Julian Alaphilippe puts on a show to win back-to-back world titles

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LEUVEN, Belgium — Julian Alaphilippe confirmed his reputation as one of cycling’s greatest showmen with another bold display of attacking flair that helped him win a second straight gold medal at the road world championship.

On a challenging course, the 29-year-old Frenchman relentlessly attacked and made his decisive move on a sharp climb to escape from a breakaway group with 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) to go.

Alaphilippe then took all the risks in the technical bends and short downhills scattered across the finale to retain the world champion’s rainbow jersey he claimed last year in Italy.

Alaphilippe ruined the Belgian fans’ hopes of seeing hot favorite Wout van Aert winning on home soil and received a few boos as he dashed toward the finish line. A few insults were also hurled his way.

“Many fans were rooting for Belgium and van Aert, they asked me to slow down,” said Alaphilippe. “Some of their words were not always very nice. I want to thank them because it made me want to push even harder.”

Dutch rider Dylan Van Baarle finished runner-up, 32 seconds off the pace, ahead of Michael Valgren of Denmark.

The 268.3-kilometer course starting in Antwerp and finishing in Leuven took riders across the cycling-mad Flanders region of Belgium, with thousands of fans lining the roads. The route switched multiple times between two circuits featuring a myriad of punchy short climbs and several cobbled sectors suiting one-day classics specialists.

The Belgians were the pre-race favorites with a team featuring the versatile van Aert and rising star Remco Evenepoel alongside experienced all-rounders used to the attritional classic races held in Belgium every year.

Known as “The Tractor” for his huge power input, Belgian Tim Declercq and teammate Yves Lampaert prepared the ground for van Aert, taking turns at the front in a bid to create splits and drop as many rivals as possible. The strategy paid off as a long list of top riders pulled out and the main pack was reduced to 17 contenders in the finale.

The race was marred by a crash involving a trio of top riders in its early stages when Matteo Trentin of Italy, former world champion Mads Pedersen and Italian Davide Ballerini hit the ground with 186 kilometers left. Pedersen was looking behind his back to call his team car when Ballerini and Trentin collided and could not avoid their crash.

The three riders were all able to resume racing but later abandoned.

Quite unexpectedly, the French animated the race with more than 180 kilometers left, with successive attacks by Anthony Turgis and Benoit Cosnefroy that opened a gap and forced their Italian rivals to dig deep in their physical resources to organize the chase.

German Nils Politt later went on the attack and caused another split as a group of 11 riders from 11 different nations, including Evenepoel and van Baarle, moved away. Behind, van Aert and Alaphilippe pushed hard to close the gap before the final ascent of the tough Smeysberg hill.

Alaphilippe attacked near the summit and went away with Italian sprinter Sonny Colbrelli.

The Frenchman’s efforts were not immediately fruitful, though, as Colbrelli could not provide assistance. Determined to avoid a sprint finish, Alaphilippe attacked again with 21 kilometers left but his rivals kept a close eye on him and responded with ease. He made a similar move a few kilometers later, and this time it paid off.

“At some point I told him to follow attacks and to counter, he did the opposite,” France coach Thomas Voeckler said. “He went on the attack on his own several times. He let his instinct speak.”

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”