Julian Alaphilippe timed his move to perfection on Sunday to seal the road race rainbow jersey. The 28-year-old held off an elite group of five riders to win the title with Wout Van Aert (Belgium) in second and Marc Hirschi (Switzerland) sealing third from Michał Kwiatkowski (Poland).
The chasers - Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), Kwiatkowski, van Aert, Primož Roglic (Slovenia) and Hirschi – seemed unwilling to work together as they tried to chase him down, allowing Alaphilippe to win by 24 seconds. The threat of Wout van Aert's unbeatable sprint proving enough to dissuade them from making it to the line as a group.
The Frenchman took flight on the final ascent of the Cima Gallisterna, leaving behind an already elite selection and carrying a small gap over the summit. He was able to press his advantage and establish a gap of 15 seconds or thereabouts, which did not diminish over the final 10 kilometres.
Julian Alaphilippe wins road race gold medal at world championships
How it unfolded
Jonas Koch (GER), Torstein Traen (NOR), Marco Friedrich (AUT), Daniil Fominykh (KAZ), Yukiya Arashiro (JAP), Eduard-Michael Grosu (ROM) and Ulises Alfredo Castillo (MEX) formed the early break and while they reached a lead margin of seven minutes, never actually looked like a convincing threat for the victory. The last of them to be caught were Koch and Traen with 68km left to race.
From there, it was the large teams with star riders that began to make the running. France, Belgium and even Team GB in the form of Luke Rowe and Tom Pidcock spent time on the front of the bunch.
Tadej Pogacar (SLO) attacked on the penultimate lap, skipping clear of the peloton at the foot of the Cima Gallisterna and for a while it looked eerily similar to his exploits of a week ago when he demolished Primoz Roglic in the Tour de France uphill time trial.
Crucially, the Belgian team elected not to chase Pogacar down immediately and instead led a chasing effort that eventually pulled him back with 18km to go. The expected counter attack from Pogacar’s team mate and compatriot, Primoz Roglic never arrived, with the Jumbo Visma leader having to settle for sixth in the unsuccessful chase bunch.
Pogacar attacks off the front as Belgians hesitate in chasing him down
Attacks from the Italian and French teams whittled down the group yet further, until it was just six riders in the lead on the upper slopes of the Gallisterna. Italy were the big losers, after keeping their powder dry all day and hiding from the wind, neither Vicenzo Nibali nor Damiano Caruso had enough in the tank to really put the others in trouble.
Alaphilippe makes decisive attack on final ascent of Cima Gallisterna
Alaphilippe’s trademark surge on one of the steepest points was enough to set him up for a career-first World Championship, and to end France’s 23-year drought in the men’s road race at the Worlds. He was visibly emotional as he crossed the line, in a year that has seen him lose his father during the coronavirus pandemic.
Alaphilippe will head to Belgium on Wednesday to defend his Fleche Wallone title for the second consecutive year after winning the Ardennes classic in 2018 and 2019.