Ardèche Classic (168.5km) and Drôme Classic (191.5km) – whose up-and-down terrain will lend itself to the puncheurs and attackers – marks our team’s first outing of the season on French soil. The many climbs peppering the route of the two races aren’t in any way gruesome, but a well-timed attack in the final kilometers has a big chance of holding off the peloton and making it all the way to the line, as was the case many times at the previous editions.
Alaphilippe gets off the mark for 2023 in France
Julian Alaphilippe returned to winning ways Saturday afternoon, when he added the Ardèche Classic to his outstanding palmares, capping off a huge ride of his Soudal Quick-Step teammates, who were in the thick of the action from kilometer zero.
The Wolfpack was the first team to move, and it did it in the early kilometers of the 168.5km race by sending Rémi Cavagna on the attack. The “TGV of Clermont-Ferrand”, joined by only one other rider, produced a massive display of power that forced the peloton to work hard in order to reduce the five-minute deficit they had with around 100 kilometers to go.
When the catch happened, some 40 kilometers from the line, Soudal Quick-Step was still relying on plenty of riders in the main group, and once again took initiative, keeping things under control until the longest climb on the route, Saint-Romain-de-Lerps. A stinging attack launched by Alaphilippe after a monster pull of Ilan Van Wilder quickly fragmented the group, leaving only the Frenchman and countryman David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) at the front.
The descent played into the duo’s favour, who by the time they tackled the last ascent of the day – the gruelling, leg-sapping Val d’Enfer (1.5km, 10.2%) – had a full minute over the chasing group, where we were represented by Ilan Van Wilder. It soon became clear the fight for victory would be a two-man affair, and Julian decided to control the sprint, moving to the front with 800 meters to go before kicking out and holding the speed until the line, where he celebrated the 40th win of his career.
“It feels good, as it has been a long time since my last win. I was looking forward to that winning feeling, because a lot has happened since my previous victory. This result confirms the hard work I put in over the last couple of weeks. I knew that the condition was getting better and better, and I’m delighted I could get the job done today.”
“The team was excellent, doing a great job the entire day, first with Rémi, and later with Ilan, who was instrumental on that penultimate climb, bringing me in a perfect position. I knew I had good legs, I was motivated, so I attacked and just kept going. Then, in the sprint I went all-in, and I’m happy I could repay the guys with a victory. It’s a big confidence boost for my spring campaign”, added a happy Julian, who has now won at least a race in each of the ten seasons since he turned pro with Soudal Quick-Step.
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