News: Liege-Bastogne-Liege

After a thrilling, edge of the seat final, five riders go clear and in the sprint Tadej Pogacar beats Julian Alaphilippe to the victory. 41 year old Valverde celebrates his birthday with fourth

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News: Liege-Bastogne-Liege

2020 Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) made history again with his first Monument triumph on the roads of Liège-Bastogne-Liège at 22 years old. The Slovenian super star is the first winner of the Tour de France to claim the Doyenne in the following Spring since Bernard Hinault’s iconic victory in 1980.

World champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was hoping to be the first French winner since Hinault but he had to settle for second on Sunday, ahead of his compatriot David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ). Pogacar is the youngest winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège since Hinault in 1977.

The peloton rolled out of the Saint-Lambert at 10:00am with 174 riders. Laurens Huys and Mathijs Paasschens (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Loïc Vliegen and Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Sergei Chernetski (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal) and Aaron Van Poucke (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) quickly broke away from the bunch and quickly oponed up a gap of two minutes after just three kilometres.

Julian Alaphilippe’s Deceuninck-Quick-Step and Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma start pulling at the front of the peloton after some 20km of racing. Tadej Pogacar and Marc Hirschi’s UAE Team Emirates quickly joined them and the gap stabilized after hitting a maximum of 10’30” at km 26.

Break under control
The young Laurens Huys was the first rider over the top of the first climb of the day, côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne (km 76), with a gap to the bunch down to 8’35”. The pace increased in the peloton as they turned around in Bastogne (km 100) and headed back to Liège on much more demanding roads. Alejandro Valverde’s Movistar and Michael Woods’ Israel Start-Up Nation teams also participated in the chase. The attackers worked well together but their lead decreased to 7’25″ on the second climb of the day, côte de Saint-Roch (km 123.3).

A race of attrition in the first climbing sequence
The tension rose as many teams tried to position their leaders at the front of the bunch ahead of the climbing sequence starting with the côte de Mont-le-Soie. At the summit (95km to go), the gap to the breakaway was down to 5’10″. Astana-Premier Tech tried to shake things up on the côte de Stockeu but Movistar and Ineos-Grenadiers controlled the bunch. More attacks flew over the côte de la Haute-Levée and the Col du Rosier. Mark Padun (Bahrain Victorious), Mark Donovan (Team DSM) and Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal) managed to jump clear of the bunch and started a furious chase of the break.

Ineos-Grenadiers go all-in
With 55km to go, the three chasers including Britain’s Donovan were two minutes behind the leaders and they’d opened a minute gap to the bunch. Deceuninck-Quick-Step accelerated ahead of the côte de La Redoute but Ineos-Grenadiers turned the race upside down on the climb. Tao Geoghegan Hart put the hammer down, with Michal Kwiatkowski, Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates following him. Only nine riders managed to follow them over the top and those distanced included Julian Alaphilippe.

Some 40 riders got back together with 30km to go but Ineos-Grenadiers keep pushing on the côte des Forges: Yates created a split whilst Marczyinski and Rota are the last early attackers to be caught, with 23km to go. Carapaz then went solo on the downhill.

The Ecuadorian climber enjoyed a 20 second gap at the bottom of the final climb, côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons. Five riders were pulled clear by Michael Woods on the ascent: David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Woods, Pogacar, Alaphilippe and Valverde. The chasers trail by 20 seconds with 10km to go but were unable to bridge the gap as the pace was no full on and there were a lot of tired legs in the race.

After some very slow cat and mouse as the leaders tried to force one other to the front, it was Valverde who was leading and launched the sprint early, with more than 200m to go but he couldn’t hold it to the line. Alaphilippe looked in prime position to claim a second victory this week in the Ardennes until Pogacar edged pasted him right on the line.

Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates): “I’m lost for words. I love this race, and to win here, against these great names, it’s incredible. I knew [Julian] Alaphilippe would go for a long sprint and I stayed behind him and I passed him in the end. It was the right wheel for me to follow. It’s incredible. We were really disappointed [not to participate in the Flèche Wallonne] and we were really motivated today. We are really really happy. Now I can rest, spend some time with my family and prepare for the Tour de France.”

Julian Alaphilippe (2nd)  (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): “I came with the ambition to get the best result possible. My team did a great job. I tried to handle the finale the best I could. It was really hard in the Roche-aux-Faucons. Then, we worked well until the last 2 kilometres. I was focused on the sprint, I didn’t want to attack or to play games with someone going off the front. I was in a good position but Tadej played it smart, coming from behind. Congratulations, it’s a great victory. I prefer to win but I took a really nice victory on Wednesday in the Flèche Wallonne.”

David Gaudu (3rd) (Groupama-FDJ): “I came here to do better than my 6th place in 2019. I saw in the Flèche Wallonne my legs were good. It’s been a hard day and I’m just delighted to be on the podium with great champions like Pogacar and Alaphilippe. I followed the wheels up the Roche-aux-Faucons. It was really difficult. I went all-in, I knew it was a make-or-break situation. Valverde went from pretty far. I was coming back, coming back… And when I saw I’d be on the podium, I started cramping. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the most beautiful classic to me. I hope I’ll come back to challenge for the win.”

