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WAREGEM, Belgium (VN) — Julian Alaphilippe has the pressure on his shoulders to make up for the disappointing spring classics season of the Soudal Quick-Step team from manager Patrick Lefevere. During Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen the French world champion from 2020 and 2021 showed glimpses of his class before a mechanical held him back. The superstition of clocking two more training hours ahead of the big goal should lead him to glory in next Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen. Lefevere likes to believe the French star will pull it off.
After years of dominance, It’ll be the first time Patrick Lefevere heads to the Ronde van Vlaanderen without a top favorite in his ranks. “I’ll certainly be watching the race,” Lefevere joked.
The team manager of the former pavé powerhouse still had a hard time accepting the new reality with the Jumbo-Visma team leading the way. “One never gets used to this,” he said. “We’re trying to fight up against them but right now there’s nothing we can do. It’s not our style not to control the race. We’ll see how Yves Lampaert will be recovered by Sunday. Davide Ballerini is improving and Julian Alaphilippe will hopefully ride the finale.”
It was clearly difficult to find a weapon to fight back against the dominance of Jumbo-Visma, not forgetting Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar. “I can’t say they’ll have to control the race because that’s what they do,” Lefevere said. “They ride away whenever and wherever they want to. Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar are on another level too. It will not be easy for us. We’ll have to get through this and hope that when we reach the Ardennes classics that it’ll go better.”
When asked with which result Patrick Lefevere would be satisfied after the Ronde he was clear. “We race to win the race because otherwise it’s better to stay home. If that’s not possible, the podium. They’re not going to finish 1-2-3, will they,” Lefevere said with a smile on his face. “You never know with them so I don’t dare to exclude that either. I’ve been searching for their bakery but I haven’t found it,” Lefevere joked.
Clearly much depends on Julian Alaphilippe for a good result on Sunday. He hasn’t shown too many convincing performances lately. On Wednesday he was in Dwars door Vlaanderen to get ready for the Ronde. He accelerated on the cobbled ascent of Berg Ten Houte but when the finale kicked off he struggled with his shifting system.
As it turned out, he morphed into a supporting role for sprinter Davide Ballerini. “We did the maximum we could. It was very nervous and someone rode into my derailleur,” Alaphilippe said in Waregem. “I rode the whole race with a malfunctioning derailleur. It’s difficult to find a moment to switch bikes. It was still working somewhat so I decided to finish the race with it. There’s no regrets. Our best chances to win were in a sprint with Davide but he told me his legs weren’t fantastic while there were still very strong sprinters in the group. The Tour of Flanders will be much longer and certainly much harder so it was good to ride near the front and do these kinds of efforts.”
Despite the lack of result he did find what he was looking for in Dwars door Vlaanderen. “It was a difficult day but a beautiful race,” Alaphilippe said. “I didn’t make mistakes in terms of positioning but when Benoot accelerated on those climbs I was on the limit.”
When asked if he felt the race had been good training the French ace explained he needed a little more hours on the clock. “It’s not over yet. I’ll do two more hours so I’ll head off to complete my training ride,” Alaphilipppe stated and rode off.
Patrick Lefevere knows that his French rider is unpredictable and he needs to follow his own path. When asked what Wednesday’s race taught him about Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, the Belgian manager didn’t have high hopes but he didn’t dare to predict how Alaphilippe would perform. “Alaphilippe believes it is still possible. Now he’s clocking in two more training hours. He’s done the same ahead of the world championships and you all know how superstitious cyclists can be. If he believes it helps him then that’s ok,” Lefevere said.
“There’s clearly progression but with him, I don’t dare to predict what the outcome will be. Before the world championships he was also performing in a special way and then he added extra training hours after the race. But he was ready at worlds. He believes that this is the way to prepare himself for the race. He’s old school,“ Lefevere said.
“We all saw he had trouble with his shifting. He was putting in an acceleration and someone rode into his derailleur. He was unable to use his three biggest gears. That’s an excuse. He was unable to switch bikes. He then tried to help and get a sprint for Ballerini,” Lefevere said. That seemed to be going well but according to Lefevere the solo attempt from Tim Wellens (UAE) ruined the chase.
“Wellens made a stupid move. They’re working well together in the chase group and I think they would’ve come back. Then Wellens goes alone on the cobbles. He blows it, for himself and the chase group which stopped working together. Then it was game over because Laporte was already up the road. They’re a level above the others. For years they’ve been grinding their teeth on us. Now it’s the other way around. It was a weird race. It kicked off from far out. We shouldn’t lose the belief but the way Jumbo rides is impressive,” Lefevere concluded.
“I did feel like we were showing improvement today. The last few races I was more disappointed than I am right now. We were in the mix today. Due to circumstances the result wasn’t there. Tim Merlier rode into the barriers and crashed on his head. He was confused for a while. It’ll be alright. In the sprint Ballerini was ready to launch his sprint from the wheel of Philipsen when he received a knock. He finished seventh,” Lefevere said.