Bob Jungels capped Quick-Step Floors’ remarkable Classics campaign by soloing to victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège after forging clear over the top of the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons with some 18 kilometre still to race.
From there, the Luxembourg champion time trialled his way to the finish, dosing his effort carefully on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas and then making light work of the Côte de Ans to claim the honours, 37 seconds clear of Michael Woods (EF-Drapac) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), who escaped a fragmented chasing group in the closing kilometres.
"I made the most of my rouleur abilities in the finale. I needed to be very careful with how I used my strength, especially when we got to Saint-Nicolas," Jungels said. "I couldn't push too deep. And then I still feared being caught in the finale. It was the longest kilometre in my life. I only saw I could win when I entered the last curve, not before."
Jungels’ teammate Julian Alaphilippe crossed the line just behind them in fourth, pointing to his jersey as he did so. Buoyed by victory at Flèche Wallonne in midweek, the Frenchman was the centre of much attention in the build-up to this race, and his presence in the reduced chasing group was pivotal to Jungels’ victory.
Nobody, not least four-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), wanted to give the fast-finishing Alaphilippe a free ride to the finish, even if it was to the obvious detriment of organising a coherent pursuit.
The general lack of organisation among the chasers – allied to Jungels’ prodigious strength – meant that the Luxembourger had 53 seconds in hand come the Saint-Nicolas, where Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) set out in determined lone pursuit.
Vandendert’s ferocious acceleration saw him close to within 25 seconds near the summit, but he lacked the horsepower to match Jungels over the other side, and was already beginning to fade even before the drag to Ans began in earnest.
In the game of bluff and counter-bluff behind, meanwhile, few seemed fully committed to the chase, and Alaphilippe even looked to take advantage of the caginess by accelerating in pursuit of Vandendert with a shade under four kilometres to go. That move withered once Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Valverde bridged across, and as the chasers fanned across the road, it was already evident that Jungels would, barring a late collapse, win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Woods and Bardet sensed a lull and stole away from the chasers on the approach to Ans, catching and passing Vandendert on the final drag before the left-hand turn onto the finishing straight, but by that point, Jungels was already home and hosed.
Jungels’ margin of victory was the biggest since his fellow countryman Andy Schleck’s startling solo victory in 2009, and like that lone raid nine years ago, the winning move took shape on the Côte de Roche-aux-Faucons.
Jungels set a fearsome tempo on the climb itself that only Woods, Sergio Henao (Sky) and Jakob Fulgsang (Astana) could follow. That quartet was pegged back just shy of the summit, but rather than relent, Jungels kept piling on the pressure as the road flattened out and dropped, suddenly opening a lead of 20 seconds over a leading group that had been pared down to 15 or so riders by the climb.
It seemed far too early and too audacious a move to succeed in a race that has rewarded a more conservative approach over the past decade or so, but Quick-Step are seemingly operating on another plane this Spring. In many respects, Jungels’ attack was a replica of the tactic that proved so successful for Niki Terpstra at the Tour of Flanders, while Alaphilippe performed a decent imitation of Philippe Gilbert’s man-marking behind to help him augment his buffer.
"It's the greatest one-day race to me, the most beautiful," Jungels said. "As a Luxembourger, I had lots of supporters cheering for me and my family also came to see me racing, so it’s very special to win here."
How it unfolded
It was a day of unseasonal warmth in the Ardennes, with a temperature of 19 degrees at the start on Liège’s Place Saint Lambert, which rose into the mid-twenties as the afternoon progressed. The opening kilometres saw nine riders – Florian Vachon (Fortuneo-Samsic), Jérôme Baugnies (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Loïc Vliegen (BMC), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Mark Christian, Casper Pedersen (Aqua Blue Sport), Paul Ourselin (Direct Énergie), Antoine Warnier (WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic) and Mathias Van Gompel (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) – forge clear, building up a maximum advantage of 6 minutes and holding a buffer of 4 minutes until deep into the race.
As ever, the succession of climbs that followed the turn at Bastogne gradually began to take a toll on the peloton, though the severity of the parcours also means that few riders or teams are minded to show their hands until the last hour or so of racing. Instead, UAE-Emirates kept tabs on the break with Dan Martin in mind, before the Côte de la Redoute, with 35km to go, signalled the beginning of the denoument.
