Nine years after Kim Kirchen took Luxemburg’s last victory in La Flèche Wallonne, a gutsy long-distance move by Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) came within a few hundred metres of finally toppling Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) from his throne in the mid-week Classic.
Those few hundred metres though were the ones running up the steepest part of the Mur de Huy and Jungels' move duly withered and died on the ascent as the Movistar and Orica-Scott teams guided their favourites up the climb and into position. Even so, this was far further than any move had previously managed to survive over the past three years before they were swallowed up by the rising tide of favourites on the Belgian summit finish.
Jungels had followed up another long-distance attack, by BMC Racing Team’s Alessandro De Marchi as the Italian went for it shortly on the second of three ascents of the Cote de Cherave. Jungels countered across the Mur de Huy and the two worked hard to keep a gap of 30 seconds. With 12 kilometres to go, Jungels forged away alone, and a 55 second gap had TV commentators speculating that this might be the first time since Igor Astaroloa in 2003 that a breakaway made it to the finish.
"It was a planned attack, we had thought about doing this from the start of the race," Jungels told reporters afterwards.
"We wanted to make it as hard as possible before the final climb. I didn’t know if I was going to stay away to the finish, but I just wanted to try."
Jungels argued that with only one other rider - De Marchi - for company, it had been much harder to carve out a potentially winning time gap. “More riders would definitely have made a difference, and the headwind didn’t help matters either. But I can only be pleased with that."
The frenzy of speculation evaporated as Movistar, Orica-Scott and Sky all worked to pull back the Luxemburg national champion, but Jungels, finally 39th and nearly a minute back at the finish, was more than content with his hard work, feeling a point had very much been proven in the process. Indeed, Movistar might have taken home their fourth success in as many years, but thanks to Jungels, Valverde’s teammates had to fight for it a little bit harder than anybody would have perhaps expected.