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Alaphilippe returns at new French race after bout with mono

Julian Alaphilippe, one of the sensations of 2015, makes his season debut in France this week after recovering from a long illness.

The Frenchman will lead Etixx – Quick-Step in the inaugural edition of Tour La Provence, a new three-day stage race in France. The 23-year-old was zapped by mononucleosis last fall, delaying his training as well as his season debut.

“I’m happy to return to competition, to ride alongside my teammates and enjoy again that unique feeling racing gives you,” Alaphilippe said on the team’s website. “It’s something that I’ve missed a lot.”

In just his second year as a pro, Alaphilippe was one of the big breakouts of 2015, finishing second behind Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He carried that form into May, winning the queen stage of the Amgen Tour of California en route to placing second overall.

Alaphilippe said he’s hoping to regain his footing ahead of the spring classics, with the Ardennes races still nearly two months away. He hasn’t raced since the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia.

“Concerning my condition, I don’t know where I find myself at the moment, but I will get an idea about it this week,” he said. “The important thing is that I feel better and that I’ll add some kilometers under my belt.”

The new race anchors a bolstered early-season French racing calendar that saw the revival of the Tour Mediterranean this year (La Méditerranéen) to provide a full month of racing in southern France during February. The three-day Tour La Provence features some hilly terrain across the scenic Provence region.

Other WorldTour teams include BMC Racing, featuring Taylor Phinney in his second race this season, FDJ, Ag2r La Mondiale, Katusha, and Cannondale, which is seeing Andrew Talansky make his European season debut.