Up front, the impressive Baugnies was the final survivor of the break, dropping Christian, Perez and Ourselin on Le Redoute, while Enric Mas (Quick-Step) whittled down the main peloton with a brutal turn of pace-making that did for 2016 winner Wout Poels (Sky), among others.
Vincenzo Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida squad took over on the fast run-in to the Roche-aux-Faucons, catching Baugnies in the process, but the Sicilian would make little impact on the climb, and was himself distanced shortly after Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step) ignited affairs with a rasping but short-lived acceleration.
Sergio Henao was next to try his luck, and the Colombian was soon joined by Jungels, Woods and Fuglsang in opening a small gap at the front, while a number of contenders – Michael Matthews among them – lost contact behind. Jungels persisted in his effort over the top, and suddenly the race took on a new complexion, as the chasers scrambled to organise themselves behind.
Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and Dan Martin seemed the most determined of the chasers, or perhaps the most alert to the danger posed by Jungels, but their attempts to form a counter-attack ultimately came to nothing. Martin’s frustration would be compounded by a puncture 8km from the finish that ruled him out of the hunt for a podium berth.
Fuglsang eventually sent Astana teammate Davide Villella to the front to try to bring some order to the chase, but the other favourites seemed either to lack the teammates (in the case of Valverde and Bardet, for example) or the motivation (Dumoulin, for instance, had Michael Matthews in the third group) to contribute wholeheartedly to the chase.
Perhaps there was little to be done in any case. Jungels’ concession of ground on the Saint-Nicolas might briefly have raised hopes among the chasers, but a rider of his qualities was hardly likely to squander a head start of almost a minute, and so it proved.
"Bob Jungels was the strongest guy today. He deserves his victory. When he went clear on La Roche-aux-Faucons, the pace was really high," Bardet said. "We attacked in the finale and we weren’t able to see him so we knew we were racing for the second place because he’s such a class rider, we knew we couldn’t bridge the gap on the flat."
Jungels’ victory is the third by a Luxembourg rider at Liège-Bastogne-Liège after Marcel Ernzer in 1954 and Andy Schleck nine years ago, and it continues a startling period of success for Quick-Step Floors, who have now won 27 races in 2018 through 12 different riders. At times, they almost seem to be racing among themselves.
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|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors||6:24:44|
|2||Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||0:00:37|
|3||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|4||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors||0:00:39|
|5||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida|
|6||Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Bahrain-Merida|
|7||Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|8||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott|
|9||Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky|
|10||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team|
|11||Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:00:45|
|12||Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:00:48|
|13||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:51|
|14||Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:01:06|
|15||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:01:24|
|16||Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:01:44|
|17||Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:02:08|
|18||Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates||0:02:41|
|19||Michael Valgren (Den) Astana Pro Team||0:02:50|
|20||Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team||0:02:53|
|21||Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Katusha-Alpecin||0:02:56|
|22||Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates|
|23||Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:03:07|
|24||Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|25||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|26||Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|27||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|28||Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|29||Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky|
|30||Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Dimension Data|
|31||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors|
|32||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida|
|33||Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|34||Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data|
|35||Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors|
|36||Anthony Roux (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|37||Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|38||Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|39||Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|40||Pieter Serry (Bel) Quick-Step Floors|
|41||Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team|
|42||Mikel Nieve (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott|
|43||Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|44||Omar Fraile (Spa) Astana Pro Team|
|45||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin||0:03:15|
|46||Jose Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:03:17|
|47||Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott|
|48||Axel Domont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:03:18|
|49||Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|50||Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Katusha-Alpecin||0:03:22|
|51||Pierre Rolland (Fra) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|52||Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct Energie|
|53||Warren Barguil (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||0:03:24|
|54||Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||0:03:25|
|55||Tsgabu Grmay (Eth) Trek-Segafredo||0:03:34|
|56||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky||0:03:37|
|57||Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:03:42|
|58||Davide Villella (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:04:01|
|59||Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team||0:05:25|
|60||Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team|
|61||Daniel Martinez (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||0:06:00|
|62||Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo||0:08:50|
