The young French specialist in the hilly Classics talks about his irst three years as a professional
Julian Alaphilippe shares his steep learning curve
was born in St-Amand-Montrond but I grew up in Montluçon. My mum was a housewife and my dad was the leader of an orchestra and played drums. I play drums, too, for pleasure, not seriously.
I stopped school at 17. I was hyperactive and school never suited me, I needed to move around, to work, to go out. I could not sit in school all day. I worked in a small bike shop in Montluçon when I was 17 and 18. It was a good experience. I joined the Armée de la Terre team at 18. We lived together in a barracks near Paris; we raced, and I did my military exams. My brother [Bryan] rides for them; they’re a Continental team now so they are free to do more cycling and less military training. The Tour of Catalonia in 2014 was my first WorldTour race in Europe. The team said, ‘You’ll like this – it’s good for you with mountains and sprints.’ I got second, third and fourth in three stages. I didn’t win but already to finish at the front was good for my confidence. Catalonia wasn’t easy – it’s never easy – but in the races where it’s hard for the sprinters and the finish is a small group, it suits me. I wasn’t really the leader but in the hilly stages I was designated the rider for the sprint. I had responsibilities but no pressure – I was free to give it a go. The team believed in me. The most important thing I did in my first years was learn. If I finished a long way down, it didn’t matter because the experience could help me later. From every stage I try to take a good lesson. I’ve progressed but I’m still learning. The races are hard and if you train too hard in between you get to the next race more tired. I’m learning how to race better, economise on my energy and not be attacking all the time. I’m a puncheur. But my biggest advantage is that I never give up.
My first win was a stage of the Tour de l’Ain in 2014. Romain Bardet, Dan Martin and some others attacked and I went with them. I didn’t ride because my teammate Carlos Verona was in the early break. When we caught that group, there were more attacks, and I attacked alone with three kilometres to go, with a really hard effort, without looking back. I did it on instinct – there was no voice in my earpiece telling me to do it. The Ardennes races are nervous and
passionate races and I love them. You have to concentrate all the time – you can fall at any moment. In my first Amstel , I respected my role for the team, which was to take Kwiatkowski up to the front at the foot of the Cauberg. I was still with him when the attacks went. It was very hard and my legs were exploding but I told myself to go for it – it’s the end of Amstel and there are only 10 riders left. I looked up and saw Kwiato chasing Philippe Gilbert. I was getting tailed off
but in the last kilometre it came back together. Micha¯ did a good sprint, found an opening, and won. I sprinted, too, and got seventh. Flèche Wallonne is a very particular sprint. It might look calm on television but even going into the climb, at the bottom, everybody is already all-out. I was second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in
2015. I should have believed in myself a bit more – in the last 500 metres I was too far back, and up against the barriers. I had to make a big effort to come into the last corner in a good position but I’d already used up my energy. If I’d been better placed, I could have done something, though it’s easy to say that now. Maybe in week-long stage races like Paris-Nice I can do well. I’m still gaining experience so I can’t say where I’ll finally specialise. For the moment I want to do the Classics.