Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) claimed his third career victory in La Flèche Wallonne, using his superior knowledge of the Mur de Huy to overhaul Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in a breathless final 100 metres.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) showed sparks of his younger self - the five-time winner of the race struggled to keep the pace of Roglič and Alaphilippe but had enough to hold on for the final podium spot.
Roglič, racing his first Flèche Wallonne, hit out first and hardest, attacking perhaps misguidedly with 350m to go on the steepest part of the climb and immediately opened up a gap.
Alaphilippe, knowing that patience is key on the Mur de Huy, bided his time and then as the gradient eased, leapt clear of Valverde to take his first one-day race victory since last year's Brabantse Pijl in October.
"The team did great work all day for me. They gave me a lot of confidence and I was able to save energy all day thanks to them. In the finale, I knew what I had to do. It hurt," Alaphilippe said.
"I was perfectly placed. I was able to climb the Mur in the first positions and then it's the legs that make the difference. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy with Roglič and with Valverde on my wheel but I got there."
After winning in 2018 and 2019, Alaphilippe skipped the race after taking the rainbow jersey in the coronavirus-reshuffled late 2020 season. On Wednesday, the world champion showed his stripes with aplomb after a difficult Classics campaign so far.
"I just wanted to show I had a strong head. Since the start of the season I haven't won a lot, and that didn't stop me having fun, but I really wanted to raise my arms again.
"I put some pressure on myself - not pressure, but I wanted to win again. It does my an enormous amount of good to win, especially in the jersey. I'm really happy," Alaphilippe said.
Roglič's attack drew out Amstel Gold Race runner-up Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), and the Briton was passed by Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) before the top, finishing in sixth.
David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Esteban Chaves (BikeExchange), Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) rounded out the top ten.
The result was a relief and a confirmation of his form ahead of Liège-Bastogne-Liège for Alaphilippe, who last year celebrated too early in La Doyenne and lost out to Roglič before being relegated.
How it unfolded
After a COVID-19 pandemic-postponed late-September edition, the 2021 Flèche Wallonne got underway without the UAE Team Emirates after two members of the organisation tested positive for the virus. Despite several negative tests later on - one of them had even been vaccinated, restrictions are restrictions and one pre-race favourite, Tadej Pogačar would not be at the start line.
Once the flag dropped for the 193.6km race the usual flurry of attacks followed with Loïc Vliegen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Petr Rikunov (Gazprom-RusVelo) and Arne Marit (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) leaping away. Mathijs Paaschens (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB) bridged across but he'd proved too tempting for the chasers and after 15km the race was back together again.
Another surge from a larger group got nailed back before the day's successful breakaway forged clear containing Alex Howes (EF Education-Nippo), Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto-Soudal), Sander Armée (Team Qhubeka Assos), Maurits Lammertink (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), and Julian Mertens (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise).
The five were chased by Diego Rosa (Arkéa-Samsic), Louis Vervaeke (Alpecin-Fenix), Simone Velasco (Gazprom-Rusvelo) and then Niklas Eg (Trek-Segafredo) as the peloton stopped for a call of nature signalling this move was the one.
The eight riders came together with 155km to go without Eg, who went back to the bunch and the race settled in for the long haul, having covered 46.7km in the first hour. After 85km, the gap to the leaders maxed out at 5:30 before Movistar came to the fore for Valverde and began to chip away at it.
On the Côte de Gives with 80km to go, Howes had gear problems and had to chase back on, the delay for the breakaway came as the gap was plummeting.
The leaders hit the Mur de Huy for the first time with 64km to go, Howes again had gear problems and had to get a neutral bike from Shimano but managed to get back on to the lead group.
The race became more frantic on the closing circuits, with Sergio Higuita (EF-Nippo) crashing and getting back on and Howes stopping again to get a new bike before the Côte du Chemin des Gueuses with 45km to go.
On the second trip over the Mur de Huy with 32km to go, the breakaway had only a minute and they lost Rosa, Velasco and Mertens.
There was a crash in the peloton on the other side of the climb that took down pre-race favourite Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), who then had to get a new shoe from the team car with almost 25km to go. None other than Giro d'Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart helped Pidcock get back on with 24km to go.
The incident slowed the chase, giving the five breakaway a few more seconds - their gap went out to one minute again after dipping below that margin. However, before the Côte d'Ereffe, their lead was slashed in half, Howes was dropped and Groupama-FDJ was closing the peloton in fast.
Four leaders - Moniquet, Vervaeke, Lammertink and Armée went over the top of the Ereffe with 27 seconds on the peloton which caught Howes with 18km to go.
The bit between their teeth, Groupama-FDJ continued to lead the chase to the leaders, who used the descent to gain a handful of seconds. Vervaeke tried to keep the breakaway cooperating but the effort was futile.
Moniquet drove the pace on the run-in to the penultimate climb but with just a 29-second advantage at the base Côte du Chemin des Gueuses with 10km to go, their TV time was coming to an end.
Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) attacked from the peloton at the start of the climb, while ahead, Lammertink attacked the breakaway and went clear.
