Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Julian Alaphilippe have a difficult relationship. For the third time in his career, the Deceuninck-Quickstep rider fell just short of winning the oldest of the five monuments on Sunday, narrowly beaten in the sprint in Liège by Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates.
In 2015, a young Alaphilippe fell just short of beating Valverde in the rain when the race still finished in Ans. Half a year ago, in the COVID-19 pandemic rescheduled edition, he raised his hands in the air but was pipped on the line by Primoz Roglic and later relegated to fifth.
The defeat in 2021 wasn't as much a shock as the surprise loss in October 2020 when he believed for a few moments that he won the race. "It was a big goal for me this year. I think I did well to be on the podium behind the winner of the Tour [de France]," Alaphilippe said in the post-race flash interview.
"I'm quite happy but I prefer to win. Being on the podium in Liège is always something special. I tried to win but Tadej was stronger. Congrats to him."
A win in Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday also helped to ease the French rider's pain of another narrow defeat. "The Ardennes were pretty good. I took a nice victory on Wednesday and now I'm runner-up behind the winner of the Tour. It could've been much worse," Alaphilippe said.
When analyzing his race Alaphilippe felt he made no mistakes. On the famous Côte de la Redoute at 35km from the finish, the Ineos Grenadiers team performed a coup. A strong group of 15 riders was up the road and Alaphilippe wasn't part of it. His young teammate Mauri Vansevenant was present up front but after the penultimate climb of the day, the Côte des Forges at 23km from the finish in Liège, Vansevenant was unable to keep up with 2019 Giro d'Italia winner Richard Carapaz.
Vansevenant later explained that his only goal was to neutralize every breakaway to get Alaphilippe in a perfect position at the foot of the final climb, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons.
James Knox led Alaphilippe and the rest of the peloton into the climb with Carapaz 20 seconds up the road and quickly losing ground. "The team did a great job today and allowed me to protect myself and save energy. In the finale, I tried to play my role. The selection was made on the Roche-aux-Faucons where it went full gas. The pedals did the talking there," Alaphilippe said.
In the mixed zone he was asked if he thought back about the previous sprint when he was surprised by Roglic, or if he made any mistakes by focusing on the wrong riders. Alaphilippe felt he did everything right but ran into a smart and strong Pogacar.
"I wasn't focusing on Valverde or anybody. I was focused on making sure it came down to a sprint. My goal was not to go alone or bluff and let someone else ride away, not to make mistakes. When it got down to the sprint it kicked off quite well. I was well-positioned and I felt good but in the end, I was beaten by a stronger rider. Pogacar was clever, he was on my wheel and that played out well for him. His timing was good and he had the power to come back from behind. It was perfect from him. Bravo. It's a magnificent victory. No regrets," Alaphilippe said.
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