Men’s Road Race Debrief - World Championships 2021

The World Championships in Flanders concluded with one of the enthralling encounters of the 2021 season. Julian Alaphilippe successfully defended the rainbow jersey in the men’s road race.

Few do the rainbow jersey justice like Julian Alaphilippe. The French phenomenon successfully retained the rainbow stripes on Sunday, becoming only the seventh man to win the road race at the World Championships two years running.

The puncheur wasn’t the favourite entering the race, however. Home rider Wout Van Aert carried that tag, but rolled across the line over one minute behind Alaphilippe in eleventh. Mathieu van der Poel could not make an impression on the podium either. Instead, his teammate Dylan van Baarle sprinted to second, while Michael Valgren crossed the line in third for Denmark.

Britain’s Tom Pidcock said after the race that he “missed the train”, although a late attack allowed him to cross the finish line in a commendable sixth place.

Panache! A French Masterclass

Julian Alaphilippe and Valentin MadouasValentin Madouas launches Julian Alaphilippe on to the attack (Image credit: Alex Broadway - Pool/Getty Images)

Panache - an attacking rider who acts with courage, verve and flair.

France played their cards perfectly — a statement made easier by the final result. However, the French squad carried out an uber-aggressive, yet tactically astute race.

The plan began with 180km remaining when Anthony Turgis accelerated from the peloton, before Benoît Cosnefroy attacked on the first ascent of the Smeysberg climb. The AG2R Citroën rider finished third at the European Championships recently, so entered the World Championships boasting exceptional form. Remco Evenepoel and Magnus Cort followed, and although the group were reeled in later, it was a clear sign of France’s strategy.

When the next move went off the front with 90km left, France ensured they were present with Valentin Madouas. Julian Alaphilippe then attacked on the Moskesstraat, bridging to the few riders left at the front and creating the definitive selection. This ended the hopes of Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews, who were caught behind. With Florian Sénéchal and the aforementioned Madouas joining Alaphilippe in the group, France held a strong tactical position. This didn't deter further attacks, though.

After returning to Leuven, Valentin Madouas led out Alaphilippe for the first in a series of three punishing accelerations, with his decisive move occurring on the Sint-Antonisberg climb. No one could respond, and Alaphilippe soloed to victory for the second year in a row at the World Championships.

This was the result of France’s game plan from kilometre zero, where constant attacks at almost every opportunity chipped away at their opponents' resources, allowing the strongest rider to demonstrate his strength in the end.

Panache: defined by a team, and embodied by the two-time world champion.

Is Remco the favourite to win Il Lombardia?

Remco EvenepoelRemco Evenepoel rides on the front with Wout van Aert on his wheel (Image credit: Alex Broadway/SWpix)

62nd place. Remco Evenepoel’s finishing position doesn’t come close to telling the story of his race at the 2021 World Championships.

The 21-year-old was on the attack with 180km remaining, covering moves from other teams and ensuring Belgium remained on the front foot early on. However, the Belgian team had never planned to give Evenepoel a chance of victory. He would ride for Wout Van Aert.

Some commented on Evenepoel’s mindset prior to the race — will he ride for the team, or concentrate on his own chances? Any chatter was hushed by Evenepoel, who rode on the front admirably in the latter stages, effectively ending his own chances of victory.

By his own admission, Van Aert wasn’t good enough to win, which raises question marks around Belgium’s strategy. Should they have focused on one rider, or given the likes of Evenepoel, who is clearly on stellar form, a chance of victory as well? Nonetheless, Remco’s performance was magnificent. He shushed the doubters and demonstrated supreme legs.

Next, Evenepoel heads to the Giro dell’Emilia and returns to Il Lombardia, where he crashed heavily last season. His performances at the World and European Championships mean Evenepoel starts the final monument of the season as a leading protagonist. Winning Il Lombardia, which ended his season in such a horrific manner last season, would be a memorable conclusion to Evenepoel's 2021 campaign.

Powless continues to shine

Neilson PowlessNeilson Powless finished fifth in the men's road race (Image credit: Alex Broadway/SWpix)

Neilson Powless was one of our outsider's to watch prior to the road race, and the American more than delivered.

Powless joined an attack with 90km remaining in a group featuring Dylan van Baarle and Remco Evenepoel. Powless was one of the strongest from the group, meaning he was able to hold on to the favourites after they attacked from behind.

From here, Powless could play the outsider card. After Julian Alaphilippe made his decisive move on the Sint-Antoniusberg climb, Powless joined a reduced chasing group of four riders. Here, he tried a couple of last gasp attacks, but finished fifth after the leading out the sprint.

After the race, Powless said, "I think I rode a pretty perfect race. I'm just so happy to have been racing at the front of the World Championships, it was just an amazing feeling".

Powless won the Clásica San Sebastián earlier this season, which was a surprise to many. There, the American climbed well and outsprinted Matej Mohorič to win his first professional race at WorldTour level. 

For Powless, his performance at the World Championships confirms that he is a superb one-day classics rider, capable of performing over long distances. With the Italian classics next on Powless' schedule, we must no longer be surprised to see him mixing it up at the front.

Cover image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix

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