The young French spe­cial­ist in the hilly Clas­sics talks about his irst three years as a pro­fes­sional

Procycling - - Prologue -

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 [2015], 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.

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