Liege-Bastogne-Liege review: Valverde makes it three

It was robust and smooth, with just a hint of mischief. No, that wasn’t today’s race – that was the wine I was drinking to try to make the afternoon worthwhile. In a race that would give Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne a run for its money in snooze-worthiness, La Doyenne was won by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) from a group sprint, with Etixx-Quick Step’s Julian Alaphilippe and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) completing the podium. 

Rider of the race

Screen shot 2015-04-26 at 18.08.48

LBL podium: Julian Alaphilippe; Alejandro Valverde; Joaquim Rodriguez (Image: ASO)

Valverde’s consistency in these races is pretty impressive, winning Liege and Fleche three times each (2006, 2008, 2015 and 2006, 2014, 2015 respectively), but he’s not my rider of the race. That would be Etixx’s new wunderkind, Julian Alaphilippe, who made the second step of the podium both today and at Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne.

In a team with such astounding talent, particularly in the one-day races, Etixx has just shown that they have another one. Although the team was riding for world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, once it was obvious that the Pole wasn’t going to deliver the goods, Alaphilippe was able to ride for himself. With teammate Zdenek Stybar pushing the pace at the sharp end of the race and winnowing an already depleted peloton, Alaphilippe kept with the lead group, which included Valverde, Rodriguez, Rui Costa, Jakob Fuglsang and Vincenzo Nibali, and for the second time in less than a week, he wasn’t intimidated by the company he was keeping and came in a fantastic second.

Three emotions during today’s race

1. Ennui. Like Fleche Wallonne, this was a race that would put an insomniac to sleep. Not much happened (except a massive crash) and by the end of it, I don’t think anyone really cared who won. I think I only used full upper case twice in the entire race on Twitter – once for the flamme rouge (which I always cap up) and once for the name of the winner. Even then, there was one of those I didn’t actually mean to do. That says a lot. I can usually get excited about something …

2. Concern. There is nothing quite as frightening as seeing riders go down and remain lying still for what feels like an eternity. I think everyone’s hearts were in their throats when the cameras showed Sky’s Nicolas Roche and Europcar’s Yukiya Arashiro lying by the side of the road, motionless. The cameras missed what caused the crash but it was a big one that ultimately also took out 2013 and 2014 winners Dan Martin and Simon Gerrans. It was a great relief to see the two riders finally moving. Word is that Arashiro suffered a fractured shoulder blade, while Roche, though shook up with a cut to the head, didn’t have any broken bones.

3. Exasperation. The Licence Commission ruled on the UCI’s case to revoke Astana’s licence this week – and Astana keeps its licence and continues to ride. The UCI seemed so confident … what happened? The exasperation comes from that gnawing feeling that we’ll never know what happened, that there’s still more unseen than seen in the running of this sport and, you know what?, that sucks, because – whether Astana should have been thrown off the WorldTour or not – this debacle once again chips away at our confidence that the sport is being run fairly for all. God knows it’s not run transparently. For the ins and outs of the case, here is Inner Ring’s analysis. Does his voice of reason make me feel better? Not really.

Result

1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 6:14:20

2. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step) same time

3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) s/t

4. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) s/t

5. Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) s/t

6. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t

7. Sergio Henao (Sky) s/t

8. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t

9. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) s/t

10. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) s/t

Link: Official race website

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