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After two years in the rainbow jersey, Julian Alaphilippe is looking forward to not shouldering the burden that it puts on a rider.
Alaphilippe claimed back-to-back titles in Imola and Flanders, but relinquished his rainbow strips to his Soudal Quick-Step teammate Remco Evenepoel in Australia last year. It means that he is racing in regular team kit for the first time since 2019.
While he loved winning his back-to-back titles, the jersey came with a certain amount of pressure and he believes that not having it will free him up.
“Winning that jersey was my dream, and winning it twice is the highlight of my career. Not having it anymore will give me back a bit of the freedom that I had before becoming world champion,” Alaphilippe said. “The motivation and desire to win races are still there, it’s only this pressure brought by the jersey that has disappeared.
“But I want to be clear: the jersey also helped me in difficult times and reminded me of what I achieved. It helped even during the wintertime to properly hit the reset button and prepare for the new season.”
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Alaphilippe’s first year in the rainbow jersey was reasonably successful with a win at Flèche Wallonne and a stage of the Tour de France.
While he had some wins last year, his second year could hardly have been more challenging with crashes littering his 2022 campaign.
The Frenchman crashed at Strade Bianche when a gust of wind took out several riders, and he suffered serious injuries in a high-speed fall at Liège-Bastogne-Liège when he hit a tree. His season almost ended prematurely when he suffered another fall at the Vuelta a España.
Alaphilippe wants to put that behind him and is seeking a fresh start this year.
“In my head I feel different compared to the last seasons, I’m really eager to restart and find again my best level. Going for the win is what motivates me in training,” he said. “I had a good winter, took some time for myself to recover physically and mentally, and all I want to do is enjoy again the races. I feel more relaxed now, the weight of having the rainbow jersey on my shoulders has evaporated.”
One race that Alaphilippe would really like to win is the Tour of Flanders, which he has ridden just twice in 2020 and 2021. Alaphilippe’s history at the one-day race has been chequered with a DNF on his first try after he collided with a motorbike while in the break with Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.
His second appearance ended with 42nd, but he still enjoyed the experience and is keen to get more from the race.
“Flanders will be one of my big goals this year. It’s a race that motivates me, a race that makes me dream. It has all that history, that tradition, everything is special about it,” Alaphilippe said. “I enjoyed my previous appearances there, even though they didn’t end up well and I’m not as experienced as some of the guys in the team on those cobbles, but I’m looking forward to being back at the start and giving my best in April.”
Alaphilippe is set to begin his season at the Mallorca Challenge on Wednesday, before heading back to France for the Faun-Ardèche Classic and La Drome Classic.
The series of races in Mallorca will give Alaphilippe an opportunity to test his early-season form on hilly terrain with the spring classics on his radar.
“I feel good, and I’m really motivated to start the season. I didn’t make these races in Mallorca a big objective, my primary goal here is to do a good effort and see where my form is,” he said. “The race on Friday, with that nice finish, suits me a bit better than the rest, but we have a strong team, and we’ll go for the best result in each of these five days. I’m very excited about finally beginning my season, about doing these nice races, where I will try to do my best and build up for the spring.”