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Ride like Julian Alaphilippe

3 Dec 2018

Emulate the French superstar all-rounder with attacking flair

This feature first appeared in issue 49 of BikesEtc magazine

If there’s one thing French cycling fans like, it’s a racer with panache, so it’s no surprise that 26-year-old Julian Alaphilippe enjoys national hero status in his homeland.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Despite some impressive rides for the amateur French Army racing team, he had to go to Belgium to turn pro, being signed up by Quick-Step in 2013.

His first pro race win came at the 2014 Tour of Catalunya and he has gone on to rack up an impressive palmares, including a stage win and overall victory at the Tour of California in 2016, where he saw off the challenge of then-World Champ Peter Sagan.

This year has seen him raise his status even further with two individual stage wins at the Tour de France, both the result of his aggressive riding style and ability to light up races with explosive attacks when the road goes uphill.

His climbing ability saw him take the polka dot jersey as winner of the King of the Mountains classification ahead of compatriot Warren Barguil.

He has since followed that up with wins at the hilly Clásica San Sebastián, Spain’s biggest one-day race, the Ovo Energy Tour of Britain (in which he also won a stage) and the Tour of Slovakia. Let’s take a look at what makes him tick…

Fact file

Name: Julian Alaphilippe
Date of birth: 11th June 1992 (age 26)
Born: Saint-Amand-Montrond, France
Rider type: All-rounder
Professional teams: 2013 Etixx-IHNed; 2014-present Quick-Step Floors
Palmarès: Tour de France 2018 King of the Mountains classification, 2 stage wins; Vuelta a España 2017 1 stage win; Tour of Britain 2018 overall winner, 1 stage win; Tour of Slovakia 2018 overall winner, 1 stae win; Tour of California 2016 overall winner; La Flèche Wallonne 2018; Clásica San Sebastián 2018

Work on your handling

What? Although best known as a road racer, Alaphilippe is a genuine all-rounder with pedigree across different cycling disciplines.

In fact, he started his career in cyclocross, finishing second in the Junior World Championships in 2010.

That experience has in many ways defined his aggressive riding style, where his incredible bike-handling skills allow him to attack on any terrain – from rolling country roads to steep mountain passes and hair-raising descents.

How? Want to stay in shape over the winter? Follow Alaphilippe’s example and get involved in cyclocross.

Races last an hour and are full gas from start to finish, so it’s an intense workout that will do wonders for your cardiovascular fitness, while the technical circuits with tight corners and muddy banks are a perfect arena for honing your bike-handling – a useful transferable skill for road riders.

Just look at the way Alaphilippe throws himself down mountain descents!

Control your emotions

What? Alaphilippe is known for his aggressive style, and he can usually be found riding hard at the sharp end of races, but he’s aware that this approach hasn’t always brought him the results his talent deserves – until this year, which saw him take a more measured approach.

‘Cycling, well, I live it fully! I love what I do. It’s a difficult job, one that requires a lot of sacrifices, and your lifestyle has to be almost perfect.

‘The first week of the Tour was hard. I was quite bored at times, at least until stage 6!

‘I’m an impulsive rider, but I’ve learned to control myself better,’ he explained.

How? Like Alaphilippe, we can all improve our performance – in races or sportives – by taking a measured approach, rather than burning ourselves out early on the first climb.

Before a big ride, study the route carefully, work out which sections you need to save your energy for and pace yourself on the easier sections.

If you’ve still got something left in the tank near the finish, that’s when you can really let yourself go for it!

Keep working

What? After taking over the polka dot jersey on stage 10 at this year’s Tour, Alaphilippe had to see off the challenge of last year’s winner, Warren Barguil, to hold on to it.

But despite his seemingly unbeatable form, he never took his position for granted.

‘My first goal was to win a stage,’ Alaphilippe said at the time. ‘I achieved that and now I also have the King of the Mountains jersey, so it’s a bonus for me.

‘I’m going to try to keep hold of it, of course, but it’s going to be difficult. Paris is still a long way off, so I’m taking it day-by-day.’

How? Alaphilippe’s vigilance to the Barguil challenge paid off at the Tour, and his tactical approach saw him take points on several more key climbs to ultimately win the polka dot jersey by a comfortable margin.

It’s something to remember if you’re taking on any long-distance challenge or multi-stage event, where a successful ride on one stage isn’t an excuse to relax and start thinking the job is done, because that can quickly lead to failure on subsequent stages.

Stay focused all the way to the finish line.

Step up to the challenge

What? Back in 2015, the 23-year-old Alaphilippe rode the Flèche Wallonne one-day classic in support of team leader Michal Kwiatkowski, but when the Polish rider fell behind, the team needed to rethink its strategy.

Alaphilippe stepped up to take over, ultimately being only narrowly beaten by veteran Spanish star Alejandro Valverde.

How? Sometimes it can be very tempting to take the easy option on the bike – faced with the choice between a flat route and one with hills, many of us would be more inclined towards the latter option.

But if you don’t face up to these kinds of challenges, you’ll never find out what you’re truly capable of.

For Alaphilippe, that meant embracing the opportunity to become team leader in a race, for the rest of us, that’s more likely to mean taking on the challenge of winning the Strava KOM on a local climb, or entering an epic hilly sportive.

Alaphilippe may not have won Flèche Wallonne on that occasion, but he came back to conquer the race in 2018.

Stay mentally strong

What? At the 2016 Tour, on the stage 13 individual time trial, a gust of wind caught Alaphilippe’s bike and catapulted him over his handlebars into a rocky cliff face – providing a spectacular image that went viral on social media.

Luckily, he wasn’t seriously injured. ‘I was turned over like a pancake,’ he explained. ‘But I had to get back on my bike.

‘After the Nice attack [the terrorist attack that had happened the day before], I was not going to complain. People had lost members of their family and I was going to say that my arm was hurting?’

How? Crashing is best avoided if possible, but it will happen to even the safest rider occasionally, and when it does, it can dent your confidence and seriously affect your enjoyment of cycling.

But it’s important to remember that cycling remains a very safe activity and serious accidents are rare.

Try to remind yourself of the hundreds of times you’ve been out on the bike without anything negative happening, rather than dwelling on the one-off bad incident and always focus on happy thoughts.

Show you care

What? On stage 16 of this year’s Tour, young Brit Adam Yates was leading over the final summit with several minutes advantage.

On the 15km descent to the finish line, Alaphilippe gave chase, displaying incredible bike-handling skills to close the gap.

Feeling the pressure, Yates overcooked a corner and hit the deck, Alaphilippe sailing past as he remounted.

But the Frenchman slowed down, keen to check that his fellow racer was unhurt – not only a magnanimous gesture, also a recognition that the pair could work better together to maintain their lead over their chasing rivals, until his team director boss instructed him to leave Yates and pursue the stage win solo!

How? Believe it or not, some things are even more important than the glory of winning a stage of the Tour de France.

Alaphilippe’s sense of camaraderie with not only his team-mates but all of his fellow riders is one of the reasons he is such a popular member of the peloton.

Popularity is an attribute worth cultivating on any group ride – if a fellow rider suffers a puncture, for example, be the one to stop and offer up a spare inner tube.

Not only will your ride companion’s gratitude give you a warm glow, they’ll be more likely to return the favour in future when you need assistance.

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