Lined up at the start of the Tour de La Provence from this Thursday, the double world champion is starting a season where he will still be (highly) expected.

Julian Alaphilippe now has his little world champion habits. Like last year, the double title holder of the Worlds will kick off his season on the roads of the Tour de La Provence (February 10-13). An unprecedented comeback in 2021 which is therefore no longer so for the headliner of French cycling, more than ever expected wherever he shows off his iridescent jersey.

I am very motivated to resume my season here in France with the rainbow jersey on the shoulders“, rejoiced the interested party, quoted by his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team. A Belgian formation reduced to five elements due to the packages of the Dane Kasper Asgreen, and the Italian sprinter Davide Ballerini, positive for Covid-19. The two men will therefore miss the “Wolfpack” on the roads of Provence from this Thursday, where the kick-off of the event will be given by a 7.1 km prologue in Berre l’Etang (PACA), before three events of less than 200 km until Sunday.

Now dressed in an iridescent jersey with enlarged rainbow colors, Alaphilippe will wear this modernized jersey and the set of expectations that come with it for the first time. But with his experience, born from his first rainbow year. “I learned to wear and run with this jersey, to live with it“, told us the native of Saint-Amand-Montrond at the end of October, delighted to leave for another year with “the most beautiful jersey in cycling.»

Getting started or first attacks?

Now the most recognizable rider in the peloton, the 29-year-old Frenchman will naturally have “the sign behind his back”. A status that has finally stuck with him since his first outbursts on the 2016 Tour. It remains to be seen whether he will be at the front on the roads of the event co-directed by his partner Marion Rousse. In videoconference, the Montluçonnais, sick a few weeks ago, wanted to measure his chances for the week to come: “I’m not at 100% yet, but the race will allow me to find some rhythm. Nothing replaces running. I’m happy to be here, these are four intense days ahead of us.»

And for good reason, after this prologue as an appetizer, three stages with very different profiles will await the riders. And there will be something for everyone, between a stage promised to sprinters on Friday, one for punchers on Saturday before the grand finale to the Montagne de la Lure and its 17 km at 6% average on Sunday. Very prominent last year in Ventoux, where he finished second behind future winner Ivan Sosa (present this year with Movistar), Alaphilippe hides his ambitions for this recovery, where he hopes above all “find automatisms“.

Faced with fierce competition (the Olympic champion Richard Carapaz, the Colombian Nairo Quintana or the Frenchmen Aurélien Paret-Peintre and Pierre Rolland), Alaphilippe should favor the path of a quiet but serious restart, especially since the objectives of the season will come very early with the classic Flanders and Ardennes, dear to his Belgian team. With a victory in mind, Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 22), which still refuses to him. “The first big goal will be the Ardennes with Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It’s the classic that suits me the best but it’s the one I have the hardest time winning.r”, he agreed at the end of October.

But before the Belgian mountains, it is the bumps of Provence that will be offered to him and his little legs of the moment. Unless his insatiable attacking temperament takes over. And after ending his season with a victory in Corsica, the favorite cyclist of the French could decide to go for the win to raise his arms at the start, he who had to wait until March 11 and the second stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico to raise your arms.

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