Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) finally stood on the the top step of an Ardennes podium after a storming ride to claim victory in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Despite the new-style finish that was devised to promote earlier action, the decisive attack came on the final climb of the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons. By the end of the long uphill drag, Fuglsang had broken clear of his shadow, Davide Formolo (BORA-hansgrohe) and even when he hit a slippery patch on the frenetic descent (which nearly gave all of Twitter a heart attack) he kept his cool and used the shot of adrenaline to keep the power through the pedals all the way to the line to take his first Monument. Formolo held on for second while his teammate Max Schachmann won the sprint for third. In the women’s edition Annemiek Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) carried out a magnificent solo raid after attacking on La Redoute with 32km to go. Floortje Mackaij (Sunweb) and Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) made it an all-Dutch podium with second and third places respectively.
Rider of the Race
No prizes for guessing on whose shoulders this particular accolade will be placed.
*composes self, wipes a stray tear, clears throat*
“Please step up to the podium and take a seat on the VeloVoices’ plush velvet throne, Jakob Fuglsang.”Embed from Getty Images
I have lost count of the times I’ve petitioned in my head for Mr Fuglsang to get out of that ‘save it for the next day’ mindset that comes with stage racing and cut loose in the one-day classics. I knew he had the verve, flair and skill set it takes to weave through the chaos, to keep a calm head when the stress level rises. Even so, if you had told me in January that he would be the man to go toe-to-toe with Julian Alaphilippe (Deceunick – Quickstep) at Strade Bianche and the Ardennes, I would not have believed you. Yet here we are: third at the Amstel Gold Race, second at Fleche Wallonne and now a Monument victory at La Doyenne.
Now that my giddiness has subsided, what impressed me about this campaign is the way he played to his own strengths. Knowing that he had no finishing kick that would help if he took it to the line with Alaphilippe, he started mixing his tactics around this week. At Amstel, he forced the Musketeer on the front in the final kilometres – a tactic that worked given he outsprinted the Frenchman to claim third. At Fleche Wallonne, he attacked halfway up the Mur du Huy in an effort to surprise the fast finishers waiting for final metres and still had the energy to get back to his nemesis – how long is it since we have seen this type of antics on that revered wall?
And so we come to today. Pre-race, he talked about getting away solo on the final climb to have any chance of victory. He wasn’t the only one with that race plan, most of the favourites were still in the sizeable group on the run into the Roche-aux-Faucons. His team placed him perfectly at the foot and with race favourite Alaphilippe struggling, he leapt away with Michael Woods (EF Education First) and Formolo the minute the attack went. In a show of strength he got to the front and just kept the power on to ride them off his wheel.
I had made up my mind that my finish line had to be on top of La Roche-aux-Faucons because if I was in a group I probably wouldn’t win. When I looked back at Woods, he was basically dropped. And Davide was two or three metres behind so I figured it’s now or never, you have to die or win, give it all.
Those final kilometres must have felt like a lifetime. I know my nerves were not improved by this escapade on the descent. How did he keep that bike upright?
But we must remember he was World Junior Mountain bike champion!
And, as he says, he used that bit of added adrenaline!
I know I’m not alone in enjoying the good-natured rivalry between the Viking and the Musketeer – two riders at the very top of their game. Together, they have provided us with some memorable racing and race finishes this spring and it’s wonderful to see the respect they have for each other.
What about those Bora boys?
At the start of spring , all the talk was of Peter Sagan extending his spring season to target Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Could the new finish swing this Ardennes monument into his grasp? As it turned out, the Slovak has had a below par campaign and announced after Fleche Wallonne that he would take a break to concentrate on other goals. However, as we have seen this year, BORA are not just a one-man team, and today they gave us the perfect example. Active in the latter stages of the race after the QuickStep riders disappeared from the front, they sent riders on the attack and their numbers in the front group ensured they were never far from the action. It was a treat to watch Formolo ride brilliantly to maintain his second place and for the in-form Schachmann to join him on the podium. If only they and Astana would not wear those hideous hats, all would be perfect in my Liege world. Not sure about that hashtag though #thebrotherhoodiscoming [Oh dear – does no one think about these hashtags in the wider context? – ed]
When the attacks start just as you are divesting clothes
Michael Woods was caught with one leg warmer on and one off and a new cycling fad is born…
The invincible Annemiek Van Vleuten
Mitchelton Scott’s Annemiek Van Vleuten came into this race on the back of two second places at Amstel and Fleche Wallonne, and she clearly meant business today. The attack on La Redoute was ruthless and efficient and she never looked in trouble on her solo time trial to the finish, finishing some two minutes ahead of her closest rivals. Fellow Dutch rider Floortje Mackaij (Sunweb) took everyone by surprise with a late, all-out attack to claim a fine second place.
Once again, fans were left with no live footage on what was clearly an exciting race as the attacks flew after Van Vleuten. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio speaks for us all…
1 Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) 6:37:37
2 Davide Formolo (BORA-hansgrohe) +0:27
3 Max Schachmann (BORA-hansgrohe) +0:57
4 Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) same time
5 Michael Woods (EF Education First ) s/t
6 David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) s/t
7 Mikel Landa (Movistar) s/t
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) +1:00
9 Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) +1:05
10 Wout Poels (Sky) +1:26
1 Annemiek Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) 3:42:10
2 Floortje Mackaij (Sunweb) +1:39
3 Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) +1:43
4 Soraya Palladin (Ale Cippoini) same time
5 Lucinda Brand (Sunweb)s/t
6 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) s/t
7 Elizabeth Deignan (Trek-Segafredo Women) s/t
8 Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM) s/t
9 Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo Women) s/t
10 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) s/t
Header picture: GETTY/Velo/Tim de Waele