Wellens went past Armée like a rocket, linking up with his teammate Moniquet and Vervaeke from the early move while Omar Fraile (Astana) leapt across to Wellens.
Team DSM's Ilan Van Wilder also made it across to Wellens and, at the crest, Lammertink had only nine seconds' lead but his three chasers had even less on the peloton.
Carapaz nailed the chasers back after the summit and then Deceuninck-Quickstep came to the fore together with Bahrain Victorious to lead the bunch.
Lammertink persisted and still held a dozen seconds on the descent to the base of the Mur de Huy.
The Mur de Huy
The churn of the peloton with 3km to go gave Lammertink an additional advantage of the favourites fought to get into position. BikeExchange pulled Chaves to the fore, while Lutsenko brought Fuglsang forward.
AG2R Citroën won the fight for the pointy end of the peloton, and nailed back Lammertink with 1.4km to go.
The first attack came from Honoré and he was chased furiously by a rider from Bahrain Victorious.
All the names were in position - Roglič, Alaphilippe, Kwiatkowski at the front and Vansevenant bobbing and weaving with 600m to go.
Roglič came to the front inside the final 500m and put in his big dig with a full 350m to go.
Alaphilippe waited, then pounced with Valverde on his wheel and Pidcock just behind, distancing the Spaniard, and linked up with Roglič the sprinted past with 75m to go, just managing to hold off Slovenian before the line. The world champion's form failures of the past weeks put well behind him.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep||4:36:25|
|2||Primoz Roglic (Slo) Jumbo-Visma|
|3||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:06|
|4||Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-up Nation||0:00:08|
|5||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic||0:00:11|
|6||Thomas Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers|
|7||David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|8||Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Team BikeExchange|
|9||Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers|
|10||Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:16|
|11||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|12||Ben Tulett (GBr) Alpecin-Fenix|
|13||Alex Aranburu Deba (Spa) Astana-Premier Tech|
|14||Quinten Hermans (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|15||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|16||Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis|
|17||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana-Premier Tech||0:00:19|
|18||Benoit Cosnefroy (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team||0:00:21|
|19||Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain Victorious|
|20||Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers||0:00:27|
|21||Michael Matthews (Aus) Team BikeExchange||0:00:28|
|22||Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain Victorious||0:00:32|
|23||Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Ineos Grenadiers|
|24||Marco Brenner (Ger) Team DSM||0:00:36|
|25||Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Alpecin-Fenix|
|26||Mauro Finetto (Ita) Delko|
|27||Mauri Vansevenant (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|28||Sergio Henao Montoya (Col) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|29||Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis||0:00:40|
|30||Nicola Conci (Ita) Trek-Segafredo|
|31||Krists Neilands (Lat) Israel Start-up Nation||0:00:42|
|32||Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain Victorious|
|33||Aurélien Paret Peintre (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team|
|34||Fernando Barceló Aragon (Spa) Cofidis|
|35||Simon Carr (GBr) EF Education-Nippo||0:00:46|
|36||Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|37||Sam Oomen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|38||Robert Gesink (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|39||Lorenzo Rota (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux||0:00:51|
|40||Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo||0:00:54|
|41||Fabio Aru (Ita) Team Qhubeka Assos||0:00:57|
|42||Mikkel Honoré (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:01:00|
|43||Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Bingoal Pauwels Sauzen WB|
|44||Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|45||Clément Champoussin (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team||0:01:05|
|46||Michael Valgren (Den) EF Education-Nippo||0:01:06|
|47||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Gazprom-RusVelo||0:01:07|
|48||Robert Stannard (Aus) Team BikeExchange||0:01:11|
|49||Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo||0:01:15|
|50||Thymen Arensman (Ned) Team DSM||0:01:18|
|51||Floris De Tier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:01:28|
|52||Daryl Impey (RSA) Israel Start-up Nation||0:01:30|
|53||Andreas Leknessund (Nor) Team DSM|
|54||Mark Donovan (GBr) Team DSM||0:01:35|
|55||Jonathan Caicedo (Ecu) EF Education-Nippo|
|56||Jan Tratnik (Slo) Bahrain Victorious||0:01:37|
|57||Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain Victorious|
|58||Omar Fraile Matarranz (Spa) Astana-Premier Tech|
|59||Dorian Godon (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team||0:01:47|
|60||Ruben Fernandez (Spa) Cofidis||0:01:56|
|61||Ilan Van Wilder (Bel) Team DSM||0:01:59|
|62||Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers||0:02:12|
|63||James Knox (GBr) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:02:13|
|64||Louis Vervaeke (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|65||Simon Clarke (Aus) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|66||Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Movistar Team||0:02:17|
|67||Jan Bakelants (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux||0:02:35|
|68||Martijn Tusveld (Ned) Team DSM|
|69||Sergei Chernetskii (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo|
|70||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:02:39|
|71||Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:02:44|
|72||Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech||0:02:51|
