Interpreting Alaphilippe’s tortuous efforts in Pais Vasco

Vuelta al Pais Vasco

The DS, tentatively suggesting surrender terms

The physics of the situation might not have occurred to Julian Alaphilippe as his bike started to go weird on stage one of Vuelta al Pais Vasco this week. Faced with what looked like a tank slapper, he did what we all do when confronted by obstinate mechanical objects – he hit it, as hard as he could, with his fist.

But while understandable, that was never going to fix the rear puncture that was fast developing into a circus trick. Nor would it summon the rescue vehicle any quicker. Instead, with a gap between himself and the peloton and less than 4 km to race, his bike was having a tantrum. In retrospect, punching the handlebars was the only sane thing to do.

I haven’t been able to follow much of the race, catching only brief and patchy highlights, in a language I don’t understand, while in a hotel on the other side of the world. It means I had to interpret things as best I could, which in the past hasn’t gone so well. But by stage four things didn’t seem to have got any better for the Frenchman, who instead was taking part in a six-day orgy of misery – or at least everyone else was as they watched the Frenchman tumble down the GC.

Some on the move crisis management

That misery was complete on Stage 4 of Pais Vasco (which I think roughly translated means “practical joke” in French*) where for some reason Alaphilippe trailed the peloton by more than a minute and a half after an incident left him behind. With a teammate alongside him, the team car pulled up to talk to Alaphilippe. An arm came out of the driver’s window with a bottle. Alaphilippe took the first one – presumably hard liquor, but then seemed to angrily waved away a second (a mixer perhaps), as he vented his frustration. At least I think that’s what happened.

There was some sort of conversation and then what looked like a white flag, held up by the DS (I suppose it could have been a gel, and I admit, it’s possibly Alaphilippe was tossing something away rather than gesturing to his boss). Alaphilippe, who at least had two working wheels this time, seemed to accept the surrender – that of his DS, and his own.

* This is not true.

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Paris-Nice: Alaphilippe, Martin, and the value of teammates

Paris-Nice Stage 6: Aubagne to Fayence 

As the race reached the second ascent of the Mur de Fayence Julian Alaphilippe knew one thing – to find the wheel of Dan Martin and stay there until he’d safely

Simon Yates takes the win in Fayence

crossed the finish line. But with that job done, and the yellow jersey safe for another day, Alaphilippe found he couldn’t let him go of Martin, even after they’d reached the finish.

The superlatives of the day rightly belonged to Simon Yates, who with every win guarantees an exciting talent to cheer home for the next decade or so; but behind him was another battle, the one between Alaphilippe and himself.

With Yates up the road, Alaphilippe knew he had more than two minutes on the Bury man. And when Porte went he knew the cross winds of Stages 1 and 2 meant the Aussie’s efforts were for pride more than anything. But Sergio Henao was different, trailing on GC by little more than a minute.

Julian Alaphilippe in yellow, follows his teammate Dan Martin up the climb in Fayence

Alaphilippe, couldn’t follow Henao, but didn’t panic. Neither did Dan Martin, slotting in ahead of his teammate and pulling him up what, even on TV, looked like an unforgiving climb. Martin, who only last month was leading the Volta ao Algarve, was now demonstrating cycling’s egalitarian side, putting in the work for his teammate.

Alaphilippe knew what to do, and followed Martin all the way to the summit. Martin, in one of those moments that really sticks, swung wide as the finish line appeared, waving Alaphilippe through ahead of him while he kept watch on those chasing behind. Watching the footage you’d guess Martin assumed there wer

Dan Martin waves through his teammate Julian Alaphilippe

e still bonus seconds to be had, or maybe wasn’t sure and didn’t want to risk it. But the gesture, waving Alaphilippe through just in case, stuck.

Post race the cameras picked out Yates. A few feet away Alaphilippe had his arm around Martin. Both were smiling. Martin had done his job and Alaphilippe had too, keeping the lead for another day. Instinctively Alaphilippe then embraced Martin a second time, the thanks and gratitude all too obvious.

These moments encapsulate the best of cycling. Here we had a race leader showing his gratitude, acknowledging his frailties, and his dependence on others for his own

Alaphilippe and Martin embrace after crossing the finish line

success. It’s moments like this when you understand what makes cycling such a compelling story, as well as such a human one.

Attention will rightly be on Yates tonight, and the performance that reminds us of what we have to look forward in the future. But Alaphilippe keeps yellow tonight, thanks to his own grit, and that of an Irishman who left everything on the Mur de Fayence for a teammate.

For full results from Stage 6 of Paris-Nice, go to ProCyclingStats.com.

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