Flying Frenchman Alaphilippe on the rise
By Julien Pretot
BERN (Reuters) - After a decade in the shadows, France has begun producing world-class riders again -- and Julian Alaphilippe is one of the country's brightest diamonds.
At the forefront of the fight against doping after revelations of widespread abuse in the Festina scandal in 1998, France struggled in the Lance Armstrong era.
But the implementation of the biological passport in 2008, which helped curb doping abuses, opened the door to the new breed of riders born in the 1990s.
Thibaut Pinot took third place overall in the 2014 Tour de France; Romain Bardet already had two top-10 finishes in the world's biggest race, and Warren Barguil has also been tipped as a potential future Tour winner, while sprint specialist Arnaud Demarre claimed the Milan-San Remo classic, one of the five "Monument" classics this season.
The youngest of the lot, the laid-back Alaphilippe, 24, took second place in two other Monuments, in the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege classics last year, before winning the week-long Tour of California this season, prompting his Etixx-Quick Step team to send him to the Tour de France.
Alaphilippe did not disappoint, wearing the white jersey in the first week and coming at one stage within a few seconds of taking the coveted yellow jersey.
Most notably, Alaphilippe, one of the punchiest riders in the peloton, at ease in the short and brutal climbs -- much less so on long ascents -- was deprived of a possible stage win last week when he lost considerable ground because of a mechanical problem while leading in the final descent of the 15th stage.
Two days earlier, a strong gust of wind had blown him into the rocky cliffside during the individual time trial. The photograph became a worldwide hit on social networks, and despite the scare Alaphilppe got back on his bike and finished the stage. Continued...