|73||Stefan De Bod (RSA) Astana-Premier Tech|
|74||Brent Bookwalter (USA) Team BikeExchange|
|75||Lukasz Owsian (Pol) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|76||Simon Geschke (Ger) Cofidis|
|77||Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar Team||0:03:01|
|78||Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis|
|79||Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux||0:03:06|
|80||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:03:11|
|81||Sander Armée (Bel) Team Qhubeka Assos||0:03:17|
|82||Sylvain Moniquet (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:03:41|
|83||Lennard Hofstede (Ned) Jumbo-Visma||0:03:53|
|84||Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma||0:04:05|
|85||Ide Schelling (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:04:45|
|86||Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:04:54|
|87||Jimmy Janssens (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:05:48|
|88||Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:06:22|
|89||Alexander Kamp (Den) Trek-Segafredo|
|90||Rob Power (Aus) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|91||Matteo Jorgenson (USA) Movistar Team|
|92||Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|93||Tsgabu Grmay (Eth) Team BikeExchange|
|94||Romain Seigle (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:06:32|
|95||Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:06:57|
|96||Bruno Armirail (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:07:33|
|97||Laurent Pichon (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|98||Lawson Craddock (USA) EF Education-Nippo||0:07:35|
|99||Alex Howes (USA) EF Education-Nippo||0:08:15|
|100||Simone Velasco (Ita) Gazprom-RusVelo||0:08:23|
|101||Biniam Girmay (Eri) Delko||0:08:45|
|102||Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|103||Julian Mertens (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:08:59|
|104||Laurens Huys (Bel) Bingoal Pauwels Sauzen WB|
|105||Delio Fernandez Cruz (Spa) Delko||0:09:11|
|106||Diego Rosa (Ita) Team Arkea-Samsic||0:10:09|
|107||Sean Bennett (USA) Team Qhubeka Assos||0:11:06|
|108||Philipp Walsleben (Ger) Alpecin-Fenix||0:11:18|
|109||Rune Herregodts (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:12:01|
|110||Hideto Nakane (Jpn) EF Education-Nippo|
|111||Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|112||Remy Mertz (Bel) Bingoal Pauwels Sauzen WB|
|113||Lawrence Naesen (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team|
|114||Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Israel Start-up Nation|
|115||Sébastien Grignard (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|116||Niklas Eg (Den) Trek-Segafredo|
|117||Aimé De Gendt (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux||0:12:05|
|118||Kevin Van Melsen (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|119||Luc Wirtgen (Lux) Bingoal Pauwels Sauzen WB||0:12:16|
|120||Dmitrii Strakhov (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo|
|121||Jorge Arcas (Spa) Movistar Team||0:12:17|
|122||Alan Riou (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|123||Michael Schär (Swi) AG2R Citroën Team|
|124||Kevin Ledanois (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|125||Paul Martens (Ger) Jumbo-Visma|
|126||Christopher Juul-Jensen (Den) Team BikeExchange|
|127||Hugo Houle (Can) Astana-Premier Tech|
|128||Marco Canola (Ita) Gazprom-RusVelo||0:12:26|
|129||Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Jumbo-Visma|
|130||Luke Rowe (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers|
|131||Mathijs Paasschens (Ned) Bingoal Pauwels Sauzen WB|
|132||Eros Capecchi (Ita) Bahrain Victorious|
|133||James Piccoli (Can) Israel Start-up Nation|
|134||Alex Colman (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:13:21|
|135||Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal||0:13:30|
|136||Patrick Gamper (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|137||Guillaume Boivin (Can) Israel Start-up Nation||0:13:52|
|138||August Jensen (Nor) Delko|
|139||Barnabás Peák (Hun) Team BikeExchange|
|DNS||Marc Hirschi (Swi) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNS||Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNS||Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNS||Davide Formolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNS||Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNS||Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNS||Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Stan Dewulf (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team|
|DNF||Guy Sagiv (Isr) Israel Start-up Nation|
|DNF||Matis Louvel (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic|
|DNF||Sergio Higuita Garcia (Col) EF Education-Nippo|
|DNF||Josef Cerny (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|DNF||Eddie Dunbar (Irl) Ineos Grenadiers|
|DNF||Jordi Meeus (Bel) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Juan Pedro Lopez Perez (Spa) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Victor Lafay (Fra) Cofidis|
|DNF||William Bonnet (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Kenny Molly (Bel) Bingoal Pauwels Sauzen WB|
|DNF||Tom Paquot (Bel) Bingoal Pauwels Sauzen WB|
|DNF||Stephen Williams (GBr) Bahrain Victorious|
|DNF||Samuele Battistella (Ita) Astana-Premier Tech|
|DNF||Stefano Oldani (Ita) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Bert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|DNF||Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Gonzalo Serrano Rodriguez (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Loïc Vliegen (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|DNF||Chad Haga (USA) Team DSM|
|DNF||Petr Rikunov (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo|
|DNF||Ivan Rovny (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo|
|DNF||Aaron Van Poucke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Arne Marit (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Aaron Verwilst (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Clément Carisey (Fra) Delko|
|DNF||Alessandro Fedeli (Ita) Delko|
|DNF||Mathias Le Turnier (Fra) Delko|
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