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Cycling Worlds: Julian Alaphilippe, best card for the France team

For Thomas Voeckler, things are clear. This Sunday, September 25, the coach of the France team plays “win” on the line race of the World Road Cycling Championships (Eurosport at 2:15 am and France 3 at 5 am). Nothing less. In Wollongong, in the south-east of Australia, the Vendéen has a status to defend. For two years, the rainbow jersey has ended up on the shoulders of one of his men, always the same: the puncher Julian Alaphilippe.

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His participation, an uncertain time, after a fall which forced him to abandon the Tour of Spain on August 31, he is well on his way to New South Wales, where he is aiming for a third title in a row . A feat that only the Slovak Peter Sagan has achieved (2015 to 2017) in a century of competition history.

France has “virtually the best team” of this edition, argues the former cyclist Jacky Durand, consultant for Eurosport. However, she does not leave with the status of favorite. The reason ? His champion having not raced since his misadventure on the Vuelta, doubts remain as to his state of form. A few days before the deadline, Thomas Voeckler himself slipped that the expectations for the tricolor collective could not be limited to Julian Alaphilippe. “If we look at the composition of the group, there are, depending on the race scenarios, several boys who have a chance of being champions”he advanced.

Eight plus one for France

With a place reserved for the title holder regardless of the quota of eight riders to which it is entitled, France will be the only nation with nine men at the start this Sunday. Among them: Christophe Laporte, the only French stage winner on the Tour in 2022 – and pilot fish for the rest of the year in the Jumbo-Visma team of the great Belgian favorite Wout van Aert –, the climber Romain Bardet or even the versatile Valentin Madouas, in great shape.

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But it is especially Benoît Cosnefroy who concentrates the hopes, after his victory in the Grand Prix de Québec, on September 9, during which he dominated some of the contenders for the world title. Especially since the hilly circuit of Wollongong “suits him perfectly”, according to Voeckler. The Norman, who had initially declined any participation in the Worlds, arrived to everyone’s surprise Monday evening in Australia. What give the rider of the AG2R-Citroën team the air of a providential man.

Cyrille Guimard does not believe it. “In an uncontrolled or a little unbridled race, yes, he has the qualities to go for a win, that’s obvious… But not in a unique leading position”, underlines the predecessor of Thomas Voeckler at the head of the national team. In the eyes of the former sports director, Benoît Cosnefroy is still a notch below the world’s headliners, such as Wout van Aert, his compatriot Remco Evenepoel, the Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel or the Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.

The Importance of a “Great Leader”

“We have three or four riders who are capable of getting on the podium. But, after two world championship titles, are we going to settle for third place or bet everything on a rider capable of seeking victory? », pretends to wonder the former runner Jacky Durand. With fewer guarantees than in the two previous editions, the best card of the Blues therefore remains Julian Alaphilippe. “On paper, his preparation was ideal: a few days on the Tour of Spain, a bit of recovery and the world championships. In the meantime, there was this fall. He did not communicate too much about it, but, in my opinion, if he is present at the start of the world championships, it is because the last ten days have been conclusive in terms of training.analyzes the Eurosport commentator.

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Whatever the level of performance of the native of Saint-Amand-Montrond (Cher), he will be the common thread of the French team, assures Cyrille Guimard. “The uncertainty is whether he is playing 100% or 80%. » And develop: “If he is playing at 80%, that means he is at the level of the other riders in the group and therefore the strategies, the running movements will be different. But it is he who will give the “la”. A great leader can also allow teammates to go for the win. »

secret weapon

Invited by the Belgian newspaper newblad to lend themselves to the game of the favorites, the Eritrean Biniam Girmay – a man to follow this Sunday – quoted Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and the Australian puncher-sprinter Michael Matthews, galvanized by an appointment at home. But not Alaphilippe. Does this “demotion” of the French allow the Blues to offload some of the weight of the race? “Julian is still well known to his opponentssweeps Guimard. The big favorites will watch him like milk on fire, considering he is 100%. »

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Still, the France team can also have, when the time comes, a secret weapon. “Thomas Voeckler sometimes came up with somewhat surprising tactics, like last year, when he decided to toughen up the race very far from the finishrecalls Jacky Durand. He has this experience on the pitch and he knows his riders very well. » Otherwise, the 267 kilometers of the road race come at the end of a long season, when accumulated fatigue can lead to unexpected failures. “It’s not always the biggest favorites who winrepeats Voeckler. We can have surprises on a world championship, it has already happened. »

For a long time, the French limited their ambitions to “best possible result” during the Worlds, being content with a fifth or a sixth place. Now, the doctrine has changed, insists Durand: ” Hit or miss. We are world champion or we are 25ᵉ. If so, that’s okay, we’ve tried everything. »

The course of the road race: 267 km hilly which can “create very different racing scenarios”

The road race of the worlds, Sunday, September 25, is contested on a course of 266.9 kilometers with a hilly profile. The peloton will start from Helensburgh, south of Sydney. It will cover around thirty relatively flat kilometers along the South Pacific Ocean, before a 34.2 km loop, marked in particular by the ascent of Mount Keira – 8.7 km, with an average gradient of 5%. Then the riders will enter the urban circuit of Wollongong (17.1 km) for twelve laps. Mount Pleasant – 7.7% average over 1.1 km – whose summit points 6.9 km from the finish, will serve as a launching pad for the “punchers”, those runners capable of digging gaps in a way quite fast on short but steep climbs. “We have a track that can create really very different racing scenarios. That’s why I put together a somewhat heterogeneous team.argued, before the start, the coach of the France team, Thomas Voeckler.

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