La Fleche Wallonne always comes down to the lactic-filled effort on the Mur de Huy and this edition was no different. Anna van der Breggan (Boels-Dolmans) took her fourth consecutive title atop the iconic climb, chasing down Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla) in the closing metres. Third place for Megan Guarnier gave the Dutch team two on the podium. The men’s race was just – just WOW! Quick-Step Floor’s Julian Alaphilippe finally claimed the top step of the podium. Kicking once to zoom past eventual third-placed Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal) and again to keep the five-time champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) behind him.
Rider of the race
Oh, oh, oh – what’s a VeloVoice to do? Should I go for the four-time Queen of the Huy Anna van der Breggan? The selfless work by Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervelo-Bigla) to control the breaks? Jelle Vanendert for downright ballsy riding? The shark-among-the-pigeons, race-making attack from Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali? – honest-to-Betsy Vinnie’s just plain enjoying himself in these one day spring races!! On any other Fleche Wallonne day, all the above would be in with a shout. But not this one. This year the men’s race gave us such a break with tradition that who else could I bestow the award upon but the dashing Quick-Step Musketeer who is Julian Alaphilippe.
Twice second to Valverde in 2015 and 2016, there must have been a time when #Angryphilippe thought he might never step out of the Spaniard’s very large shadow. Even as he came over the finish line today he wasn’t sure he had…
Honestly, I didn’t know I’d won. I couldn’t hear the radio, I thought Nibali was still out in front. At the end I just did my effort. I have to thank my teammates who did an amazing job today. I’m super happy. I believed in myself every time, and I worked hard to find that bit that was missing between the podium and first place.
The Quickstepper teamwork was aggressive and well executed and I have to tip the hat to the extraordinary ride by Max Schachmann. His exploits in the late break and glory ride on the Mur de Huy (he was only picked up with 200m to go) were the key that unlocked Alaphilippe’s step up to the top of the podium – well that and Vincenzo Nibali.
It won’t be the last time we see that teeth gritted, victory face this season that’s for sure.Embed from Getty Images
Valverde dethroned…Embed from Getty Images
Everyone knows the script right? Movistar controls the race and Valverde finishes off the work on a climb that matches his skill set to perfection.
It’s all very well knowing that you have to put the moves on Movistar, it’s another thing completely to carry it out as previous years have shown. So how did it come to pass this year? First, more climbing kilometres added to the front of the race certainly tired the legs out. Second, the racing was unusually aggressive from a long way out. Quick-Step, Trek-Segafredo and Mitchelton- Scott (Jack Haig stand up and take a bow!) were constantly probing for weaknesses, sending riders into attacks and Movistar started to crumble. The Nibali Move sealed their fate.
Valverde was isolated with just Mikel Landa left to close the gap. He was immense but he couldn’t do it all himself.
In the finale we saw Valverde himself at the front of the chase group and that cost him dearly at the top of Huy. In contrast Quick-Step were in control and had numbers to spare in the final kilometres. Alaphilippe didn’t put his nose in the wind until 200 meter to go – and that made all the difference.
1 Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) 4:53:37
2 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:04
3 Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal) +0:0:6
4 Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott) same time
5 Michael Matthews Sunweb) s.t
WomenEmbed from Getty Images
1 Anna van der Breggan (Boels-Dolmans) 3:10:14
2 Ashleigh Moolman (Cervelo-Bigla) +0:02
3 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) same time
4 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:06
5 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:17
Header image: Anna van der Breggan and Julian Alaphilippe ©GETTY/Velo/Luc Claessen