Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-Quickstep) was not resiling from the fact that the last two seasons haven’t been what he hoped for as he spoke to the media before taking on the Tour Down Under, but the Frenchman made it clear that the race will mark an early start to his effort to turn that around.
“I feel good, I feel relaxed,” said Alaphilippe, who certainly lookied it as he swapped asides with Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), who was seated to his right. “I had an easy winter without any problems. I didn’t train too hard and I have also not too bad shape.
“I feel really ready to race and I hope to improve my shape for the next month, it would be important for racing in Belgium, but we are focused on here first and I think it is a beautiful race to start the season.”
The French rider last lined up at the Tour Down Under right at the very start of his professional career in 2014. This time around, he finds himself taking the start line at another critical juncture in his career. His current contract expires at the of 2024, and he has claimed just two wins in each of the past two seasons, having missed the mark on some of his big objectives.
The two-time world champion has changed around his first part of the season, launching into the heat of an Australian summer with hopes the team can continue the winning start delivered by the AG Insurance-Soudal women’s team, which took two of the three stages and overall victory at the women’s Tour Down Under.
“We have a really good team to enjoy the race, to try to win something even if we don’t have any pressure now because the women won their race,” he said with a chuckle.
But does that make him one of the favourites at the Australian six stage race?
“I have no idea,” said Alaphilippe. “For sure I am motivated to do my best. You never know how you’ll feel during the first race of the season. It will be the first big effort and also with the heat you have to be careful. I think it is an important year for me to try to come back on my best level and I will give my best. I have no stress, I just want to enjoy.”
The Tour Down Under starts on Tuesday with a stage that is expected to be one for the sprinters, with three loops of a circuit starting and finishing in Tanunda, then stage 2 to Lobethal has enough climbs scattered throughout that it could be a day for the break. Stage 3 and 4 are then likely days for the sprinters before the race moves on to a weekend of summit finishes, first with Willunga Hill on Saturday and then Mount Lofty on Sunday.
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