History repeated itself in the best way possible for Bob Jungels on Sunday as the Quick-Step Floors racer netted Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It was his first Monument victory, but in an almost identical fashion to Luxembourg's previous win in La Doyenne with Andy Schleck nine years ago.
In one of Liège-Bastogne-Liège's most exciting finales in years, Jungels stormed away over the top of the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, the same climb where Schleck launched his winning, lone attack, nine years ago, 19 kilometres from the finish.
Clad in the Luxemburg's national champion’s jersey, Jungels slowly but steadily carved out a winning margin that reached nearly a minute at one point. The advantage sagged dramatically to a third of that on the Cote de Saint-Nicolas, but then expanded again on the long draggy ascent to Ans, and which allowed him to celebrate his first-ever Monument win.
"I'm a bit tired, and feeling very emotional and very proud about having won this Doyenne for the team," Jungels said afterwards. "Being so close to Luxembourg is something special too.
"Yes, it was an early attack, but I think I wouldn't have had such a good chance in a sprint against [Alejandro] Valverde. There were other, faster guys there too in the main group. So I used my time trialling skills to make it to the finish."
His success with a long-range attack was, he said, yet more proof that a lot of races have been won and lost this year by not waiting until the final kilometres. "We saw it again on Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne, where a lot of teams came under pressure by our making the race hard from a certain point onwards" - as Quick Step did in Liège, too, with Philippe Gilbert on the Redoute and again on the Roche aux Faucons.
"And these," Jungels pointed out "were three very hard Ardennes Classics. I'm very proud I could finish it off in the way I did."
Jungels revealed he, Philippe Gilbert and Julian Alaphilippe had watched a video of Schleck's win, together with other, recent editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, on Saturday evening.
"It was an honour to win in the same way as such a great champion," he added.
Even so, originally he had not planned to make such a strong attack on the Roche aux Faucons and follow in Schleck's wheel tracks so directly. But he said, “we took the race into our hands on Redoute. It was a little surprise that I found myself alone when I went, but then I heard over the radio, 'go, go, go'. And I didn't see anybody after that until the finish."
For Quick-Step Floors, this latest triumph represented another high point in one of their most successful seasons ever, following up a string of triumphs in the cobbled Classics with yet more bouquets in the hills of the Ardennes. This is the team's first victory in La Doyenne since Paolo Bettini back in 2002, when Mapei jointly sponsored the squad. It is also the team's 27th victory of the year, and 11th one-day triumph, which means Quick-Step have claimed the "Ardennes weekend" with wins in Flèche and Liège, albeit with different riders.
Strategically, the Belgian squad played it brilliantly, with Jungels' attack allowing the favourite of their team, Alaphilippe to act as a watch dog in the chasing peloton. Alaphilippe could not quite finish on the podium, but the way he pointed at his jersey as he crossed the line in fourth place was a reminder of how Quick-Step Floors had played a strong team game.
And for Jungels, winning so close to Luxembourg was, he said, something very special. He is also pleased with his first victory of the season, which didn't start well.
"First I had an accident in South Africa, then I got ill in Tirreno, which was my first goal, then I had a small virus all the way through to the Volta a Catalunya."
Winning a Monument, like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he said with a smile, was a great way to put those troubles behind him for good.
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