Alaphilippe wins La Fleche Wallonne

Frenchman battles Fuglsang up the Mur de Huy, Ulissi third

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.

Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep4:55:14 
2Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team  
3Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates0:00:06 
4Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:00:08 
5Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
6Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo  
7Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe  
8Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb  
9Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:00:11 
10Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Dimension Data  
11Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team  
12Benoit Cosnefroy (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
13Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
14Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida  
15Laurens De Plus (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma  
16Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky  
17Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:00:15 
18Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Gobert0:00:19 
19Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ0:00:23 
20Sergio Henao (Col) UAE Team Emirates0:00:25 
21Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) CCC Team  
22Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky0:00:30 
23Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First0:00:36 
24Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:00:38 
25Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo0:00:42 
26Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates0:00:45 
27Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe  
28Damien Howson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott0:00:56 
29Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana Pro Team0:01:24 
30Enric Mas (Spa) Deceuninck-QuickStep0:01:45 
31Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team  
32Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise0:01:47 
33Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team  
34Serge Pauwels (Bel) CCC Team  
35Dimitri Peyskens (Bel) Wallonie Bruxelles  
36Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) Groupama-FDJ0:01:57 
37Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:01:59 
38Mathias Frank (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale0:02:01 
39Jay Mc Carthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe  
40Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ0:02:02 
41Joseph Rosskopf (USA) CCC Team0:02:06 
42Nathan Haas (Aus) Katusha-Alpecin0:02:07 
43Carlos Verona (Spa) Movistar Team0:02:29 
44Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team  
45Eliot Lietaer (Bel) Wallonie Bruxelles  
46David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ0:02:41 
47Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal0:03:22 
48Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Dimension Data  
49Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
50Dries Devenyns (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep0:04:52 
51Larry Warbasse (USA) AG2R La Mondiale0:05:36 
52Robert Gesink (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma0:05:45 
53Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates0:06:01 
54Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:06:19 
55Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First  
56Winner Anacona (Col) Movistar Team0:06:24 
57Davide Villella (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
58Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team  
59Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
60Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Sunweb0:06:27 
61Mario Gonzalez Salas (Spa) Euskadi Basque Country-Murias0:06:30 
62Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo0:06:47 
63August Jensen (Nor) Israel Cycling Academy0:07:26 
64Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:07:27 
65Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
66Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) Wanty-Gobert  
67Kevin Deltombe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
68Fabien Doubey (Fra) Wanty-Gobert0:07:33 
69Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo0:07:34 
70Jan Bakelants (Bel) Team Sunweb  
71Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
72Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:07:37 
73José Gonçalves (Por) Katusha-Alpecin0:07:40 
74Romain Seigle (Fra) Groupama-FDJ0:07:47 
75Nathan Brown (USA) EF Education First0:07:48 
76Thomas Degand (Bel) Wanty-Gobert  
77Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:07:57 
78Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe0:08:00 
79Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo  
80Paul Martens (Ger) Team Jumbo-Visma  
81Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Team Sky  
82Louis Vervaeke (Bel) Team Sunweb  
83Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe  
84Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Katusha-Alpecin0:08:22 
85Koen Bouwman (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma0:08:50 
86Jonas Koch (Ger) CCC Team0:08:54 
87Petr Vakoc (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep0:09:15 
88Pierre Luc Perichon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:09:49 
89Robin Carpenter (USA) Rally UHC Cycling  
90Ruben Guerreiro (Por) Katusha-Alpecin0:10:29 
91Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Groupama-FDJ0:10:53 
92Marco Minnaard (Ned) Wanty-Gobert  
93Colin Joyce (USA) Rally UHC Cycling0:10:58 
94Omar Fraile (Spa) Astana Pro Team  
95Ryan Anderson (Can) Rally UHC Cycling  
96Daniel Turek (Cze) Israel Cycling Academy  
97Aaron Verwilst (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise0:11:10 
98Mathijs Paasschens (Ned) Wallonie Bruxelles0:11:18 
99Aurélien Paret Peintre (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:11:37 
100Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Dimension Data0:11:38 
101Sean Bennett (USA) EF Education First0:11:55 
102Tom Wirtgen (Lux) Wallonie Bruxelles0:16:45 

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