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.
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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|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors||4:53:37|
|2||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:04|
|3||Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:00:06|
|4||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott|
|5||Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb|
|6||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|7||Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|8||Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors|
|9||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|10||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:12|
|11||Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky||0:00:15|
|12||Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Dimension Data||0:00:19|
|13||Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:00:21|
|14||Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:25|
|15||Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:00:28|
|16||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team|
|17||Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data|
|18||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin||0:00:30|
|19||Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:32|
|20||Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo||0:00:34|
|21||Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:36|
|22||Pieter Serry (Bel) Quick-Step Floors||0:00:39|
|23||Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|24||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors||0:00:42|
|25||Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:00:44|
|26||Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:47|
|27||Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:00:49|
|28||Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||0:00:54|
|29||Steff Cras (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin||0:01:05|
|30||Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team||0:01:08|
|31||Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:01:13|
|32||Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team||0:01:18|
|33||Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||0:01:22|
|34||Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|35||Mathias Frank (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:25|
|36||Anthony Roux (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:01:27|
|37||Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:01:29|
|38||IZAGUIRRE INSAUSTI Gorka||0:01:34|
|39||Tsgabu Grmay (Eth) Trek-Segafredo||0:01:43|
|40||Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team||0:01:46|
|41||Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors||0:01:55|
|42||Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team||0:01:59|
|43||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:02:13|
|44||Daniel Martinez (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||0:02:23|
|45||Warren Barguil (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|46||Floris De Tier (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo||0:02:51|
|47||Omar Fraile (Spa) Astana Pro Team||0:03:01|
|48||Pierre Rolland (Fra) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||0:03:06|
|49||Laurens ten Dam (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:03:07|
|50||Michael Valgren (Den) Astana Pro Team|
|51||Rob Power (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:03:27|
|52||Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:03:56|
|53||Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Eri) Dimension Data||0:04:03|
|54||Damien Howson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:04:12|
|55||Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-Merida||0:05:37|
|56||Mauro Finetto (Ita) Delko Marseille Provence KTM||0:07:32|
|57||Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky||0:07:37|
|58||Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:09:23|
|59||Andrey Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team||0:09:29|
|60||Christopher Hamilton (Aus) Team Sunweb||0:09:37|
|61||Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates|
|62||Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|63||Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|64||Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky|
|65||Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|66||Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|67||Elie Gesbert (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|68||Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Sunweb|
|69||Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Katusha-Alpecin|
|70||Axel Domont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:09:45|
|71||Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|72||Fabien Doubey (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|73||Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo|
|74||Willie Smit (RSA) Katusha-Alpecin|
|75||Romain Seigle (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:09:52|
|76||Dario Cataldo (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|77||Thomas Degand (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|78||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|79||Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Team Sky||0:09:56|
|80||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) BMC Racing Team||0:10:02|
|81||Manuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|82||Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Mitchelton-Scott|
|83||Kevin Reza (Fra) Vital Concept Club|
|84||Paul Martens (Ger) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|85||Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|86||Simon Gerrans (Aus) BMC Racing Team|
|87||José Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team|
|88||Alex Howes (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|89||Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale||0:10:17|
|90||Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:10:21|
|91||Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal|
|92||Aleksandr Riabushenko (Blr) UAE Team Emirates|
|93||Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|94||Chad Haga (USA) Team Sunweb|
|95||Stef Clement (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|96||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:10:27|
|97||Benoit Vaugrenard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|98||Jose Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:10:31|
|99||Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|100||Amael Moinard (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|101||Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida||0:10:44|
|102||Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||0:11:15|
|103||Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Katusha-Alpecin||0:11:18|
|104||Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo||0:11:52|
|105||Kevin Deltombe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:12:54|
|106||Julien Mortier (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|107||Stephen Cummings (GBr) Dimension Data||0:13:06|
|DNF||Quentin Pacher (Fra) Vital Concept Club|
|DNF||Thomas Deruette (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Maxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Jordi Warlop (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Mathias Van Gompel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Benjamin Declercq (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|DNF||Kevin Van Melsen (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|DNF||Enric Mas (Spa) Quick-Step Floors|
|DNF||James Knox (GBr) Quick-Step Floors|
|DNF||Rúben Guerreiro (Por) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Gregory Daniel (USA) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Justin Jules (Fra) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Lucas De Rossi (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM|
|DNF||Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Lawson Craddock (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|DNF||Tanguy Turgis (Fra) Vital Concept Club|
|DNF||Patrick Müller (Swi) Vital Concept Club|
|DNF||Justin Mottier (Fra) Vital Concept Club|
|DNF||Johan Le Bon (Fra) Vital Concept Club|
|DNF||Julien Trarieux (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM|
|DNF||Benoit Cosnefroy (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Christophe Masson (Fra) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||John Anderson Rodriguez Salazar (Col) Delko Marseille Provence KTM|
|DNF||Angel Madrazo Ruiz (Spa) Delko Marseille Provence KTM|
|DNF||Julien El Fares (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM|
|DNF||Romain Combaud (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM|
|DNF||Antoine Warnier (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Dimitri Peyskens (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Yoann Bagot (Fra) Vital Concept Club|
|DNF||Loïc Vliegen (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Bert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|DNF||Michael Albasini (Swi) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Vasil Kiryienka (Blr) Team Sky|
|DNF||Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky|
|DNF||Michal Golas (Pol) Team Sky|
|DNF||Franck Bonnamour (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|DNF||Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Kevin Ledanois (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|DNF||Rory Sutherland (Aus) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Matteo Bono (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Winner Anacona (Col) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Kilian Frankiny (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Lars Boom (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|DNF||Nicholas Dlamini (RSA) Dimension Data|
|DNF||Scott Davies (GBr) Dimension Data|
|DNF||Matteo Fabbro (Ita) Katusha-Alpecin|
|DNF||Ian Boswell (USA) Katusha-Alpecin|
|DNF||Hugo Houle (Can) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Lucas Hamilton (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Benjamin King (USA) Dimension Data|
|DNF||Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Grega Bole (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|DNF||Kim Magnusson (Swe) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|DNF||Léo Vincent (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Florian Vachon (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|DNF||Pawel Poljanski (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNS||Aaron Verwilst (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|