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Alaphilippe solos to glory and defends world championship road race title

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Shutterstock

Julian Alaphilippe overcame 60 Flandrian hills and the ire of Flemish fans to join the rare group of male cyclists who have successfully defended the world championship road race title, winning solo in Leuven after riding the final 17 kilometres on his own to make a little piece of personal history. France may be one of cycling’s foremost nations, but even champions such as Bernard Hinault and Louison Bobet never won the world title twice.

Dylan van Baarle of the Netherlands won the sprint for second place, with Michael Valgren of Denmark coming third, as the Belgian rider Jasper Stuyven agonisingly missed out on the podium. The 22-year-old British rider and Olympic gold medallist Tom Pidcock was sixth.

Related: Elisa Balsamo beats tearful Marianne Vos to world road race title

Alaphilippe benefited from an aggressive race which began to take shape with 180km of 260km remaining, as a French team devoted entirely to his service launched the first of a series of attacks which rapidly wore down the field over a course with barely a kilometre of straight or level road in it.

As the race moved towards the finishing circuit around Leuven, Alaphippe attacked to create a final selection of 17 riders with less than 50km to go, and he made his final move on the brief, cobbled St Antonius climb in Leuven, sprinting up the left of the road while his rivals stuck to the right. With two teammates to mark the group behind him, the die was cast.

The Flemish fans aimed catcalls and threw beer at the Frenchman as he passed, but their frustration would have been better directed at team selectors who pinned everything on the youthful Remco Evenepoel and the Tour of Britain and double Classic winner Wout van Aert and, only for the former to burn up his energy with a fruitless early attack while the latter ran out of legs in the final kilometres.

“I didn’t imagine racing a lap and a half of the circuit on my own, that was not in the plan,” Alaphilippe said. “I’d like to thank the Belgian fans, not always nice, but they made me angry and that pushed me on.”

Just behind the four riders who sprinted for the silver medal, Tom Pidcock crowned a cohesive race from a young British team to take a sixth place which promises great things for the future. “I waited too long,” he said. “I thought Alaphilippe was attacking too much, getting excited, but he was just playing with us.”

In his first professional season Pidcock has won the Flèche Brabançonne semi-classic and the Olympic cross-country mountain bike title; in races as long and tough as the world championships his time will come, but Alaphilippe’s time is now.

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