World champion Alaphilippe returns to Leuven for the first time: “We have had little tailwind this season”

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With the ‘Tour of Leuven’ on Sunday, they hope to bring a bit of the unique World Cup atmosphere of September 25, 2021 back to life in the university city. The winner of that day, Julian Alaphilippe, will also be there on Sunday in his rainbow jersey. With a lot of enthusiasm but just as many doubts after a season full of bad luck. “I’ve had very little tailwind this season,” said the leader of Quick-Step – Alpha Vinyl.

Guy Van Den Langenbergh

You return for the first time to Leuven and the place where you became world champion for the second time a year ago. What kind of feelings does that evoke?

Julian Alaphilippe: “At first I am happy that I can race again. The fact that it is in Leuven makes it even more special. Leuven will forever be a special place for me where I delivered a special performance, in a special atmosphere. I will therefore return there with great pleasure. But I don’t know with what feeling I’ll be at the start. After my forced retirement in the Tour de Wallonia, as a result of a positive Covid test, I was unable to train for a week. I’ve been training again for a few days now, but I’m still tired quickly. So it will be different from last year when I was really in top form at the start. But I’m excited. Both Sunday and the Tour de l’Ain that starts on Tuesday are important in my build-up to the Vuelta and the goals later in the season. No, I don’t have a result in mind.”

Not only Leuven evokes emotions, in the Tour de l’Ain you booked your first professional victory in 2014.

“I am therefore happy to be at the start again for the first time since 2014. I won the last stage there and I still remember how happy I was when I arrived home in the evening. I also don’t often have the chance to race in the center of France, where my roots are somewhat.”

Physically there are question marks. How’s the head?

“I can’t deny that I’ve had a hard time with this new setback. That stage win in the Tour de Wallonia gave me the feeling that I was back on the right track. Less than a day later, I couldn’t move forward and tested positive for Covid. And I was really sick of it too. The symptoms have disappeared, but the workouts I’ve completed in the meantime have been far from brilliant. I mainly trained for endurance and hardly any intensity. I want to race but I just don’t know where I am at the moment. I have a lot of questions that I want to find an answer to as soon as possible. I hope the setback leaves me alone for the rest of the season.”

2022 has indeed been a disaster year for you thus far. How do you deal with that?

“I realize all too well that one year is not the next. The years follow one another but are never the same. I have had some top years, without too much setback and with brilliant results. I haven’t had too much tailwind this season. But that’s life and you have to accept it. Even for someone like me who can put things into perspective, it hasn’t always been easy. As a world champion you want to race and I haven’t been able to do that enough this year.”

Soon you will also go to the Vuelta with a Remco Evenepoel in top form. What role do you want to play there?

“Like everyone else, I was impressed by his performance in the Clasica. That is good for him and good for the team going to the Vuelta. I will be part of a team around Remco in the Vuelta, but I don’t think I will be top of it. Still, I don’t lack the motivation to put myself in the service of the team. I want to perform without putting results on it. Finding the right feeling again, that’s what it’s all about for me. I want to be able to race offensively again and be decisive.”

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