Fall and abandonment, the sad return of Julian Alaphilippe to the first Flandrian race of the season, after the controversy

Before setting off, in Ghent (Belgium), on the Het Nieuwsblad circuit, Julian Alaphilippe had, in addition to visualizing the course of some two hundred kilometers, to remember the controversy in which he and his partner are mired

Fall and abandonment, the sad return of Julian Alaphilippe to the first Flandrian race of the season, after the controversy

Before setting off, in Ghent (Belgium), on the Het Nieuwsblad circuit, Julian Alaphilippe had, in addition to visualizing the course of some two hundred kilometers, to remember the controversy in which he and his partner are mired. The Frenchman, at the heart of a psychodrama after the violent criticism of his boss at Soudal Quick-Step, Patrick Lefevere, wanted to "return to the best version" of himself on Saturday, on the Het Nieuwsblad circuit, during the first major Belgian race of the season.

Victim of a heavy fall in the last kilometers, Saturday February 24, the double world champion (2020 and 2021) missed his objective and was forced to throw in the towel in the event won by the Slovenian Jan Tratnik (Team Visma Lease a Bike). An abandonment which resonates with the harsh criticisms of his manager, considering his runner's emoluments to be unsuitable for his results. Julian Alaphilippe has only raised his arms three times since his serious fall in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2022.

“Too many parties, too much alcohol”, “under the control of his partner Marion Rousse”: in an interview given to the Belgian magazine Humo, published Tuesday February 20, Patrick Lefevere vilified his runner’s lifestyle.

In the process, Julian Alaphilippe's partner and director of the Tour de France women, protested against the comments made by the Flemish guru of the Belgian team. “Under no circumstances will I allow you to talk about my private life. Thank you from now on for stopping talking indiscriminately and showing more respect and... class,” said Marion Rousse, 2012 French champion, on February 21, on X.

“It wasn’t my intention to offend him.”

While the controversy grew, to the point that the president of the riders' union, Pascal Chanteur, ordered the manager to "immediately stop his way of doing things and his systematic harassment", Patrick Lefévère tried to ease the pressure.

Sitting alongside his rider on Thursday at a press conference, the 69-year-old Flemish manager admitted having “perhaps” made a communication error, while assuring that his “Dutch language may have been misunderstood during a three-minute passage in a three-hour interview.”

Patrick Lefevere clarified that he had made reproaches directly to Alaphilippe during a meeting in November 2022, almost a year and a half ago, and that, since then, he has had nothing to complain about. “I told him he had to do better and work hard, which Julian did. It was not my intention at all to offend him but the press picked up on it, his wife reacted and it made the headlines in France, in a completely unnecessary way,” he judged.

The Flemish veteran is not at his first controversy. In an interview given at the start of the season to Le Monde, the new star of the Soudal Quick-Step team, Remco Evenepoel noted that “it was his way of doing things” to stimulate his runners.

An ambitious “return to the forefront”

Although the outcome was not favorable for Julian Alaphilippe on Saturday, the atmosphere seems to have relaxed. During the reconnaissance of the route, the Frenchman appeared in front of his team bus, accompanied by his partner and their young son, all smiles. The fact remains that this incident is a new episode of tensions between the French star and his manager, whom he has worked with for ten years.

Last season, Patrick Lefevere regretted that the winner of Milan-San Remo 2019 “ate a large part of [his] budget” without great results, pointing to the significant salary (estimated at 2.3 million euros per season) of the French. A few weeks ago, he criticized his “not very intelligent” way of running, while announcing his non-selection for the Tour this summer (June 29-July 21).

With this heavy fall, Julian Alaphilippe should not participate, on Sunday, in the Belgian Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne race, he who aspired, Thursday, at a press conference, "a return to the forefront". Return which had to wait for the start of the Italian campaign (Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo), before its main objective at the start of the season: the Tour of Flanders on March 31.