Tiesj Benoot (7th) “It was a really weird final with the headwind,” explained Benoot. “The race completely exploded on La Redoute. It was good to have Mark in front, he made a really good move there and then the guys put me in a good spot for it. On Roche-aux-Faucons I only lost the wheels around 300 metres before the top, so it was really close to make it with the first five, but in the end I have no regrets. Seventh is a nice result and we can be happy with that to end the classics campaign; it’s nice to end with a good feeling.”

Alejandro Valverde (41)(birthday boy): “I think we’ve done a good job, staying with the top contenders and fighting for the win until the very last metres. I want to thank, and congratulate, the whole team for their job: they’ve really been there at all times, both in the pursuit of the early break and the late moves, Verona giving me a good hand in the end – I was able to join the selection at the Roche, but I was maybe left all responsibility on my shoulders for the sprint and just kept the lead for as far as I could go. Of course I’d have liked to make the podium, and winning would have been even better, but we must accept this result as it is and feel happy.”

Mike Woods (5th)“I’m really proud of how I raced,” he said shortly after the 259 km affair. “Unfortunately, I came fifth, but I wanted to win, and I raced to win. But I just didn’t position as well as I could in that last sprint. When you race to win you can’t be too disappointed. It was a good day. My goal was to race with guts, and I feel like I did, and the team rode really well behind me.”

“In retrospect, maybe I should have started the sprint from behind just because of the headwind. But, otherwise, I was really proud of how I raced. I was aggressive, I attacked, and I raced with heart…that’s how I want to race and that’s the way to race.”

Primoz Roglic (13th) “I didn’t have my best legs in the final. I could not follow the best riders in the race. Of course you always try to go with the first, but it was not possible today. The opening phase was quite slow because of the head wind, but at the end the race completely exploded. I felt that too. I look back on my spring with satisfaction. I was always ready to fight for the podium. Now I’m going into a rest period. After that I’m going to prepare myself for the Tour de France by doing altitude training.”

Bauke Mollema: (8th) “I am reasonably satisfied,” said Mollema afterwards. “This was the maximum achievable today. The first five were really the strongest today. I couldn’t follow them on the final climb. After that I ended up in a group, but I knew I was not the fastest. That is why I attacked 1.5 kilometres from the finish and I got Tiesj Benoot and Marc Hirschi with them. That is why I still have a top 10. It went well and I recovered well from Wednesday. The legs felt good all week. In the Amstel Gold Race I had some bad luck and in the Walloon Arrow I made some mistakes in positioning. Today it was very tough, as always. But it is always nice to participate in the finale of a monument. Now I am going to the Giro d’Italia and I think I am on the right track. ”

Jakob Fuglsang (12th): “Well, of course we hoped for another outcome but nevertheless I am satisfied with our performance in general. I just missed a little. We showed fighting spirit and were up there as the race lit up. The guys made the race hard and also protected me the whole day. At the end, when we were on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, I was in the back and a gap opened up, which we couldn’t close towards the line. Of course, I wanted to repeat 2019 but it is how it is. I will now have a short break before heading to the Tour de Suisse, followed by the Tour de France,”

Maximilian Schachmann (9th) “I felt good today, but the end result was not precisely what I had hoped for. I missed the jump into the decisive group and in the final phase we simply weren’t able to close the gap. It was a pity that the others in my group weren’t willing to put enough effort into the chase. When the group in front only had a 10-second lead, I really tried to bring them back, but no one else wanted to ride.”

Michal Kwiatkowski (11th) “We executed the plan pretty well and we raced aggressively at the end. We made La Redoute famous again. We were trying to force everyone to work hard up there. Tao was pushing all the way up La Redoute. We ended up with 13 guys over the top. I think if some guys had not missed it maybe the second group might not have come back. The plan was to go pretty much full gas there and not really look behind. Later on we had Adam and Richard. Richard was riding with a big gap and it was up to us to follow the main contenders over the Roch-aux-Faucons. Everyone saw that I missed a little bit. We tried our best and I left everything that I had there on the road.

“No regrets because we did our best – everyone was committed to have a go and to have a win today. Thanks to all of the guys – from Golas and Luke Rowe at the start and Eddie. All of the guys were doing an amazing job. For me it’s one of the most enjoyable Ardennes campaigns over the years. We had a really good group and atmosphere. We didn’t stop believing we could take that win today. It was a great week and I’m proud of these boys.”

Esteban Chaves (14th) “I missed the group on the last climb, they went really fast and I couldn’t follow them. We started racing since the Redoute and we tried the best with Bling and myself. I am quite happy with my Spring, I have never started a Spring like this and to arrive top-15 in a Monument is not easy, especially for a little guy like myself. The team did a really good job, we covered everything we needed to cover and in the end I didn’t have the legs when the best guys went. It was just about legs, I tried to be there but I couldn’t go at the moment the accelerated.”

Matej Mohoric (10th):  “Today we were going well with Jack (Haig), I think he was following the attacks in the final, and I put all my effort on the last climb. Unfortunately, I was unable to follow the first group, and then we didn’t manage to close the gap before the finish. I tried to sprint for the remaining places, and I pulled off 10th place, which is okay. We came for more, but I think my shape is good ahead of the Giro with Mikel. We have good ambitions in the GC and also to look for opportunities to win a stage.”


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