Nicolas Roche only Irish finisher as Julian Alaphilippe wins Rainbow Jersey

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Julian Alaphilippe is the first Frenchman in 23 years to win the coveted rainbow jersey. Credit: ©Tim De Waele/Getty Images.

Nicolas Roche finished 51st in the World Road Race Championships in Italy on Sunday, as Julian Alaphilippe claimed the Men’s Elite Road Race rainbow jersey at the 2020 UCI Road World Championships in Imola – Emilia Romagna.

Roche, riding his eight World Championship Road Race, kept Irish hopes alive until the closing stages of the 258-kilometre race, before losing touch with the main group as Alaphilippe went on to end a 23-year wait for France cycling.

The Irish cycling team was led by Roche with support from Time Trial specialist, Ryan Mullen and 20-year old, Ben Healy. The difficult route featured over 5,000 metres of climbing, with the peloton of 177 men was reduced considerably as the day wore on.

Roche remained in contention until the final 45 kilometres where he was dropped from the leading group on one of many climbs which ramped up to a 15% gradient. He had the consolation of being the only Irish finisher, coming home 51st from 177 starters.

Speaking afterward, Roche said:

“I think I rode a pretty decent race, just the legs let me go in the finish. I was always up the front, Ben (Healy) was around me for quite a long time and I just faded near the finish when the race really really started. I was just a little bit short.”

Healy and Mullen provided support in the early hours of the race, retiring before the finish. Just 88 riders could complete one of the toughest routes in memory.

Belgian Wout van Aert finished second and Marc Hirschi from Switzerland took third after more than six and a half hours in the saddle.

As he entered the famous Imola race track, Alaphilippe knew that he was getting closer and closer to a memorable victory, and after a short glance over his shoulder, he powered towards the line, which he crossed with tears in his eyes. Sunday’s win cemented the 28-year-old’s reputation as one of the peloton’s finest and most complete riders.

Alaphilippe, who became the fourth different Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider to win the World Road Race Championships – after Tom Boonen (2005), Paolo Bettini (2006, 2007) and Michal Kwiatkowski (2014) – dedicated Sunday’s triumph to his late father:

“It’s hard for me to describe how I am feeling right now, there are so many things I think of now, so many feelings. This is my greatest victory, a win which I promised to my father I will get one day. Once I attacked with 12 kilometres to go and opened a gap, I was focused on staying at the front and going close to my limit. When I arrived alone at the finish, I couldn’t believe that my dream came true. The coveted rainbow jersey is the most beautiful one in cycling and to know that I will wear it for twelve months gives me huge pride.”

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