Jungels goes massive
Bob Jungels, for all his talent a bike racer, probably wasn’t top of the list of even most people’s outside favourites for today’s race.
Jungels was riding in support of the in form Julian Alaphilippe at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with even Philippe Gilbert making way for the Frenchman to ride as the outright leader of Quick-Step Floors after his impressive victory at La Flèche Wallonne last Wednesday.
But Jungels really made the most of not having the eyes of the other race favourites fixed upon him. He made a strong showing on the climb of the Roche-Aux-Faucons, chasing down Sky’s Sergio Henao before setting a pace that put a huge number of riders in trouble.
With just the strongest riders left following him, Jungels was able to simply drift away on the descent just after the climb, with the riders behind all looking to each other to begin the chase.
Little did they know that would be the last they saw of the Luxembourg champion, who capitalised on the flatter sections of the remaining 19 kilometres, using his big time trial engine to amass a huge gap of almost a minute.
That proved to be the most effective tactic for Jungels, whose time gap drifted severely on the next climb of the Saint-Nicolas. But after carrying around 20 seconds over the top of that climb, he once again made the most of the flatter sections into the final climb to extend his time gap and give him enough buffer to deliver a huge victory.
Valverde misses out on his record win
Much of the talk before Flèche Wallonne was about how predictable the end result would be; ride on to the Mur de Huy, wait for 100m to go, and watch Alejandro Valverde sprint to victory.
But the Spaniard wasn’t able to match Julian Alaphilippe on Wednesday, and so attention turned to whether he could equal Eddy Merckx’s record five wins in La Doyenne on Sunday.
Liège, despite the fact Valverde has four wins, is much less predictable then Flèche, with a much more stacked field of potential favourites that could undermine Valverde’s chances.
And while Valverde still looked like one of the stronger riders out in the chase group today, attacking numerous times to try and bridge to Jungels, he was a closely marked man by Jungels’ team-mate Alaphilippe.
Even the mighty Valverde can’t match the sheer power in numbers Quick-Step had, and with no team-mates left to support him, it never looked like the 37-year-old would be allowed to get away, with the continual attacking and retreating slowing the chase and handing Jungels the victory.
In the end, it looked like he paid for his efforts in trying to get away from the group, unable to follow the move of Romain Bardet and Michael Woods in the final 2.5km, and eventually having to settle for 13th place in the last Ardennes Classic.
No luck for Dan Martin
Like Valverde, Dan Martin was continually aggressive in trying to push on and chase down the lone escapee Jungels.
The Irishman looked off form in Flèche, although reportedly was caught behind a crash at an inopportune time in the final throws of the race. But he looked potentially back to his best at Liège, and a podium would have been a huge morale boost heading into Grand Tour season, with Martin yet to deliver a significant result for his new UAE Team Emirates squad.
But an untimely front wheel puncture left Martin out of proceedings with 8km to go, and he looked visibly frustrated as he put his hands to his head while he received a wheel change from neutral service. With Astana’s Davide Villella pushing the pace on the chase group at that point, there was no way back for Martin eventually taking 18th place.
He’ll now head to try and put that form to good use at the Tour de Romandie next week, but he’ll have to wait until next year to try and add another Ardennes Classic to his 2013 Liège title.
Another disappointing Classic for Team Sky
After finally breaking their Monument hoodoo at Liège in 2016 through Wout Poels, adding a Milan-San Remo title to that in 2017, it looked like Sky were on the up in the Classics.
But 2018 hasn’t been a spring to remember for the British team, and Liège was much the same as the last couple of months of racing.
On paper, they had a phenomenal looking squad, with the multi-talented Michal Kwiatkowski, climbing star Sergio Henao, the in-form Geraint Thomas making his debut and a former winner in Wout Poels.
While they were visible to the front of the race entering the last 25km, the attacks on the Roche-aux-Faucons, where everyone knew the race would spark in to life, left them with just one rider in Sergio Henao in the key group up the road.
Thomas and Kwiatkowski both seemed to suffer on the penultimate categorised climb, and dropped into a second chase group which never looked like getting back on.
All hope then rested on Henao to deliver a result for the team’s spring campaign, but the Colombian was far from active in the chase group, eventually able to hold on for ninth place.
On the face of it, Sky had as much power as Quick-Step today, but the Belgian squad have become masters of playing their cards right in one-day races to exploit the efforts of rival teams and deliver one of their riders to victory.
It would have been good to see Sky get more riders in the front of affairs and animate the race today, but clearly the attrition took it’s toll. However, it’ll go down as another disappointing spring season for the team.
Van der Breggen queen of the Ardennes
Because her team-mate Chantal Blaak took victory at Amstel Gold Race, there would be no repeat of Anna van der Breggen’s clean sweep of the Ardennes this year.
Still, two outta three ain’t bad, and the Dutchwoman delivered another assured victory in Liège on Sunday after winning Flèche again on Wednesday.
What’s more, she’s making this look easy. She was able to comfortably drop her two breakaway companions Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Annemiek van Vleuten on the Saint-Nicolas, before riding across to the rider out front Amanda Spratt and leaving her for dead as she simply eased away from her on the final slopes into Ans.
It caps of an amazing spring for her Boels-Dolmans team, and that’s without the presence of former world champion Lizzie Deignan.
The Dutch team have won six of the nine WorldTour races already this season, with Van der Breggen claiming four of those, and with Amy Pieters and world champion Blaak claiming the other two between them.
But while Quick-Step Floors have dominated the men’s Classics with their sheer strength in numbers, van der Breggen looks likes she could do it all by herself.