Tour de La Provence race organizers couldn’t dream of a better show on TV for stage 1 than Julian Alaphilippe fighting for the victory for the last one and half hours of racing. The world champion wanted to test himself on stage 2, one suitable for sprinters, and/or up the Mont Ventoux but he didn’t wait for that long.
With 69km to go to Six-Fours-les-Plages, he reacted to an attack by Italians Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) and Gianni Moscon (Team Ineos), only to be reeled in 1.5km before the end when only Alaphilippe and Moscon remained at the front in a remake of the finale of the 2017 world championship in Bergen, Norway.
“I didn’t plan to attack from so far out, I did it instinctively and we cooperated very well with the Italians,” Alaphilippe said. “After we got caught, I tried to give a strong helping hand to my teammates who were leading Davide Ballerini out because there was a strong three-quarter side wind. I saw from far that he managed to win. It makes it a very beautiful day for our team.”
Before and after stage 1, Alaphilippe insisted that a bunch sprint victory with Ballerini was always the plan A of Deceuninck-QuickStep for this race.
“The first race of the year is a way to get ourselves situated,” he told reporters prior to the start in Aubagne where the peloton was greeted by the Patrouille de France [the same patrol of the Air Force that usually performs a flyover as the peloton enters the Champs-Elysées on the last day of the Tour de France] as the authorities wanted to mark the first racing day on home soil of the former member of the French Army cycling team (in 2011 and 2012).
“I’m very happy to resume racing in France, especially with the nice weather we’ve got here,” Alaphilippe said.
Since he turned pro in 2013, it’s only the second time that Alaphilippe’s first race of the year is in France. In 2016, he also took part in the inaugural Tour de La Provence. But that winter, he was harmed by mononucleosis that forced him to pull out of all the races he started before the Ardennes classic and he eventually finished second at Flèche Wallonne for the second straight time.
“The conditions of my participation to this race is completely different today,” he added. “We are motivated for the four beautiful racing days. With all the uncertainties due to the pandemic, we take whatever we are offered [in terms of racing opportunities]. The most important goals will come later but we’re here to try and win. Stage 2 suits me more than stage 1, it’ll be a good way to test my legs as well as up the Mont Ventoux, a climb I only know from the 2016 Tour de France.”
In the post-race interviews, he admitted that he rode to win and grabbed three seconds bonus on the way, “because you never know…,” he hinted. “The GC might be a bit complicated because I spent a fair bit of energy today while many riders rode conservatively. I wanted to start the season of the right foot and that’s done. GC is secondary.
“GC isn’t for me for sure,” echoed Ballerini. “I’ll get dropped in the Mont Ventoux but we have Julian, he’s the world champion, he wears a beautiful jersey and we’ll do our best for him to win this race.”
Alaphilippe didn’t escape a questions about his partner and TV pundit Marion Rousse who is the assistant to Tour de La Provence race director Pierre-Maurice Courtade and will give birth to their first child in the summer.
“It’s awesome to take part in a race she organises,” he quickly replied. “I saw her and she saw me this morning and at the finish but she’s got a job to do and I do, too. It’s a pleasure to share this moment.”