Feature Report: Liège–Bastogne–Liège

Quickstep’s Bob Jungels solos to career-defining Liège–Bastogne–Liège victory – round up of reactions including Scott Davies, Dan Martin, Mark Christian and Tom Southam

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Feature Report: Liège–Bastogne–Liège

Photos: PelotonPhotos.com (Thomas van Bracht)

The Luxembourg Champion Bob Jungels attacked in the last 20 kilometers and scored the first ever win for Quick-Step Floors in “La Doyenne”

Since the team’s inception in 2003, Quick-Step Floors have won a staggering 17 Monuments, most recent major classic to make its entry on this unbelievable roll of achievements being Liège–Bastogne–Liège, a race which our squad had come close to winning several times in the past. Created in 1892, the Belgian Classic is the oldest Monument on the calendar and one of the most prestigious races in the world, won in the past by the likes of Ferdi Kübler, Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault.

As of Sunday, Bob Jungels has joined all these illustrious names after attacking over the top of Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, the race’s penultimate hill, with 20 kilometers to go, and holding off a strong chasing group over the iconic Côte de Saint-Nicolas – “The Italian Climb” – and the uphill drag to the finish in the suburb of Ans.

“To be honest, this came as a surprise. I didn’t believe I could pull it off until I saw that nobody was behind me as I was approaching the finish line. Yesterday evening I watched together with Julian the 2011 edition, when the winning move was made on Roche-aux-Faucons, and I made my attack in the same place. I was waiting for this victory for a long time and to finally get it is pretty unreal”, said Bob, the 12th different Quick-Step Floors rider to taste success this year.

Quick-Step Floors – who on Sunday broke the record for the most victories in one-day races on Belgian soil, with 11 wins – helped the peloton keep the nine escapees on a leash from the start of the 258.5km-long race, before moving with the whole team at the front ahead of the iconic Côte de La Redoute, a hill which made its debut on the course in 1975, when Eddy Merckx took his last win.

Enric Mas and Pieter Serry set a fierce tempo and made others suffer, pre-empting any attacks and chewing into the escapees’ lead, who were left with only a minute in hand after the brutal climb. Our team continued to drive the peloton, and on Côte de Roche-aux-Faucons, just as the gradient hit 12%, Philippe Gilbert launched an attacked which forced a response from the bunch that was rapidly morphing into a select group.

The move was nullified 500 meters from the top, but our squad continued to be prominent, this time with Bob Jungels, who accelerated before the end of the climb and sensing on the descent that he had opened a gap on the chasers, went into time trial mode and established a 50-second lead which proved more than enough despite a plethora of attacks launched from the first chasing group, that included also Julian Alaphilippe, the Flèche Wallonne victor, who brought to heel most of these actions.

Jungels’ stunning solo effort was rewarded with the biggest win of his career, as the 25-year-old crossed the finish line arms aloft, punching the air, and with no one else in the picture, becoming the second Luxembourger in history to win Liège–Bastogne–Liège with the national champion jersey on his shoulder, after Marcel Ernzer, in 1954.

More than half a minute behind – the biggest gap between first and second since 2009 – Michael Woods (EF Education First) and Romain Bardet (AG2R) rounded out the podium, while teammate Julian Alaphilippe still had enough energy left to sprint for fourth and point to his Quick-Step Floors jersey, thus bringing to conclusion a remarkable Ardennes Classics campaign.

“We made the race hard from La Redoute, where we put the hammer down, before attacking with Phillipe on Roche-aux-Faucons. Then I made a move and seeing there was a small gap, I decided to use my rouleur abilities all the way to the finish, while at the same time carefully dosing my effort”, Bob said, before explaining what this win means for him. “This is the most beautiful one-day race in the world, and to get the victory here, close to Luxembourg and in front of my family and fans, who all came to support me, it’s something I will always remember. To be sincere, it’s pretty unbelievable and I’ll need a few days to let everything sink in.”

After capping off what has been a stellar Classics campaign for Quick-Step Floors, Bob underlined the team’s strength and unity, two factors which played a major role this spring in our success: “We are more than a team. Quick-Step Floors is a family, we trust each other and everybody knows his own role and more importantly, gets a chance on the team, as we could see in many of this season’s races. We are always there for each other, fighting until the very end, and that is just one of the things that make this team great.”

