Alaphilippe is back. When there is a lot of noise around, the inner silence is not heard. Only when the calm arrives, the smile appears and the result returns. As Welsh Gareth Bale would say, in that order. And never the other way around. Tweets and opinons flooded the internet about a disappeared double world champion, brought down in equal parts by his own direction, by endogenous and exogenous pressure and his own life course. Sometimes you just have to allow those little bits to disappear for the whole to return to the surface, for the essence to be released.
Overcoming that moment where everything and everyone seem hostile, when the only thing to do between the tidal waves is to let calm get control and decide in the meantime which is the path to resume. This is the case of ‘Loulou’ Alaphilippe, who after returning to victory sent a quick message that was interpreted as a small reminder to the boss of his team, Lefevere, or to his own fans, who were (actually are) going to assume he is a 100% back as usual. Actually, it is also interpretable as a message to his very self. Feet on the ground, eyes forward, mind activated in the awareness of not having achieved anything yet.
Because all the successful people who are to be read about in different types of publications would remark the concept of never having had the feeling of having arrived. Always having the feeling that nothing is different from the day before even if success knocks at your door. And it must be true. The day you win the lottery, only one aspect of a person’s life changes. Others will change, fair enough, but at that very moment everything will remain the same as the day before. Alaphilippe’s victory meant only that earlier that day he had covered the 167 kilometers between Brassac-les-Mines and La Chaise-Dieu ten centimeters faster than the second. And that is all.
As it is often said in other areas, a differentiation must be made between the fact and the way. One day of success changes nothing. Remove spiderwebs, demons, update, yes, and that’s it. It may be incorrectly interpreted as a liberating fact, as a victory that has broken the chain of the elephant tied to the post. It is not true. The process must occur in the exact reverse order. The victory was not a liberating fact because to appear in that contest of wheels that is a sprint, Ala himself had already been released. How long had it been since he was involved in such an arrival?
Normally victories are more the result of causality than chance. If he reached that final stretch with the spirit and the legs of being number one that day, it means that there was spirit and that there were legs, that the person was ready and that the cyclist was going to be carried away by that click. Julian won the second stage, although his return marks how he faced the entire Critérium du Dauphiné.
A decent time trial, another second place with this Vingegaard as the cycling sheriff nowadays, which is winning in a sense if you think it through. And above all, the demonstration of June 11, the day on which he wanted to take his particular Bastille by the force. In his birthday, by the way. Battling in a breakway that, being only a minute and a half away in the overall from the first of the mortals, showed courage and daring. Values that we have redundantly valued in him as essential in an etymological definition of Alaphilippe.
If the essence is present, it means that there is a flame inside, that some inner ship has drifted away. Having this cyclist back is quite a lot, even more so when a Tour de France is coming and where he will have the option of being finally himself, with terrains where only he knows how they needed to be treated, without fear, without thinking about the amount of eyes that he will have on his wheel. Or on TV. It is unique, inimitable, irreplaceable.
In cycling there are few coincidences and many other evidences, which sometimes changes the whole meaning of the order of factors. That Evenepoel has apparently gone through his supposed and personal tiny brawl with Lefevere has taken time away from the latter to dedicate to Alaphilippe. It can be an interpretation of the coincidence of events, occurrences and cases. In the same way that there will be other ways of seeing it. Time teaches that the intestine is more and more important than the public, just as in a shop window you only see what is really designed to be seen, the tip of the iceberg that appears above the water level hiding an authentic mass of ice underneath.
As time serves as a conveyor belt that comes and goes, it’s Julian’s time to claim himself as the star he never ceased to be. Sometimes the best answer is simply to let time put things in their place, and Soudal Quick Step has days for the wind to bring him closer to one of those shores that he should never have left. The Basque Country, that corner of the Earth that fits him so well, is now a land of new opportunities, of starting over.
At the climax of the alleged conflict with his alleged boss, there were rumours of a change of scenery, team basically. Certainly and although it seems paradoxical, which it is, the return to life of the superstar Alaphilippe only reduces options to sell the house. Yes, there will be more buyers, no doubt, and for a higher price. Problem is just that the seller will never allow it to be possible. A period of continuation in the low profile, in persisting in the non-dialogue about his cycling quality for having ceased to be in the news. It is easier to remove a nail when it is purple.
The excellent news have more to do with the fan’s celebration for the return of such a talent. Not only in the quality of his legs, but also in the mentality that he applies to his efforts, in the spectacle that his mere presence already guarantees. A cyclist who was part of that select club of great talents from which he got off to make room for his teammate Remco. While the Belgian won in the Ardennes, he celebrated the mere fact of having been selected for Liege, the queen of the Ardennes classics.
It is true that his performance there did not remove the reasons for those who underestimated him then. It was also to be expected that someone who is supposed to be of extreme quality. Faun-Ardèche Classic was an occasion to contemplate an oasis that was interpreted by many as a full return. As discussed several paragraphs above, a victory is not even a change in trend, in the tendency. Just a hologram of what we wanted to see.
Alaphilippe returns at the right time. The Tour is his race, it is the best stage to be sent and also to send a message of hope and slight revenge. It is widely said that the presence of certain cyclists gives more than enough reasons to switch the television on and spend several hours sitting down to observe dozens of guys riding bicycles. Julian was one long before this wave of irreverent talents determined to dismantle the clichés of cycling history. If we add him to any formula, results get higher. And the water seems to start to bubble. Allez, allez!
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Written by Jorge Matesanz
Pics by ASO / Ceusters