Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) claimed his second straight victory at La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, timing his effort perfectly on the Mur de Huy. For the third time this spring, the Frenchman was locked into a two-way battle with Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) but managed to come around the Dane in the final 120 metres of the steep finishing climb.
Alaphilippe and Fuglsang had gotten to know each other well over the course of their long-range breakaways at Strade Bianche and Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, and they emerged as the clear-cut strongest two on the iconic Mur. Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) claimed the final podium spot, but that was a full six seconds back.
While Michal Kwiatkowski took control on the 1.2km climb, his Sky teammate Wout Poels having set the tempo on the lower slopes, it was Fuglsang who launched his first acceleration through the middle of the famous S-bend, where the gradients reach 20 per cent. He opened a small gap then kicked again, at which point Alaphilippe set off in pursuit.
The Frenchman, springing out of the saddle, comfortably rode away from Kwiatkowski and the rest and made his way up to Fuglsang. He remained behind the Dane until just over 100 metres to go, at which point he hit the front with a powerful acceleration.
While last year, he moved comfortably clear of a fading Valverde, this time he was pushed all the way to the line by Fuglsang, and he needed every last pedal stroke as he won by just a wheel. Another difference to last year was that he knew he was the winner, and he punched the air in delight to finally give himself a proper finish line photo.
"He's a great rider and someone who I respect a lot," Alaphilippe said of Fuglsang. "I think he was as disappointed as me not to win Amstel. We found ourselves together again and today he was really difficult to beat."
While the pair were ambushed at Amstel by Mathieu van der Poel, it was Alaphilippe came out on top at Strade Bianche in early March. After adding Milan-San Remo to his palmares later that month, the 26-year-old now has three major Classics victories to his name this spring, and nine victories in total in 2019.
"This race has been close to my heart for a while now." Alaphilippe added. "I've often finished on the podium, and to win last year was a great satisfaction for me – it was my first big victory. I've won a lot since the start of the season, but it was important for me to be up there today. My team did a great job, I’m very proud of all my teammates – I really have to thank them. The Ardennes Classics are a period I love, and I’m very happy to take this victory."
The 2019 edition confirmed a changing of the guard at La Flèche Wallonne. Prior to his successive victories, Alaphilippe had indeed finished runner-up in his only two other attempts, beaten on both occasions by Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard, a five-time winner, could not even manage the top 10 today. He was well-placed through the S-bend but, as was hinted by his disappointing Amstel performance, he didn't have the legs.
Bjorg Lambrecht finished fourth a couple of seconds behind Ulissi, capping an aggressive display from Lotto Soudal, who sent Tomasz Marczynski on the attack on the final lap of the finishing circuit that contained the Cote d'Ereffe, Cote de Cherave, and Mur de Huy. Jelle Vanendert and Tim Wellens were up near the front as the climb started but it was the young Belgian who came through as their strongest finisher and continued a fine debut Ardennes campaign.
The in-form Max Schachmann, whose Bora-Hansgrohe team were also prominent, finished fifth on the same time, along with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Patrick Konrad (also Bora), and Michael Matthews (Sunweb). Vanendert and Enrico Gasparotto (Dimension Data) rounded out the top 10 a further three second back, on the same time as Valverde, then the AG2R duo of Benoit Cosnefroy and Romain Bardet, Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), Laurens De Plus (Jumbo-Visma) and Kwiatkowski.
How it unfolded
The riders lined up in Ans – the old finish town of Liege-Bastogne-Liege under blue skies but with a stiff breeze in the air. The wind did threaten to ignite the race in the early phases, as Deceuninck-QuickStep briefly tried to force echelons, but it turned out to be a fairly straightfroward start to proceedings.
After 10km of attacks, a five-man breakaway formed, containing Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) has joined Joseph Rosskopf (CCC Team), Robin Carpenter (Rally UHC Cycling), Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Balkoise) and Tom Wirgten (Wallonie Bruxelles). They built a lead of five minutes over the early climbs of the Cote de Tancremont and Cote des Forges, until the peloton – largely marshalled by Alaphilippe’s QuickStep teammates – started to bring the gap down with 100km to go, with the finishing circuit looming.
It was all calm on the first ascent of the Cote d’Ereffe but things started to kick off in the peloton ahead of the the first time up the Cote de Cherave, as Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Pierre-Luc Perichon (Cofidis), and Willie Smit (Katusha-Alpecin), although the latter was dropped and soon replaced by Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Merida). The race hit the Mur de Huy for the first time with 60km to go and by the top, just Bouwman, Carpenter and Rosskopf remained from the break, leading the chasing trio by 2:15 and the peloton by 2:40.
The following lap saw a flurry of attacks from Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin), who succeeded in dragging three riders – Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data), Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal) and Michael Gogl (Trek-Segafredo) away on Ereffe. They linked up with the Benedetti group to form a group of seven, catching and passing Van Rooy and Wirgten from the break. They closed in on the three remaining breakaway riders, but never found much ground on the peloton.
The descents of Ereffe and Cherave on the second lap saw some high-profile names crash out of the race. After Ereffe, Ion Izaguirre hit the deck, while Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Roman Kreuziger (Dimension Data) fell in another crash after Cherave. Pozzovivo fell on his face and looked in a bad way, while Kreuziger sat up and stayed down and Yates carried on but watched the race head away from him.
Ahead of the second time up the Mur, Benedetti’s seven-man chase group was caught, and the three remaining breakaway men were nearly back as well. Rosskopf crested the Mur in polo position but was soon caught as things kicked off in the reduced peloton. Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto Soudal) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) did the forcing as the main bunch split over the top of the climb. On the flat, the group swelled, with a number of strong riders in the front split of 30. Alaphilippe and Valverde were stuck behind and their teams set about chasing it down.