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Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) became the first Canadian to podium at Liège-Bastogne-Liège when he sprinted to second place in Ans on Sunday. “I struggled a lot at the start of the season with illness,” said Woods. “I didn’t have the season start I wanted to. Today is the first day I actually felt like a bike racer again. I felt awesome throughout the day and had really great support from the guys.” “Bardet made an excellent move,” said Woods. “I knew as soon as he went that it was the move to follow. I was able to get on his wheel, and we worked fairly well together up the climb. “JV told me I could win an Ardennes classics, and I didn’t believe him when first told me,” said Woods. “Now I’m starting to believe.”

Tom Southam (DS for EF Education First-Drapac) “Our takeaway message for the guys last night was they had to put themselves in the race and they had to go out there and take the chance today because if they waited and waited and waited, it was going to be too late,” sport director Tom Southam said. “Mike took his opportunity. I think he was, after Jungels, the best guy in the race. You could see that in the earlier climbs. Had he waited and come in with the group, he may have come seventh or fifth or whatever. He really did the right thing by taking his chances. He showed how good he was with a solid second.”

“Woods is clearly progressing in his ability to read a race and to ride in front of the peloton,” team boss Jonathan Vaughters added. “Following Bardet’s attack showed newfound tactical savvy.”

Romain Bardet: “It was an open race and I enjoyed myself very much” It’s a satisfaction. I’m very motivated for this race, I love it. So I’m happy with getting closer to the win. I don’t have any regrets. I had good legs but mostly I was smarter than other years. 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. 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. It’s a very tactical race, you could see how fast we were going in Saint-Nicolas and still nobody could go clear. It was easier for me as an underdog. I’m not a favorite for this race and I probably never will be. It was an open race and I enjoyed myself very much with that kind of scenario. All this makes me look forward for the Summer.”

Domenico Pozzovivo (Team Bahrain Merida) “I arrived with a great condition – commented Domenico Pozzovivo – and despite the fatigue of the five stages of the Tour of Alps. Indeed, in the end I was almost surprised by my brilliance. It was an elimination race with a pace soaring in the last part but I also managed to attack on Saint Nicholas.

Enrico Gasparotto (Team Bahrain Merida): After the podium last Sunday at Amstel Gold Race, Enrico Gasparotto arrived with the best ones even at the top of Ans’s hill: “It was so fast that nobody managed to attack – says the Italian rider – with the exception of the race winner the Luxembourger Bob Jungels – I broke off on the penultimate climb but I managed to come back with 2km to go. It was my best Liège ever”.

Vincenzo Nibali (Team Bahrain Merida) “It was a bad day – says Vincenzo Nibali – even before the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons I realized that I was not 100%. I’m sorry because I really wanted to have a good race and to dedicate it to my great friend Michele Scarponi, one year after his death”.

Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott 8th place) “It was a huge day and super effort from the team, they were all day around me. Today I wasn’t feeling as super as the other days but at the end I was there in the final and Haig was super strong and trying to help me. The plan was I should look to Julian Alaphilippe (Quickstep-FLoors) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) but maybe I stuck there a bit with the tactics and maybe I should have gone with some other teams.”

“When you race well all week, you are trying to go for the win then you have to play the cards until the last moment and look to the big guys and that is what I was doing. At the end the result didn’t come how I wanted but I am happy. With three top eights all week, it is quite solid and for my head it is good that I reached some results. Tomorrow I will draw a big line and start to think about the stage races.”

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): “We left everything we had on our legs on the road today. I was suffering from cramps at the end, I don’t know if it was because of the heat and humidity today. When we were riding at a ‘normal’ pace, I was feeling good, but when I wanted to push to the limit, I just couldn’t reach the level of performance I’d have liked to. If I had been at real 100% today, I think I could have fared better than those joining me on group two – otherwise, the level was pretty close within all of us – and once I saw I really didn’t have a chance to go for a podium at the final slope in Ans, I just released the ‘gas’ and focused just on finishing. I had tried to go several times on the attack after Jungels’ move, but there were too many people following my wheel.

“I think we must remain really happy, because we gave our maximum. People must realize, looking at this year’s Ardennes results, that it’s not easy to win and win all over again. Fifth in Amstel, 2nd at the Flèche, 13th here in Liège – could it have been better? Yes, but we fought to take the win at all of them, until the very end. The first half of the season has been really good, with those nine victories, my podium in Huy – my body is already asking for some rest and I’m glad we can give it some after this race. There will be time to think about the summer next.

