Alaphilippe wins La Flèche Wallonne

Quick-Step Floors rider breaks Valverde's grip on the Mur de Huy

Julian Alaphilippe ended Alejandro Valverde’s run at La Flèche Wallonne with a virtuoso performance from the Frenchman and his Quick-Step Floors team.

The Quick-Step rider accelerated clear near the summit of the Mur de Huy, coming around Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) before kicking for a second time as the line approached. There was a late fight-back from Valverde, who was searching for his sixth title, but Alaphilippe's victory was soon assured with France taking their first win at the race for 21 years.

Valverde suffered to the line to take second, with Vanendert sealing a podium place for the first time after four career top-10 finishes including a fourth place in 2012. Meanwhile, Alaphilippe's record in La Flèche Wallonne now stands at two second places and, at last, a victory.

"I believed in myself every time, and I worked hard to find that bit that was missing between the podium and first place," Alaphilippe said. "Honestly, I didn't know I'd won. I couldn't hear the radio, I thought Nibali was still out in front. At the end I just did my effort. I have to thank my teammates who did an amazing job today. I'm super happy.

"I'm going to really enjoy this victory, but I'm very motivated for Liège, I'm ready, and I'm going to give it everything."

The race predictably came down to the final ascent of the Mur but the 80 or kilometres preceding the climb were anything but predictable with several of Valverde's rivals looking to isolate the Spaniard.

Milan-San Remo winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) created a dangerous move inside the final hour of racing, while Quick-Step Floors, Mitchelton-Scott and Bora-Hansgrohe all rode aggressively.

Valverde looked to be on the ropes for much of the final 40 kilometres and, but for a sterling ride from Mikel Landa, who singlehandedly kept Nibali's move at bay, the defending champion's race could have been over long before the last drag to the finish.

Nibali's move was snuffed out at the foot of the Mur, with Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) and Maximilian Schachmann (Quick-Step Floors) the last men standing.

Schachmann's job wasn't done when the peloton began breathing down his neck, and he played a pivotal role in keeping the bunch strung out as Lotto Soudal, courtesy of Vanendert, set a furious pace. As the gradient rose on the Mur, rider after rider wilted under the strain.

Schachmann was eventually relieved of his duties on the front when Vanendert came steaming by with just under 150m to go, but Alaphilppe, who had been marshalled to the front by Bob Jungels and Philippe Gilbert, was glued to the Lotto rider's wheel.

When the Frenchman struck for home Valverde had already begun to lose ground. Alaphilppe's first kick ended Vanendert's hopes of victory in a matter of pedal strokes, and when Valverde looked to be closing in, the young Frenchman surged again. As he crossed the line, Valverde, who was for so long the king of the Mur, was forced to humbly hold off Vanendert for second spot.

Julian Alaphilippe wins Fleche Wallonne 2018

How it unfolded

After last weekend's Amstel Gold Race, attention turned to the mid-week instalment of the Ardennes with La Flèche Wallonne. Two early groups merged to create an eight-man move that included Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Romain Combaud (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Samsic), Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ), Patrick Muller (Vital Concept), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Antoine Warnier (VB Aqua Protect Veranclassic).

The leaders built up an advantage of almost five minutes before Movistar and Dan Martin's UAE Team Emirates squad moved to the front. At the foot of the first of three ascents of the Mur the gap had been reduced to just over two minutes.

The talk leading into the race centred on how the bunch needed to race in order to end Valverde's vice-like grip on the race. The consensus seemed to suggest that pure grunt and aggression would be the two most required ingredients. The intent was visible when a group containing Rob Power (Mitchelton-Scott), Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates), Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) crested the summit of the Mur with a slight gap over the rest of the field and the break just 1:23 clear.

The counter-attack's time off the front was quickly ended with Movistar shutting down the escape with 55km to go. However, if Valverde and his team were hoping that the hostilities would end they were to be mistaken. Michael Gogl (Trek-Segafredo) jumped clear at the base of the Cote de l'Ereffe, with Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) on his wheel. It was Quick-Step's first act in the race.

Gogl's venture off the front proved to be the precursor for Nibali, who accelerated clear over the top of the Cote d'Ereffe with 45km to go. Although he failed to drop the bunch entirely, the Italian did enough damage to scuttle Movistar's vessels and create a dangerous move that briefly included Philippe Gilbert. Nibali and a group of other opportunists united with the day's early break.