Before it got out of hand, they snuffed it out ahead of the final time up the Ereffe with just under 20km to go. Marczynski went on the attack again on the climb and opened up 25 seconds by the summit, with Matej Mohoric setting off near the top to try and track him down. The daring Slovenian made up ground on the descent and joined to make it two in front with a lead of 10 seconds heading onto the Cote de Cherave with 7km to go.
The race hit the Cherave and Marczynski and Mohoric were almost instantly caught as the road ramped up. QuickStep had led the chase between the two climbs and took it up through Enric Mas, with Alaphilippe tucked in behind. Kwiatkowski was third wheel, Wellens fourth, Valverde fifth, as the big names move towards the front. No attacks came as Mas set a strong pace, and 30 remained in that lead group as they went over the top.
Bora-Hansgrohe took over the pace-making on the approach to the Mur de Huy, with Davide Formolo on the front for Max Schachmann. Wout Poels (Team Sky) then stormed to the front and led the race onto the Mur, Kwiatkowski on the wheel. The Pole, however, faded as Fuglsang and Alaphilippe wrote the latest chapter of their intertwined spring. The Frenchman will have been kicking himself after Amstel, but made instant amends and now assumes favourite status ahead of Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep||4:55:14|
|2||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team|
|3||Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:06|
|4||Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:00:08|
|5||Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|6||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|7||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|8||Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb|
|9||Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:00:11|
|10||Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Dimension Data|
|11||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team|
|12||Benoit Cosnefroy (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|13||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|14||Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida|
|15||Laurens De Plus (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|16||Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky|
|17||Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:00:15|
|18||Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Gobert||0:00:19|
|19||Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:00:23|
|20||Sergio Henao (Col) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:25|
|21||Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) CCC Team|
|22||Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky||0:00:30|
|23||Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First||0:00:36|
|24||Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:00:38|
|25||Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo||0:00:42|
|26||Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:45|
|27||Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|28||Damien Howson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:00:56|
|29||Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana Pro Team||0:01:24|
|30||Enric Mas (Spa) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:01:45|
|31||Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|32||Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:01:47|
|33||Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team|
|34||Serge Pauwels (Bel) CCC Team|
|35||Dimitri Peyskens (Bel) Wallonie Bruxelles|
|36||Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) Groupama-FDJ||0:01:57|
|37||Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:59|
|38||Mathias Frank (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale||0:02:01|
|39||Jay Mc Carthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|40||Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:02:02|
|41||Joseph Rosskopf (USA) CCC Team||0:02:06|
|42||Nathan Haas (Aus) Katusha-Alpecin||0:02:07|
|43||Carlos Verona (Spa) Movistar Team||0:02:29|
|44||Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team|
|45||Eliot Lietaer (Bel) Wallonie Bruxelles|
|46||David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:02:41|
|47||Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal||0:03:22|
|48||Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Dimension Data|
|49||Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|50||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:04:52|
|51||Larry Warbasse (USA) AG2R La Mondiale||0:05:36|
|52||Robert Gesink (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma||0:05:45|
|53||Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates||0:06:01|
|54||Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:06:19|
|55||Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First|
|56||Winner Anacona (Col) Movistar Team||0:06:24|
|57||Davide Villella (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|58||Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team|
|59||Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|60||Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Sunweb||0:06:27|
|61||Mario Gonzalez Salas (Spa) Euskadi Basque Country-Murias||0:06:30|
|62||Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo||0:06:47|
|63||August Jensen (Nor) Israel Cycling Academy||0:07:26|
|64||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:07:27|
|65||Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|66||Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) Wanty-Gobert|
|67||Kevin Deltombe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|68||Fabien Doubey (Fra) Wanty-Gobert||0:07:33|
|69||Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo||0:07:34|
|70||Jan Bakelants (Bel) Team Sunweb|
|71||Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|72||Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:07:37|
|73||José Gonçalves (Por) Katusha-Alpecin||0:07:40|
|74||Romain Seigle (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:07:47|
|75||Nathan Brown (USA) EF Education First||0:07:48|
|76||Thomas Degand (Bel) Wanty-Gobert|
|77||Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:07:57|
|78||Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:08:00|
|79||Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo|
|80||Paul Martens (Ger) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|81||Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Team Sky|
|82||Louis Vervaeke (Bel) Team Sunweb|
|83||Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|84||Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Katusha-Alpecin||0:08:22|
|85||Koen Bouwman (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma||0:08:50|
|86||Jonas Koch (Ger) CCC Team||0:08:54|
|87||Petr Vakoc (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:09:15|
|88||Pierre Luc Perichon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:09:49|
|89||Robin Carpenter (USA) Rally UHC Cycling|
|90||Ruben Guerreiro (Por) Katusha-Alpecin||0:10:29|
|91||Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Groupama-FDJ||0:10:53|
|92||Marco Minnaard (Ned) Wanty-Gobert|
|93||Colin Joyce (USA) Rally UHC Cycling||0:10:58|
|94||Omar Fraile (Spa) Astana Pro Team|
|95||Ryan Anderson (Can) Rally UHC Cycling|
|96||Daniel Turek (Cze) Israel Cycling Academy|
|97||Aaron Verwilst (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:11:10|
|98||Mathijs Paasschens (Ned) Wallonie Bruxelles||0:11:18|
|99||Aurélien Paret Peintre (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:11:37|
|100||Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Dimension Data||0:11:38|
|101||Sean Bennett (USA) EF Education First||0:11:55|
|102||Tom Wirtgen (Lux) Wallonie Bruxelles||0:16:45|