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LEUVEN, Belgium (VN) — There was no stopping Julian Alaphilippe on Sunday.
That’s the verdict from riders who had front-row seats to the lethal solo attacks from the Frenchman who catapulted to a second straight rainbow jersey at the road world championships.
“Alaphilippe was the miracle today,” said Michael Valgren, third on the podium. “It’s not a miracle that I am on the podium. I knew I could do it today, and I thought I could even win.”
Also read: Alaphilippe defends rainbow jersey
The Frenchman took matters into his own hands, attacking with veracity with two laps to go to drop everyone.
That aggression opened up the door for Valgren and Dylan van Baarle, two journeyman riders who didn’t come to the worlds as front-line leaders of their respective teams.
Following a string of crashes and mishaps Sunday, Denmark went off the rails, and Valgren was the last rider standing.
For the Dutch team, Mathieu van der Poel was not quite up to matching Alaphilippe, so when a late move went, van Baarle played his card.
Taking advantage of the opportunity
Smart racing coupled with race dynamics saw both riders power to their first elite men’s worlds medals.
“When we were in that group of 17, I thought I’d be lucky to get 10th, because 15 of them were sprinters,” Valgren said. “But when Wout [van Aert], Mathieu [van der Poel] and Sonny [Colbrelli] were watching each other, I was able to bridge across, and I knew I was riding for the medals.”
Valgren and van Baarle linked up with Alaphilippe, American Neilson Powless, and Belgian rider Jasper Stuyven.
Once Alaphilippe jettisoned everyone, it was a four-way race for two medals.
“It’s better for me when the race is hard,” van Baarle said. “I know I cannot follow them on those short, explosive climbs, but if it’s a hard race, I can still produce power.”
The Danish men’s team is flooded with options Sunday’s road race at the world championships with Magnus Cort, Kasper Asgreen, Mads Pedersen and Michael Valgren.
— VeloNews (@velonews) September 26, 2021
Brute strength was what made the difference after an attritional, six-hour race that saw scores of big names abandon, and many pre-race favorites sputtering out in the final decisive laps.
Van Aert and van der Poel, two of the five-star favorites, were struggling to match the accelerations on the short, sharp climbs that riddled the final urban circuit in Leuven.
Sensing an opening, Alaphilippe pulled clear and drew out some fast legs to create a leading quartet, and then promptly rode everyone off his wheel.
The chasing foursome had some rope because the Danes, Belgians, and Dutch would not be chasing.
“You could see how Wout was struggling to follow Alaphilippe,” van Baarle said. “When Stuyven went, I decided to follow him.
“I knew it was a perfect situation,” he said. “I knew I had a good chance for the podium. It was always the plan to be active in the final.”
The medals were in play, but only two would see them out of a group of four.
Powless led out the four-up sprint, and Stuyven missed salvation by inches.
Van Baarle and Valgren each found personal redemption with world championship medals on a day packed with surprises.
“When you are young, you are watching the worlds start to finish,” said Valgren, who won two races in Italy earlier this month. “Now to have a medal it’s a dream come true. After the finish, it was super emotional.”