Peter Sagan may have dropped out of Bora-Hansgrohe's line up at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but his teammates more than made up for the former world champion's absence, thanks to a second and third place with Davide Formolo and Max Schachmann.
Formolo was dropped by Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team) on the final segment of the Cote de Roche aux Faucons, but still managed to fend off a small peloton of chasers for second. Then Schachmann continued his spectacularly good 2019 season by winning a small group sprint for third.
At 26 and 25 respectively, nearly a decade younger than the 34-year-old Fugslang, in the process both Bora-Hansgrohe riders success confirmed that the next generation of potential Liège winners is fast closing in on the top spot overall.
For Formolo, after his stage win in the last day of the Volta a Catalunya, the young Italian has now taken his third consecutive strong ride in Liege, too. Seventh in 2018, Formolo made a powerful late attack on the San Nicolas in 2017 that was only reeled in in the final kilometre. The route may have changed, then but Formolo clearly knows how to adapt to it.
"I've been close before here, two years ago I cracked in the final 300 metres," Formolo pointed out to reporters afterwards. "This year, if I could have held on for another two pedal strokes, I might have stayed away with Jakob."
Asked if it was a question of "stay with Jakob or die", Formolo pointed out wryly "for me, it was mostly about dying by then, everyone was just waiting for Fuglsang to go, but his legs were stronger than mine."
Both Formolo and Schachmann agreed that the bad weather had made the racing, particularly in the opening segment, exceptionally tough. Formolo even said the first part of Liege this year were "the longest three hours of my life. It was really cold.
"But we had a really strong team, to the point where we had to ask ourselves a lot of questions about what was our best strategy, because sometimes when there are so many options, it’s not easy to decide.
"But we managed it really well, and the idea was that I would go for it on the climb and Max would wait for the sprint, so we came close to making everything perfect."
Already third in Flèche Wallonne and fifth in Amstel, Schachmann has been the most consistent performer of the Ardennes after Fugslang, but he was coy about whether he would be back for the win at Liège in the future.
"Maybe it's the best year of my career this year. In any case, I'm trying not to make any mistakes this year, and I'm motivated," Schachmann said.
"At one moment after Bastogne I was thinking we had lost the race because we got dropped in the crosswind but we made it back to the group.
"Davide showed his class in the last climb while I stayed at the back of the chasing group, saving my legs for the sprint to third. I think that second and third place in a Monument is a big success for Bora-Hansgrohe."
A former Quick Step rider himself, when asked about Deceuninck-QuickStep's strategy for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Schachmann defended his former team.
"In my opinion, they did a good race, they knew everybody would watch them so they took responsibility for the race and tried to make it work their way.
"It's always a risk to do that, but of course they won so many races this season. Julian [Alaphilippe] maybe suffered in the cold conditions, and it seems he has bad days and good days, but mainly quite a lot of good days. They raced strongly again, so I don't think they will be too unhappy."
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