Julian Alaphilippe retains rainbow jersey as he defends world title in Belgium

Ireland’s Rory Townsend was part of early break before dropping out of race

 French rider Julian Alaphilippe celebrates winning the men’s elite road race at the 2021 UCI Road Cycling World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

French rider Julian Alaphilippe celebrates winning the men’s elite road race at the 2021 UCI Road Cycling World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

 

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe became only the seventh rider in history to successfully defend his elite world championship title, taking his second rainbow jersey in style in Leuven on Sunday.

Alaphilippe denied Belgian riders Wout van Aert and Jasper Stuyven their chance to win on home soil, unleashing a trio of attacks on the penultimate lap and ultimately snapping the elastic with just over 17 kilometres to go.

Alaphilippe began the final lap with an advantage of 10 seconds, and built his lead all the way to the line. Just over 30 seconds later Stuyven tried to salvage things for Belgium with a medal but, visibly drained, he was outsprinted by both Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands) and Michael Valgren (Denmark) on the drag up to the finish.

“Last year was a dream for me,” Alaphilippe said, referring to his first world championship win. “It was hard and emotional.

“I was very motivated. I wanted to do well for the team and get the best result possible. The legs felt great and in the final I made the cut. I went all out.”

Ireland’s Rory Townsend rides in a breakaway during the the men’s elite cycling road race. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images
Ireland’s Rory Townsend rides in a breakaway during the the men’s elite cycling road race. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

Rory Townsend was the most visible of the three Irish riders in the race, going clear on the opening lap with seven others and building a maximum lead of over five minutes. They were eventually hauled back after over 120 kilometres out front but Townsend continued to attack after the junction was made.

However, he was eventually forced to withdraw from the race after a bad attack of cramp. Ryan Mullen and Eddie Dunbar, who was riding his first race since catching Covid several weeks ago, were also among the 127 non-finishers. Dunbar was held up in a crash, which complicated things.

“It was a very, very hard race,” said Dunbar. “I hadn’t raced since the Olympics because I got Covid after it. I actually wasn’t going to race for the rest of the year after that because I had three full weeks off the bike. But training went well over the last few weeks.

“Today I did suffer. I tried a lot to get into the breakaway, maybe I spent a bit too much energy trying to follow a lot of moves but in the end it was really good to have Rory there. It’s just nice to be back racing.”

Team manager Tim Barry applauded Townsend’s performance. “One of the team goals was to get a rider in the early breakaway. Rory was successful in that, he was up there for a long time.

“Rory had a very good ride, solid performance for him. You know he can build on that for future races.”

Townsend is, however, still chasing a contract for 2022, and indicated afterwards there is a chance the world championships will be his final event. He will hope that his aggressive performance on Sunday and also in the recent Tour of Britain will be enough to secure a deal.

World road championships, Belgium

Elite men’s road race, Antwerp to Leuven: 1 J Alaphilippe (France) 268.3 kilometres in 5 hours 56 mins 34, 2 D van Baarle (Netherlands) at 32, 3 M Valgren Hundahl (Denmark), 4 J Stuyven (Belgium), 5 N Powless (United States Of America) all same time.

DNF: Rory Townsend, Eddie Dunbar, Ryan Mullen (all Ireland).

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