The tenth time was the charm for Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) as he took victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège a decade after making his debut in 2009. The Dane had plenty of time to celebrate as he rode through the streets of Liege, finishing solo and well clear of his chasers.
Fuglsang had only twice made the top 10 in Liège-Bastogne-Liège but had never even made the podium before. However, he came into the race as one of the major favourites after a superb year that has seen him take to the rostrum in all but one of the one-day races he’s contested this spring.
"It was an amazing feeling and a super way to finish off these three Classics. It was a big goal for me this week and to finish it off and to crown it with a victory today in such a race is just amazing," Fuglsang said in his post-race press conference.
"I don't know why it took so long to but this season seems like everything has come together and everything is going good. Also, the fact that we have a really strong team and they led me out perfectly for the Roche-aux-Faucons. Everything seems to have clicked. It took some time but I hope that I still have another few good years in me."
Prior to the race, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) had been the overwhelming favourite, but the Frenchman was dropped when Fuglsang made his race-winning move. For Fuglsang, it would be the first time this spring that Alaphilippe was not with him when he made a late attack at a one-day race. The pair have been almost inseparable this spring and they shared a moment during a brief lull in the action ahead of La Redoute.
"A moment before you take the speedy downhill before the fight starts to take La Redoute, I was in the wheel of Luis Leon Sanchez and he was in the wheel of his guys," explained Fuglsang. "I looked over to him to see if I could get any sign to see how he was feeling and he looked back at me and said, 'I hope you win today'. I said 'good luck'. I think he probably knew that he wasn't at his best or that Roche-aux-Facons could be too hard for him."
As he'd stated he would do in his pre-race interviews, Fuglsang made his charge for the line on the final climb of the Roche-aux-Faucons, like Bob Jungels had done last year. It was another Luxembourger, Andy Schleck, who did the same 10 years ago, going from 20 kilometres out to take the win. Fuglsang was making his debut on that day and had spent much of his time on the front of the peloton managing things for his teammate Schleck. He said that he was inspired to make his attack at the same place after seeing his teammate do it.
"I don't know but the way that Andy won back when I was with him in 2009 and 2010 was an inspiration for me," said Fuglsang. "I am kind of the same rider as Andy. I haven't reached the same results as he has but he was also not a fast guy or a sprinter. When they can succeed then you can believe that it is possible. In the past, it was even longer to the finish line.
"I made up my mind to say that my finish line was on Roche-aux-Faucons because if I'm in a group there them I'm probably not going to win and I want to win this one. I want to get the maximum out of it. That's why I went all in when I saw Woods was basically dropped and Davide was basically giving me two or three metres. It's now or never to the top and then you have to die or win, give it all."
There was a moment for Fuglsang when the whole thing could have gone up in smoke as he came close to slipping out on the wet descent into Liege. Michael Matthews and Greg Van Avermaet would later crash on the descent, but by some miracle, Fuglsang stayed upright. It was heart in the mouth stuff for Fuglsang.
"After we did the recon of the parcours, I had it in my mind that the descent was more or less straight and there were corners that you could take at speed," he said. "It's one thing when it's dry and then it's another thing when it's wet. Of course, I didn't want to let him come back to me so it was all or nothing and at that moment when I caught the corner, the rear wheel slipped. I don't know, somehow I managed to save it but it was a scary moment."