Julian Alaphilippe, best card of the France team

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, at the finish line of the world road cycling race in Leuven, Belgium, on September 26, 2021.

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

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His participation, at an uncertain time, after a fall that forced him to withdraw from the Tour of Spain on August 31, okay from the trip to new south wales, where he aspires to a third consecutive title. A feat that has only been achieved by the Slovakian Peter Sagan (2015 to 2017) in a century of competition history.

France has “practically the best team” of this edition, argues former cyclist Jacky Durand, Eurosport consultant. However, he does not walk away with the status of favourite. The reason ? As his champion has not ridden since his misadventure in the Vuelta, doubts remain about his form. A few days before the deadline, Thomas Voeckler himself slipped that the expectations for the tricolor group could not be limited to Julian Alaphilippe. “If we look at the composition of the group, there are, depending on the race scenarios, several guys who have a chance of being champions”advanced.

Eight plus one for France

With a place reserved for the starter regardless of the quota of eight riders to which he is entitled, France will be the only nation with nine men at this Sunday’s start. Among them: Christophe Laporte, the only French stage winner on the Tour in 2022 –and rider 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 full form.

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But it is especially Benoît Cosnefroy who concentrates the hopes, after his victory at the Grand Prix of Québec, on September 9, during which he dominated some of the contenders for the world title. Especially from the Wollongong Mountain Circuit “it fits him perfectly”, according to Voeckler. The Norman, who had initially rejected any participation in the World Cup, arrived to everyone’s surprise on Monday night in Australia. Which gives the AG2R-Citroën team driver the air of a providential man.

Cyrille Guimard doesn’t think so. “In an uncontrolled race or a little wild he does have the qualities to go for the victory, that is clear… But not in a single leadership position”, emphasizes Thomas Voeckler’s predecessor at the head of the national team. In the eyes of the former sports director, Benoît Cosnefroy is still one step 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 titles, are we going to settle for third place or are we going to bet everything on a driver capable of seeking victory? »former running back Jacky Durand pretends to wonder. With fewer guarantees than in the two previous editions, the best Blues card continues to be Julian Alaphilippe. “On paper, his preparation was ideal: a few days at the Vuelta a España, a bit of recovery and the world championships. Meanwhile, 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 his teammates to go for the win. »

secret weapon

Invited by the Belgian newspaper newblad To lend himself to the favourites’ game, Eritrean Biniam Girmay – a man to watch this Sunday – called up Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Australian sprinter-puncher Michael Matthews, galvanized by a date at home. But not Alaphilippe. Does this “degradation” of the French allow the Blues to unload some of the weight of the race? “Julian is still well known to his opponents.Guimard sweeps. The big favorites will look at him like milk on fire, considering he is at 100%. »

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Still, the France team may also have, when the time comes, a secret weapon. “Thomas Voeckler sometimes invented somewhat surprising tactics, like last year when he decided to harden the race very far from the finish.recalls Jackie Durand. He has this experience in the field and knows his riders very well. » Secondly, The 267-kilometre road race comes at the end of a long season, when accumulated fatigue can lead to unexpected failures. “It’s not always the big favorites who winVoeckler repeats. We can have surprises in a world championship, it’s over. »

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

The road race course: 267 bumpy km that can “create very different racing scenarios”

The road race of the worlds, on Sunday September 25, is held on a route of 266.9 kilometers with a mountainous profile. The platoon will depart from Helensburgh, south of Sydney. It will cover about thirty relatively flat kilometers along the South Pacific Ocean, before a loop of 34.2 km, marked in particular by the ascent of Mount Keira: 8.7 km, with an average gradient of 5%. The drivers will then enter the Wollongong street circuit (17.1km) for twelve laps. Mount Pleasant -7.7% on average over 1.1 km-, whose summit points to 6.9 km from the finish line, will serve as a launching pad for the “hitters”, those runners capable of digging holes quite quickly 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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