Julian Alaphilippe became the seventh male rider in history to defend the rainbow stripes as he produced a trademark gutsy ride to win the men’s elite road race at the UCI Road World Championships.
Bradley Wiggins said the Frenchman was a "true champion" after he stole away to win a race that Rob Hatch - commentating on the blue ribbon event for Eurosport - called a "race for the ages". Belgium's Wout van Aert was touted as a potential successor to Alaphilippe in the rainbow stripes and Adam Blythe pondered whether Van Aert's defensive instincts may have opened the door for the 29-year-old French superstar.
The Frenchman made the decisive move 20km out from the finish in Leuven, and the 29-year-old follows Peter Sagan (2015, 2016, 2017), Paolo Bettini (2006, 2007), Gianni Bugno (1991, 1992), Rik van Looy (1960, 1961), Rik Van Steenbergen (1956, 1957) and Georges Ronsse (1928, 1929) in retaining his men's road race crown.
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And Wiggins, talking on Eurosport's post-race show, The Breakaway, lavished the Frenchman with praise.
“It was phenomenal! When he wins, he wins in the same manner every time,” said Wiggins.
He is a true champion of the sport.
Belgium sent a strong team to the 100th running of the World Championships and their all-star line-up that included Remco Evenepoel, Jasper Stuyven, Dylan Teuns and Tim Declercq put together a near-perfect ride to set up pre-race favourite Van Aert to contest the finish into Leuven. However, when Alaphilippe attacked for a third time in quick succession with 20km to go, Van Aert could not react.
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"The main effort came in the last third of the race. Belgium did a fantastic job and hadn't really put a foot wrong," said Wiggins.
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"But it's not like Julian sat back all day. He was putting in attacks, always on the climbs, but his final attack was when everyone was starting to show fatigue from the race and from that point on it wasn't really in doubt.
He spoiled the glory of Belgium today!
Adam Blythe, alongside Wiggins as an analyst on the post-race show, told presenter Orla Chennaoui that Van Aert's riding style played into Alaphilippe’s hands.
“He [Alaphilippe] is always one of the favourite but he is never the favourite,” added Blythe.
Wout van Aert was one of the favourites but he rides very defensively. He follows attacks but he never attacks himself – I have never seen Van Aert go on the attack.
“Whereas Alaphilippe knew that and went after it quite early on really. He attacked three or four times. He wanted to win that race and put himself out there to win it. The other riders were too busy watching Van Aert and what he was going to do. And Julian benefited from it!”
Wiggins agreed, adding that much of the elite 17-man group made a misstep when Alaphilippe made his move.
“What we couldn’t understand was when he made his initial move, everyone else was looking at Van Aert to do the job and they almost eliminated themselves.”
You can watch the 2021 UCI Road World Championships live and ad-free on the Eurosport app and Eurosport.co.uk. Download the Eurosport app for iOS and Android now. You can also watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free racing on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream exclusive cycling documentaries.
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