Julian Alaphilippe – surprise or wonder?

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The overall leader from France even surprises himself at the Tour de France. He tries to wash away the subject of doping. A commentary.

A man amazes the cycling world. Julian Alaphilippe, mountain king of the last Tour de France and classic hunter par excellence, won the time trial in Pau. He was better than all the specialists, better than all the favourites in the overall classification. By winning the time trial, he once again extended his lead. Even at the Tourmalet, his lead over his immediate rival Geraint Thomas increased. “Chapeau Julian”, said Nicholas Portal, compatriot of Alaphilippe and in the service of Thomas’ Team Ineos. Portal also admitted not to have expected such a strong Alaphilippe. That’s how most people feel. Alaphilippe was the mountain king of the tour last year. But then he stormed the summits as a member of outlier groups. The pace there was high, but by no means as murderous as that which the favourites tend to put on the overall victory.

This year, Alaphilippe also stands up to this murderous tempo. It is a development for which there are explanatory factors. Alaphilippe has lost some weight, he has provided in altitude training camps for a – permitted – more red blood cells. That explains the mountain performance. It doesn’t explain the victory in the time trial, which so far hasn’t been the special discipline of the fast all-rounder.

Alaphilippe thus exposes himself to the suspicion of local media. He tries to flush it away, to ignore it, as if what he refuses to notice actually doesn’t exist. “I’m not here to answer that,” he said brusquely after his time trial victory on the question of doping suspicion. “I know the work behind it,” he said. He did not want to provide details about his preparation and the wattage figures achieved.

After all, he admits to being surprised by himself. Should he still be ahead in the Alps, one can no longer speak of surprises, but of real miracles.

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Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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