“Merckx’s record? Yes, it’s still at one victory’s reach, but to be honest, it wasn’t an obsession for me. It’s an important milestone, but you’ve got to give it not too much value, not too little either. We must keep in mind that the classics are always very difficult to win, and that’s why not too many people can aim to beat those records from the best rider in history.”

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) “We tried our best today, but the team with the most riders in the final are the one that are winning the races. Today Gilbert and Jungels did a good job. I tried to do my best, but it was not enough today. I knew it was hard to get Bob Jungels back, but nothing happened in our group to close the gap. For the final sprint I was in the right wheel and I gave it all, but at the end it was not enough for the podium today”

Sergio Henao (Team Sky) “It was a really fast race and it was really important that the team were all at the front heading into the final 50 kilometres. We were able to achieve that which was good, and then moving towards the end it was important to follow moves. You can’t follow everything, but I was able to make the split”.

“The aim was for a podium or a victory, but one good thing I can take away is that I am in good condition, which bodes well for the Giro. This next week will be all about recovery and mentally everything turns towards the Giro now.”

Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates): “I really had a good legs today and this was thanks to the work I’m doing and to the team,” said Dan Martin. “We made a plan for this race from the start to the finish and we believed in our chances. We showed that we are an important team and we can race like one of the best teams in the world.

“At the end of the race, I had good feelings and I was ready to try to profit from the work of my team earlier on in the race. I tried to anticipate the others moves with a series of attacks because I felt that it was the decisive moment in the race, which it ended up being. I’ve punctured in the worst of moments and when I saw my front wheel was completely flat, I could not believe it. Now I hope to profit from my hard work at the Tour of Romandie.”

Mark Christian (Aqua Blue) At the front of the race Mark Christian fought valiantly but was eventually reeled in with around 30 kilometres to go. He was the second to last man caught from the early break with Baugnies being swept up by the peloton soon after. “It went after the first five kilometre climb. There was a flat bit after that and I was actually the first to go as I felt it was a good opportunity”.

“One other rider went with me and afterwards a group bridged across and Casper (Pedersen) was there. It was a super nice job by him. As soon as we knew we had a gap we could relax a bit as the first goal for the team today had been ticked off. We never got as much rope as we thought we might. I was hoping we would get 10 minutes but it never went past six I think. We knew then it was going to be difficult and the more we got into the race we started to drop a few guys on the climbs, so the group got smaller and smaller”.

“In the end, there was only three of us with one guy ahead. I did what I could and ended up dropping them, trying to hold on as much as I could to get a bit of TV time for the team. I’m really happy we got as far as we did and happy to have represented the team up front. Going over La Redoute, such a famous climb, in the front group was simply amazing,” said Christian after his stellar 220 kilometre effort in the breakaway.”

Scott Davies (Dimension Data) “It was eye-opening day to be honest, a real hard day in the saddle. It’s been a awesome experience to ride Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I was quite lucky to ride these as a neo-pro so hopefully I’ll come back next year, stronger and with more experience and see how they go.”

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1. Bob Jungels Quick-Step Floors6:24:44
2. Michael Woods Team EF Education First-Drapac 0:37
3. Romain Bardet AG2R La Mondiale
4. Julian Alaphilippe Quick-Step Floors 0:39
5. Domenico Pozzovivo Bahrain Merida
6. Enrico Gasparotto Bahrain Merida
7. Davide Formolo BORA – hansgrohe
8. Roman Kreuziger Mitchelton-Scott
9. Sergio Henao Team Sky
10. Jakob Fuglsang Astana Pro Team 85

13. Alejandro Valverde Movistar Team 0:51
18. Daniel Martin UAE-Team Emirates 2:41
29. Michal Kwiatkowski Team Sky
31. Philippe Gilbert Quick-Step Floors
32. Vincenzo Nibali Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team
56. Geraint Thomas Team Sky 3:37
71. Mark Christian Aqua Blue Sport
82. Stephen Cummings Dimension Data
102. Tao Geoghegan Hart Team Sky 14:06
106. Edward Dunbar Aqua Blue Sport





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