Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) has always called Liège-Bastogne-Liège his favourite one-day race on the calendar, and on Sunday the Frenchman could finally bring home a podium result in the Classic he likes the most.
Bardet has had a string of top-20 finishes at Liège; 6th in 2017, 13th in 2016, 6th in 2015, 10th in 2014, and 13th in his first participation back 2013. And he has long been something of an outside favourite in La Doyenne, even though he has never managed to break into the top five, let alone the top three.
This year, however, something clicked into place. Bardet's 9th place in La Flèche Wallonne seemed like a reliable sign of good form. Bardet's well-timed attack, coming late and at a point when many of the top names were either fast approaching burn-out or had already played their cards, placed him into a strong position for the finale.
With only Michael Woods (EF Education First - Drapac), a rider willing to collaborate fully and for whom a podium placing represented a major achievement as well, for company, the duo reeled back Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal). They then stayed away from the counter-attackers in the main group of chasers. Woods finally took second, outsprinting Bardet, who claimed third.
"I have a great deal of admiration for this race. I really like it, and I have no regrets about how I raced," said Bardet - who managed to hold off Flèche Wallonne winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) in the final.
“I raced well, I think, more intelligently than other years, but there was a great Bob Jungels ahead of me. In any case, in 2018, I'm getting closer to the podium. And it proves I'm not just limited to racing as a climber."
Bardet recognised that he was an outsider, unlike four-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who was closely marked. "It was easier for me to make a move," he said. "The top riders had no teammates to support them, which made the race harder to control. On the Saint-Nicolas, it was very hard to get rid of the others, but once past it, I tried to go for it."
Bardet admitted, too, that it would have been impossible to try and catch Jungels in the finale, saying, "even if with Julian [Alaphilippe] behind, we knew Valverde would be cancelled out. It was quite impossible to close that gap. We were fighting for second place."
Overall, Bardet said his season has been going well, with a victory in the Classic Ardeche, the second place in Strade Bianche and the Tour du Finistère, not to mention some solid results in the Ardennes, which are some of his best achievements.
"It makes me hungrier for what's to come in the summer," Bardet pointed out. But his podium place in Liege will surely give him some food for thought about next April, too.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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