Allez Lou Lou: The glorious resurgence of Julian Alaphilippe

The Frenchman secures his Giro d’Italia stage win after months of pressure and public scrutiny

Everyone liked that. Front row tickets to a superb show from cycling’s born entertainer. An exhibition packed with risk, aggression and bucket loads of panache. Should we really have expected anything less from the man who went viral for his perfect lip-syncing to Céline Dion last year? After two seasons of injuries and setbacks, alongside a public battering from his own team boss, this was a comeback for the ages, ridden at one million miles per hour from the start to the finish in a way that only he can. Hold onto your hats, because Julian Alaphilippe is back, baby.

The attack came far too early for it to ever really be plausible. There were still over 130 kilometres to go in stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia when the Frenchman made his first real move in that trademark, swashbuckling style. He brought with him only one rider on his wheel: 32-year-old Mirco Maestri, a rider for Polti-Kometa, one of the four ProContinetal teams in this year’s Giro. A rider who has never finished inside the top-10 in a Grand Tour stage before. A rider whose name most people didn’t know ahead of the stage. Behind the duo there was a group packed with so much firepower and so many proven winners that the thought of holding them off to the line was almost fanciful. But today was Alaphilippe, à la grande.

The Soudal-Quick-Step rider rode smart. He slowed on the hills so that Maestri could stay with him, then he tucked into the slipstream of the Italian rider on the flat. He paced his effort to relative perfection, grabbing gels, bottles and shouts of encouragement from his team car as it drove up beside him. As the kilometres ticked down, the gap to the chasing group kept shrinking and still no one really believed that Alaphilippe could do it as his body rocked and rolled over the handlebars and his tongue fell doggedly from his gaping mouth. No one, that is, except Alaphilippe himself.

It was on the final climb when the 31-year-old finally played his trump card. It came in the form of a manic, frantic, out-of-the-saddle attack on the Monte Giove which saw Alaphilippe weave through rows of fans, dancing with the bike in a staccato rhythm. He wasn’t fluid or smooth, but impassioned and determined, driven by a desire to prove people wrong. Fuelled by the words of Patrick Lefevere, who has told him one too many times that he’s not good enough.

Once he’d crested the climb, zig-zagging over the summit in a state of exhaustion, all that was left for the Frenchman was to navigate the twisty, winding roads to the finish in Fano. Behind him, stage one winner and fast finisher Jhonatan Narváez was chasing hard, but Alaphilippe was taking the corners faster, pushing the limits, balancing on a fine line between insanity and genius. Then came the relief, the punch of joy in the air, the flash of white teeth from that maniacal Alaphilippe grin which we’ve all come to love. He’d completed the Grand Tour triple, secured a Giro d’Italia stage win on debut, and above all, showed why no one should ever have doubted him.

The win means more because the last two seasons have not been kind to Alaphilippe. There was the 2022 Liège–Bastogne–Liège incident that left him with two broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade and a collapsed lung. That same year, there was the innocuous crash in the Vuelta a España which saw him leave the race with a dislocated shoulder. In 2023 he showed promise, but Alaphilippe was still on the slow path to recovery, never completely returning to his former self.

Earlier this year, Soudal-Quick Step boss, Patrick Lefevere, criticised Alaphilippe’s personal life publicly, commenting on his drinking habits, his family and his attitude towards racing, implying that the French rider didn’t deserve to earn such a a lucrative salary. After his 2024 Classics campaign, Alaphilippe revealed that he had been competing in pain, racing with a fractured left fibula after a crash at Strade Bianche in March. The punches have kept on coming, but Alaphilippe has rolled with them. Today, he answered in the way he knows how: with magic in his legs.

At the end of stage 12, riders queued up to congratulate the 31-year-old on his victory, shaking his hand, ruffling his hair and patting his back. Alaphilippe’s teammates beamed with joy, with Tim Merlier telling Eurosport: “The sports directors asked him to wait for the group behind with Mauri [Vansevenant] and Jan [Hirt], but he wouldn’t wait.”

This is who Alaphilippe is. He waits for no one. He races with his heart, reacting on instinct. Passion for his sport exudes every pedal stroke. And, after all that he’s faced, it’s hard to think of anyone who deserves this victory more.

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