By the time the race reached the Cote de Cherave with around 36km to go the make-up of the race had vastly changed. Nibali was still at the head of affairs with a group including Jack Haig, Tanel Kangert, Max Schachmann, and early escapists Anthony Roux and Cesare Benedetti.

Aware of the danger but too slow to react initially, Michal Kwiatkowski jumped clear. The Pole soon realised that his pursuit was futile and sat up, but Nibali's group quickly established a lead of 28 seconds over the Movistar-controlled bunch.

On the second ascent of the Mur and with the break fully committed the gap moved out to 40 seconds. By now Valverde was left with just Landa and the tiring Anacona for company, but Dan Martin, Wout Poels, Rafal Majka and Ion Izagirre were all dropped as the bunch continued to thin out.

Free Landa can't stop the tide from turning

Once over the top of the Mur for a second time, Landa set about holding the leaders at 50 seconds, and although Dimension Data offered a brief respite, the lion-share of the chasing fell on the Movistar rider's shoulders. On the next ascent of the Cote de l'Ereffe with around 20km to go the gap held at 40 seconds, but as the leaders raced towards the final 15km the gap opened up to almost a minute.

Even Landa was feeling the strain at this point as Quick-Step ordered Schachmann to continue working up ahead. Valverde still looked comfortable but with Gilbert, Serry, Jungels and Alaphilippe still in the bunch, the tide was already starting to turn. Help was needed if the leading group was to be caught, and it duly came in the form of Lotto-Soudal and Bora-Hansgrohe – once Benedetti had been caught.

Cobbled classics specialist Tiesj Benoot reduced the gap by 15 seconds on an unclassified climb before Haig attacked from the breakaway. The Australian's move was closed down and with 5.8km to go Nibali threw caution to the wind with an attack over the penultimate climb. By now the gap was down to 10 seconds, and Nibali, riding for teammates as much as his own chances, ran out of gas.

As the final climb came into view Haig and Schachmann remained out front. However, when the Australian looked back, expecting collaboration from his companion, he was met with a shake of the head.

With Lotto-Soudal left with the numbers, and Quick-Step unwilling to chase with a rider up the road, it was left to the team in red to set the pace on the lower slopes of the climb. First came Benoot. Then Vanendert, who was presumably working for Tim Wellens at first.

However, as the road began to rise tactics began to fall by the wayside. The only team left with cards to play were Quick-Step and for the first time this season they made winning look easy. Schachmann edged in front of Haig and became the carrot for Vanendert to chase, but it was Alaphilippe who had the legs, the team, and the game-plan to finally end Valverde's run.