|63||Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb||0:09:08|
|64||José Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team||0:09:17|
|65||Ian Boswell (USA) Katusha-Alpecin||0:09:18|
|66||Lawrence Warbasse (USA) Aqua Blue Sport|
|67||Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|68||Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Sunweb||0:09:24|
|69||Alex Howes (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||0:10:11|
|70||Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|71||Mark Christian (GBr) Aqua Blue Sport|
|72||Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal|
|73||Paul Ourselin (Fra) Direct Energie|
|74||Natnael Berhane (Eri) Dimension Data|
|75||Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|76||Kevin Deltombe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|77||Simon Gerrans (Aus) BMC Racing Team|
|78||Paul Martens (Ger) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|79||Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Dimension Data|
|80||Carlos Verona (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott|
|81||Enric Mas (Spa) Quick-Step Floors|
|82||Stephen Cummings (GBr) Dimension Data|
|83||Jérôme Baugnies (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|84||Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:11:36|
|85||David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:11:43|
|86||Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise||0:12:03|
|87||Dimitri Peyskens (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|88||Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo|
|89||Joey Rosskopf (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|90||Benjamin King (USA) Dimension Data|
|91||Elie Gesbert (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|92||Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|93||Thomas Degand (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|94||Cyril Gautier (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|95||Bram Tankink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|96||Dario Cataldo (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|97||Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida|
|98||Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida|
|99||Amael Moinard (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|100||Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Mitchelton-Scott|
|101||Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida||0:12:47|
|102||Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Team Sky||0:14:06|
|103||Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|104||Chad Haga (USA) Team Sunweb||0:14:32|
|105||Christopher Hamilton (Aus) Team Sunweb|
|106||Edward Dunbar (Irl) Aqua Blue Sport|
|107||Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team|
|108||Manuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||0:15:48|
|109||Lawson Craddock (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|110||Pavel Kochetkov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin|
|111||Benjamin Declercq (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|112||Marco Minnaard (Ned) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|113||Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo|
|114||Fabien Grellier (Fra) Direct Energie|
|115||Fabien Doubey (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|116||Romain Seigle (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|117||Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky|
|118||Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|119||Benoit Vaugrenard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|120||Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:16:35|
|121||Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:18:05|
|122||Aleksandr Riabushenko (Blr) UAE Team Emirates||0:18:06|
|123||Vasil Kiryienka (Blr) Team Sky|
|124||Rory Sutherland (Aus) UAE Team Emirates||0:18:15|
|125||Winner Anacona (Col) Movistar Team|
|126||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team|
|127||Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Katusha-Alpecin|
|128||Aaron Gate (NZl) Aqua Blue Sport|
|129||Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|130||Justin Jules (Fra) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|131||Hugo Houle (Can) Astana Pro Team|
|132||Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|DNF||Romain Sicard (Fra) Direct Energie|
|DNF||Floris De Tier (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|DNF||Bert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|DNF||Jos van Emden (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|DNF||Danny van Poppel (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|DNF||Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Direct Energie|
|DNF||Florian Vachon (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|DNF||Bryan Nauleau (Fra) Direct Energie|
|DNF||Rein Taaramäe (Est) Direct Energie|
|DNF||Piet Allegaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Mathias Van Gompel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|DNF||Maxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Thomas Deruette (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Laurent Pichon (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|DNF||Antoine Warnier (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Gregory Daniel (USA) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Maxim Belkov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin|
|DNF||Christophe Masson (Fra) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Julien Mortier (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic|
|DNF||Matteo Bono (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky|
|DNF||Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida|
|DNF||Rémi Cavagna (Fra) Quick-Step Floors|
|DNF||Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Benoit Cosnefroy (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Léo Vincent (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Kim Magnusson (Swe) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|DNF||Kevin Ledanois (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic|
|DNF||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Loïc Vliegen (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Rúben Guerreiro (Por) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Scott Davies (GBr) Dimension Data|
|DNF||Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Aqua Blue Sport|
|DNF||Casper Pedersen (Den) Aqua Blue Sport|
|DNF||Calvin Watson (Aus) Aqua Blue Sport|
|DNF||Michael Albasini (Swi) Mitchelton-Scott|
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