France's Julian Alaphilippe retained his elite men's road race title at the UCI cycling world championships in Flanders, Belgium while Ireland's Rory Townsend contended in the early stages of an attritional event.

Alaphilippe made the decisive move on the short climb up to the Sint Antoniusberg 17km from the line and never looked back, becoming only the seventh rider to win consecutive titles.

Rory Townsend (C) rides in the breakaway

Alaphilippe reaped the rewards of the team's tactics after the French shook up the race throughout to wear down their opponents, notably the Belgians, whose odds-on favourite Wout van Aert ended up finishing empty-handed.

It was also Alaphilippe's instinct that made the difference as he beat Dutchman Dylan van and Denmark's Michael Valgren, who came home second and third, respectively.

While Townsend joined fellow Irish riders Eddie Dunbar and Ryan Mullen among a significant contingent of competitors who were unable to finish the race, he spent a large portion of it in the eight-man breakaway.

Eddie Dunbar described it as a 'very, very hard race'

That lead group was reeled in with 130km to go and Townsend was eventually forced to withdraw with cramp as just 68 of the 195 riders finished the race.

Speaking afterwards, Tokyo 2020 Olympian Dunbar said: "It was a very, very hard race. I hadn't raced since the Olympics because I got Covid after it so I actually wasn’t going to race for the rest of the year after that because I had three full weeks off the bike.

"But training went well over the last few weeks but today I did suffer. I tried a lot to get into the breakaway. Maybe I spent a bit too much energy trying to follow a lot of moves but in the end it was really good to have Rory there.

"Then it was just about trying to stay upright on the circuits and if you had legs you were going to be there. I knew I had a good four hours in me.

"I did get caught by the crash which didn’t help so I did have to pull out a bit earlier than I would’ve thought. But it’s just nice to be back racing you know."