World champion Julian Alaphilippe has said that he's looking forward to making a return at the Tour of Flanders this spring, six months after crashing out of the elite lead group at the race last October.
The crash, which happened after the Frenchman rode unsighted into a race moto, in the finale of his debut at the race left the Deceuninck-QuickStep leader with a double fracture in his right hand, but the experience hasn't put him off the race.
Alaphilippe, speaking at the Belgian team's pre-season virtual media day, said that the race gave him more good memories than bad.
"It was a bad memory only with the crash, but otherwise it was a good memory because it was a great atmosphere in the team," he said. "It was my first time, and I was happy with the race we did as a team.
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"I'll be even more motivated to return, for sure. The team really loves the Classics, so it was a good atmosphere. I'm looking forward to going back."
His injured hand is healing, but still not at 100 per cent, Alaphilippe said. He can't properly sprint in the drops, yet, but hopes to be back to normal "within weeks", and certainly before his first big goals of 2021.
While a second go-around at Flanders looks to be a centerpiece of his spring campaign, a rider as versatile as Alaphilippe will be spoilt for choice should the season go ahead without the COVID-19 disruption seen in 2020.
In the past two years, the 28-year-old has won Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche, La Flèche Wallonne, mounted a Tour de France GC challenge, and won the Worlds in Imola. This season, the possibilities – which include the Worlds in Leuven and the Olympics in Tokyo – look endless, prompting questions on how exactly he'll build his season.
"I'll start at the Tour de la Provence – it's nice to be able to start in the rainbow jersey in France," he said. "Then I go until Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I'm very motivated. You have to take it goal by goal, though. For me I'm just focussed on the first part of the season, then the second part is the Tour de France and Olympics, which can be a big goal also.
"Then the Worlds is the last part – I just know that we'll do the climb from Brabantse Pijl there. I have the time to think about it and take it easy."
An Omloop Het Nieuwsblad debut will also be worked into the schedule, while Tirreno-Adriatico is another possibility for the spring. The Tour de France, which ends just five days before the Olympics road race in Tokyo, will be a major focus, though he hasn't yet studied the route – and once again insists that he won't start the race with an overall bid in mind.
"I know I won't ride the Tour de France for the general classification," he said. "But we never know. In 2019 it was a good surprise for me, but my first goal is to perform well in the first part of the season.
"[The route] looks good. I don't know about the stages. For me the Tour comes later after the first part of the season, but I just saw that there are some really nice stages which really suit me well, so I'll be really motivated. For the rest, we'll see."
So, a lot of big races to think about, then, and plenty of chances for Alaphilippe to add to his already glittering palmarès. He'll race them all in the famous rainbow jersey, too, but was emphatic when asked whether he worries about the so-called 'curse of the rainbow jersey'.
A simple "no" was all Alaphilippe gave in response to that question, the Frenchman confident that his abilities will overcome any historical hex on the reigning world champion.
Beyond all the racing, another big question hangs over Alaphilippe in 2021. It won't be answered until the end of the packed season – or until August, at least – but the French star will have a decision to make about his future this year.
His contract at Deceuninck-QuickStep is up for renewal, with AG2R Citröen already casting covetous glances towards Alaphilippe. Odds are, that barring an unforeseen financial crisis at his current team, he'll extend his eight-year stay at the team with which he has achieved stardom. That decision, or any to the contrary, won't be coming any time soon, however.
"To be honest, I don't think about this," Alaphilippe said. "I'm just focussed on the beginning of the season and what I have to do. Then, when it will be the moment to think, I will take a decision – a good one – but it's not the moment now."