2015 Best Moments: Alaphilippe takes Tour of California queen-stage!
Etixx – Quick-Step had another successful season in 2015, with 54 road wins alongside 69 other podium places. Over the next weeks we will look back on the 10 biggest moments for the team in the 2015 season. Our previous moments focused on Niki Terpstra, Mark Cavendish and Michal Kwiatkowski. Our next best moment is Julian Alaphilippe's victory on Mount Baldy, in the Amgen Tour of California.
Going into the 2015 season, Julian Alaphilippe was somehow of an unknown quantity to many. Sure, he had won a stage in the Tour de l'Ain one year before, but was yet to prove himself in the big races of the calendar. Starting his season in mid-February at the Vuelta a Murcia, the young Frenchman found his rhythm in another Spanish race – the Volta a Catalunya – where he came short of winning stage six, in Port Aventura.
Just a couple of weeks later, the 22-year-old registered a breakthrough ride in the Ardennes, finishing seventh in Amstel Gold Race, before a brace of second places in Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, the spring's final Monument, in both occasions putting on a strong display, which surprised many and allowed him to score his most important results to date, which heralded his huge and unlimited potential.
After netting France's best place in "La Doyenne" since 1998, the Etixx – Quick-Step cyclist lined-up for the tenth edition of the Amgen Tour of California without outlining any ambitions for the overall classification. Throughout the week, he worked on the flat stages for Mark Cavendish, but this didn't prevent him to be well-placed in the GC before the penultimate stage, which took the peloton up Mount Baldy, a 8-km long climb with a 8,9% average gradient. Lying third overall, 45 seconds behind Peter Sagan, who was leading the standings, Julian Alaphilippe was aware he had to attack in order to make up ground and that's exactly what he did.
Inside the final 5 kilometers, the young Frenchman made his move from a depleted group and caught Sergio Henao, who was at the front, leaving the Colombian behind and surging clear on the grueling ascent, meter after meter, switchback after switchback. Thanks to his audacious performance, Alaphilippe increased his gap on the yellow jersey wearer, before crossing the line first and claiming his maiden victory of the season. A win which made him leader in the general classification and came as a confirmation of the excellent form he displayed all spring long.
Unfortunately, Julian didn't get to leave home with the overall victory in the bag, as his advantage was slender going into the final day (Los Angeles – Pasadena), which put bonifications on the table. Still, despite having lost the race for just three seconds, everybody will remember for a long time his fighting spirit and impressive triumph at the top of Mount Baldy.
"I am super happy with this win", Alaphilippe said at the end of the queen-stage. "It was a short stage and we were going full gas since the beginning. In the final I was there with the best guys. Henao was attacking, stopping, attacking, stopping. He was relentless. At a certain moment, at about 4 kilometers to go, I decided to try to attack, and see if I could improve my classification. I went, and Henao didn't respond immediately. When I saw he didn't follow me I thought he was playing with me, and that he would arrive at any second and pass me. But I kept going and going anyway. The last two kilometers were the hardest of my life. I gave everything to go the distance, my legs felt like they were exploding. In my mind I was always thinking that Henao could come back. But I was doing my best to stay away. It wasn't until the final 200 meters when I finally understood I had won the stage. I enjoyed the moment, but I kept going 100 percent until the finish line. It was a great emotion for me because this is the second victory of my career. But, what makes me so happy is the way I won. I won a mountain stage in the Tour of California, the first stage race of eight days in my professional career. For me that is really special. To have this performance with such momentum going into it is really great. The 2015 Amgen Tour of California is a race I will never forget."