Two-time world road race champion Julian Alaphilippe is ready to justify his salary in the 2023 season after some motivational criticism from his Soudal Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere.
The swashbuckling style for which Frenchman Alaphilippe has won over countless fans and races first came to the fore during the Tour de France in 2019 when he wore the leader's jersey for 13 stages.
Racing for one-day specialists Quick-Step he has collected six classics and the world title in 2020 and most memorably in 2021, with a virtuoso tactical game-plan where he defied and toyed with stronger riders.
But it all came undone in 2022.
"I started last season with Covid-19, then got a stupid bronchitis, and then I did myself in with a crash," said the 30-year-old.
When another rider fell in front of Alaphilippe during Liege-Bastogne-Liege he shot down a verge and hit a tree with his back.
"I paid heavily for some of the things that were written about me, and now I want to put things straight," he told a press conference.
Some of those comments came from his own boss Lefevere, who has little sympathy and who alloted Alaphilippe as Remco Evenepoel's bodyguard as he won the 2022 Vuelta a Espana.
Lefevere has told Alaphilippe he can't dine out on his past reputation.
"He was here with his wife and his manager," Lefevere said of cycling's celebrity couple -- Alaphilippe is married to television commentator Marion Rousse.
"But he needs to show he's a champion, not just someone with a champion salary."
Former soldier Alaphilippe is known for taking that kind of banter with a smile.
"Today I'm back to my best," he said.
"This winter I switched off from the world of cycling and got away from it all with my family.
"Now I feel no pressure, maybe because of that and because of not having the (world champion) rainbow jersey," he said.
He also insisted that working with Evenepoel was a joy, and there was no rivalry or conflict between them.
"It's great for all of us, me, him and the team," said Alaphilippe.
The rider confirmed that he would take part in the Tour de France in 2023 while Evenepoel would take on the Giro d'Italia, before defending his world crown and the Vuelta a Espana.
"We won't have a team to help me win a Tour de France, but it will be great to get back after missing it last year," he said.
The 2023 Tour course is littered with the kind of opportunities Alaphilippe thrived in four years ago and a stage win or a run in the yellow jersey are certainly attainable for someone of his talent and nous.
"I feel no pressure, I'm highly motivated," Alaphilippe said.
He is scheduled to race 10 classics ahead of the Tour de France that rolls out of the Basque country on July 1.