As the women’s peloton approached the bottom of La Redoute at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes it was looking like SD Worx had everything under control again, as with a super strong Marlen Reusser in the break they didn’t really need to do anything other than wait to see what developed on the Ardennes most famous climb. Then something strange happened.
Teammate Ashleigh Moolman Pasio hit the front and upped the pace with a very attentive Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) right on her wheel and the group quickly splintered into those who were going to be concerned by the win and those for whom the day was over. It seemed odd to be making the race harder when that’s exactly what Van Vleuten thrives on. However, Moolman Pasio obviously had orders to set a tempo that was fast enough to be hurting but not too much to put last year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes winner Demi Vollering in real trouble.
If that was the tactic, it was going swimmingly until they hit the steepest section and the Movistar leader added another level to the amount of pain everyone was under. Suddenly in the space of 100m SD Worx went from bossing it to scrabbling to keep themselves in the race.
Luckily Reusser still had enough strength left to grab van Vleuten’s wheel as it blew past the break so it seemed there was a semblance of planning but behind told a different story. Clearly the Swiss champion wasn’t that confident of remaining with her companion because Vollering was collaborating with Cavalli and Co. to chase the leading pair down. Eventually she stopped riding and wisely left it to FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope and Trek-Segafredo to close the gap but in the lull that followed the regrouping SD Worx let Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) slip away. They were back to defending again.
With everyone worn down by the first big attack of Van Vleuten the inevitable happened on La Roche aux Faucons with another series of accelerations and although Moolman Pasio tried to stay with the Dutch star her sustained power was too much. Van Vleuten caught Brown dropped her and then time trialled to the line never really in danger of being caught as the members of chase group had all been too deep into the red zone to recover enough to mount a proper chase.
After a series of second places – Strade Bianche, Flanders and Flèche Wallone – Annemiek van Vleuten went all in for the last of the Spring Classics and bludgeoned her way to victory in Liège. It was a feat she delivered this time by capitalising on her strengths and exploiting a rare set of tactical mishaps from SD Worx.
Remco saves QuickStep’s Spring and Belgium honour
Although it has almost been forgotten, Liège-Bastogne-Liège has produced some of the greatest moments of cycling history – Eddy Merckx winning five times, Bernard Hinault in the snow, Moreno Argentin taking four victories along with his three at Flèche Wallonne to become a temporary King of the Ardennes – but rarely since Frank Vandenbroucke won in 1999 has the race seen something as spectacular as we witnessed in the 130th anniversary of the first edition.
It really was one of those moments when you realised that you were watching some very special.
They all knew Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) was going to attack at some point in the final hour so everyone was paying attention but the manner in which he accelerated over the top of the La Redoute was unreal. To do it it from the front and no-one was capable of following was breathtaking and once he had 15 seconds the chasers never looked like coming back.
Four teams committed a rider to the chase and it made no difference on the flat and downhills. Even when he climbed La Roche aux Faucons he was so strong he didn’t have to get out the saddle and the gap only reduced on the last part where it becomes more of a false flat. I can tell you from having raced up there it feels like your brakes have started rubbing, it’s awful and then you’re straight back to the biggest gears despite everything screaming for a rest.
Bahrain will be wondering where they went wrong after provoking the selections on the way into the last 40km but essentially they weren’t right on Evenepoel’s wheel and even though they saw what was happening they couldn’t or wouldn’t close the gap straight away. Big mistake but then who thought the young Belgian could pull off such a move. As Remco said at the finish he had his best day and Belgium had a full house on the podium with Quinten Hermans (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
The huge crash on the decent before the Cote de Rosier obviously changed things because then there was a reduced peloton going into the crucial part of the day but you have to say that QuickStep-AlphaVinyl rode an impressive race despite losing Julian Alaphilippe. However, to ride alone from the top of La Redoute was sensational and has saved QuickStep's spring and Belgium’s cycling honour.
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