‘I didn’t know I’d won’: Surprise Flèche Wallonne victory a coming of age for Julian Alaphilippe

The Frenchman ended Alejandro Valverde's dominance over the race with a strong ride in the mid-week Ardennes Classic

After coming close in previous editions, Wednesday’s win at Flèche Wallonne was confirmation of his own abilities for Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) – even if he wasn’t entirely sure he’d won.

On the torturous final climb the Frenchman bucked the recent trend of waiting for the final metres, and attacked after following a similar move from Lotto-Soudal’s Jelle Vanendert.

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>>> Five talking points from La Flèche Wallonne 2018

Though he missed last year’s race with injury, Alaphilippe has finished on the Flèche Wallonne podium twice before, both times in second place behind five time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

“The first time I was on the podium here I was quite surprised, but the second time I was quite frustrated,” the 25-year-old told journalists after the race.

Julian Alaphilippe crosses the line in victory at the 2018 La Flèche Wallonne Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

“It [today] was confirmation of what I could do. I needed to win a big race like today, and now this is done and it tastes even better when it comes ahead of Alejandro Valverde.”

The race was set alight by an early attack from Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who was only caught on the last few metres before the climb of the Mur de Huy. Despite the ferocity of his move to the line, Alaphilippe was unaware the Italian was caught and thought he was racing for second place.

“I didn’t know I had won the race, when I crossed the finish line I saw my cousin who told me I had, so there was a wow effect.”

Having fallen victim to Valverde and Movistar on four consecutive occasions in Huy, many teams tried to put Movistar under pressure during the 198km race. The collective tactics seemed to work as the Spanish rider began the Mur isolated, forced to mark Vanendert’s then Alaphilippe’s move alone.

For Quick-Step, Max Schachman was caught in the final throes of the race after he made it into the break group with Nibali, and Pieter Serry was able to work for the Frenchman on the penultimate climb and the ensuing kilometres.

As the race entered the final kilometre the team had sufficient resources remaining to assist the Frenchman, Bob Jungles and Philippe Gilbert placing him where he could take the win.

Max Schachmann rides solo up the Mur de Huy at the 2018 Flèche Wallonne (Sunada)

“I was the only leader of the team and the plan was to win the race with me,” Alaphilippe continued. “Movistar is really strong and everybody knows Valverde could win Flèche for a sixth time, but we played it smart.”

Another race Alaphilippe has finished second in to Valverde at is Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Monument takes place this Sunday, and after a very solid start to year during which he bagged three wins already, Alaphilippe will start in Liège hotly tipped.

“I just want to enjoy the victory today, it is my first big victory and all the more special ahead of Valverde. We will start Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Friday with the reconnaissance and it will be the last Classic before I take a break, so I am very focused, but first I want to enjoy this.”