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Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors4:53:37 
2Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team0:00:04 
3Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:00:06 
4Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott  
5Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb  
6Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo  
7Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
8Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors  
9Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
10Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe0:00:12 
11Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky0:00:15 
12Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Dimension Data0:00:19 
13Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ0:00:21 
14Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates0:00:25 
15Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:00:28 
16Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team  
17Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data  
18Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin0:00:30 
19Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates0:00:32 
20Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo0:00:34 
21Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe0:00:36 
22Pieter Serry (Bel) Quick-Step Floors0:00:39 
23Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
24Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors0:00:42 
25Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:00:44 
26Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe0:00:47 
27Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:00:49 
28Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale0:00:54 
29Steff Cras (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin0:01:05 
30Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:01:08 
31Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb0:01:13 
32Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team0:01:18 
33Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale0:01:22 
34Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
35Mathias Frank (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale0:01:25 
36Anthony Roux (Fra) Groupama-FDJ0:01:27 
37Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe0:01:29 
38IZAGUIRRE INSAUSTI Gorka0:01:34 
39Tsgabu Grmay (Eth) Trek-Segafredo0:01:43 
40Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team0:01:46 
41Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors0:01:55 
42Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team0:01:59 
43Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:02:13 
44Daniel Martinez (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale0:02:23 
45Warren Barguil (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
46Floris De Tier (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo0:02:51 
47Omar Fraile (Spa) Astana Pro Team0:03:01 
48Pierre Rolland (Fra) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale0:03:06 
49Laurens ten Dam (Ned) Team Sunweb0:03:07 
50Michael Valgren (Den) Astana Pro Team  
51Rob Power (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott0:03:27 
52Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:03:56 
53Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Eri) Dimension Data0:04:03 
54Damien Howson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott0:04:12 
55Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-Merida0:05:37 
56Mauro Finetto (Ita) Delko Marseille Provence KTM0:07:32 
57Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky0:07:37 
58Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise0:09:23 
59Andrey Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team0:09:29 
60Christopher Hamilton (Aus) Team Sunweb0:09:37 
61Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates  
62Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
63Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo  
64Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky  
65Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
66Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
67Elie Gesbert (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
68Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Sunweb  
69Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Katusha-Alpecin  
70Axel Domont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:09:45 
71Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
72Fabien Doubey (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
73Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo  
74Willie Smit (RSA) Katusha-Alpecin  
75Romain Seigle (Fra) Groupama-FDJ0:09:52 
76Dario Cataldo (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
77Thomas Degand (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
78Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
79Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Team Sky0:09:56 
80Alberto Bettiol (Ita) BMC Racing Team0:10:02 
81Manuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
82Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Mitchelton-Scott  
83Kevin Reza (Fra) Vital Concept Club  
84Paul Martens (Ger) LottoNL-Jumbo  
85Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
86Simon Gerrans (Aus) BMC Racing Team  
87José Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team  
88Alex Howes (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
89Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale0:10:17 
90Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe0:10:21 
91Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal  
92Aleksandr Riabushenko (Blr) UAE Team Emirates  
93Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
94Chad Haga (USA) Team Sunweb  
95Stef Clement (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo  
96Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:10:27 
97Benoit Vaugrenard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ  
98Jose Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:10:31 
99Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
100Amael Moinard (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
101Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida0:10:44 
102Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic0:11:15 
103Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Katusha-Alpecin0:11:18 
104Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo0:11:52 
105Kevin Deltombe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise0:12:54 
106Julien Mortier (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
107Stephen Cummings (GBr) Dimension Data0:13:06 
DNFQuentin Pacher (Fra) Vital Concept Club  
DNFThomas Deruette (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
DNFMaxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
DNFJulien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFJordi Warlop (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
DNFMathias Van Gompel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
DNFDries Van Gestel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
DNFBenjamin Declercq (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
DNFDion Smith (NZl) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
DNFKevin Van Melsen (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
DNFEnric Mas (Spa) Quick-Step Floors  
DNFJames Knox (GBr) Quick-Step Floors  
DNFRúben Guerreiro (Por) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFGregory Daniel (USA) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFJustin Jules (Fra) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
DNFJulien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFLucas De Rossi (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM  
DNFLuis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFLawson Craddock (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
DNFTanguy Turgis (Fra) Vital Concept Club  
DNFPatrick Müller (Swi) Vital Concept Club  
DNFJustin Mottier (Fra) Vital Concept Club  
DNFJohan Le Bon (Fra) Vital Concept Club  
DNFJulien Trarieux (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM  
DNFBenoit Cosnefroy (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFChristophe Masson (Fra) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
DNFJohannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Sunweb  
DNFJohn Anderson Rodriguez Salazar (Col) Delko Marseille Provence KTM  
DNFAngel Madrazo Ruiz (Spa) Delko Marseille Provence KTM  
DNFJulien El Fares (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM  
DNFRomain Combaud (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM  
DNFAntoine Warnier (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
DNFDimitri Peyskens (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
DNFYoann Bagot (Fra) Vital Concept Club  
DNFLoïc Vliegen (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
DNFBert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo  
DNFMichael Albasini (Swi) Mitchelton-Scott  
DNFVasil Kiryienka (Blr) Team Sky  
DNFLukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky  
DNFMichal Golas (Pol) Team Sky  
DNFFranck Bonnamour (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
DNFDamiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team  
DNFKevin Ledanois (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
DNFRory Sutherland (Aus) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFMatteo Bono (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFImanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team  
DNFCarlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team  
DNFWinner Anacona (Col) Movistar Team  
DNFAndrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team  
DNFKilian Frankiny (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
DNFLars Boom (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo  
DNFNicholas Dlamini (RSA) Dimension Data  
DNFScott Davies (GBr) Dimension Data  
DNFMatteo Fabbro (Ita) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFIan Boswell (USA) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFHugo Houle (Can) Astana Pro Team  
DNFLucas Hamilton (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
DNFGregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFBenjamin King (USA) Dimension Data  
DNFJan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFGrega Bole (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFKim Magnusson (Swe) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
DNFLéo Vincent (Fra) Groupama-FDJ  
DNFValentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ  
DNFDavid Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ  
DNFFlorian Vachon (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
DNFPawel Poljanski (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNSAaron Verwilst (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  

 

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