has now upped the ante.

"Julian is a good guy, but after he signed his mega contract, he no longer performed," Lefevere told the Belgian TV magazine "Humo."

"As you get older, you have to take more care of yourself, you have to train harder."

Alaphilippe has to understand this: “He has to fight for it.”

Team boss attacks Alaphilippe's partner

But Lefevere also became personal and blamed Alaphilippe's partner Marion Rousse for the sporting crisis: "Too many parties, too much alcohol..." said Lefevere, "Julian is seriously under the influence of Marion Rousse.

Maybe too much.” Alaphilippe is full of energy, he needs his freedom, but also limits.

Lefevere says: "There's still a bad boy in him."

Rousse is a former cyclist herself and is now race director of the women's Tour de France.

She countered Lefevere's attack via "X": "Whatever Mr. Lefevere thinks about me, it is unacceptable to attack our private life the way he does," writes Rousse: "But no, I don't drink alcohol, I've never done that .

I don't drink at parties either."

Rousse and Alaphilippe have a three-year-old son and she has to be fit for him in the morning, says Rousse.

Lefevere then said that his Dutch was simply poorly translated.

Alaphilippe himself did not want to comment on the matter; he did not have time to speak to SPIEGEL, says Soudal-QuickStep.

The professional cyclists' union CPA also did not speak out publicly.

“This was handled personally,” CPA boss Adam Hansen tells SPIEGEL.

Alaphilippe asked that the CPA not comment publicly on the issue.

But Hansen wanted to make one thing clear: “A team should never speak badly about a driver.” That is neither in the interest of the driver nor the team.

Believe in the comeback

The Soudal-QuickStep team likes to call themselves the “wolf pack” because the team spirit is said to be particularly strong.

The professionals hunt for victories together.

Alaphilippe has been driving for the team since he was 17 years old and he praises the team spirit.

But the relationship with boss Lefevere seems broken and a contract extension is questionable, even if Alaphilippe is successful again in the new season.

Before the season, Alaphilippe tried to be optimistic.

He believes in his comeback at the highest level.

»I feel stronger on the bike and generally calmer and more relaxed.

Confidence comes when you feel good," he said.

Shortly afterwards he crashed several times in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad race.

“Alaphilippe only suffered a few abrasions,” said sports director Wilfried Peeters afterwards.

And the next scratch on your self-confidence.