Primož Roglič’s redemption after Tour tears
Having unexpectedly lost the Tour de France yellow jersey on the penultimate day and berated a week later for not helping a rider from a different nation win the Worlds road race, you wouldn’t have blamed Primož Roglič if he sacked off the rest of this horrid year and started laying plans for 2021.
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However, people underestimate Roglič’s sometimes mechanical manner off the bike, the Slovenian instead possessing the form of a stone-cold killer as soon as he clips in. The Slovenian values winning above all else and hadn’t given up at Liège-Bastogne-Liège even after Julian Alaphilippe had prematurely claimed victory via celebration, raising his arms aloft.
The Slovenian was perhaps fortunate to be in possession of the slowest sprint of the five riders remaining by the time the race got to the finishing straight, as Alaphilippe cut across and impeded both Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
Having not been right on their wheels as they swerved across the road, Roglič had a clear shot at the line and powered forward, just edging out Alaphilippe as the Frenchman celebrated early, having not seen the Slovenian coming through.
If you don’t buy a ticket you can’t win the raffle, and a cycling Monument isn’t the sort of prize you’ll find at a village fête. With the Vuelta a España still to come and Roglič back to winning ways, the season could still end on a high for the Jumbo-Visma man.
Alaphillippe’s rainbow wardrobe malfunctions
It was an eventful day for Julian Alaphilippe’s first outing as world champion.
Having been held up in crash, the Frenchman spent a number of kilometres dangling behind the peloton, waiting for a second bike change after losing his new rainbow model to the slip around a damp corner. Next, it was a cleat alteration from his sports director leaning out of the car window and then an entire shoe change. After that, the Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider was finally ready to race.
Once again Alaphilippe lit up the race, attacking near the summit of Roche-aux-Faucons and taking a select group away with him. Things were going to plan until he looked behind in the final few hundred metres, having opened up his sprint, and saw Hirschi on the charge. Alaphilippe instinctively moved across, Hirschi unclipping as he took evasive action and causing Pogačar to swerve too. Alaphilippe then found himself with a gap, which he thought was enough to claim the Monument he had pencilled in as his main target for this season.
Lifting his arms in celebration, Alaphilippe failed to spot Primož Roglič making a dash for the line on the other side, pipping him at the post. Was Alaphilippe still drunk from his celebrations following Imola 2020? Or too assured of his prowess in the rainbow jersey? Either way, it was uncharacteristically naive racing from the usually sharp-witted racer.
Hirschi kisses goodbye to first Monument
We’ll never know how the sprint would have played out had Alaphilippe stuck to his line, with Pogačar looking quick at the finish but Marc Hirschi very much looked like the man to beat heading to the banner in Liège. Such was the speed of the Swiss rider’s charge that Alaphilippe moved over instinctively to block it.
It’s surely only a matter of time until Hirschi takes another big win following his maiden Tour de France stage victory last month. His bronze medal at Imola 2020 and Flèche Wallonne win confirmed his class and the 22-year-old Swiss rider looks like he’ll be around for a while and challenging for major honours.
Hirschi had spent his day out in Belgium watching Alaphilippe like a hawk, the rider deemed most likely to be able to follow an explosive attack from the Frenchman. Despite a few moments where the youngster didn’t know when to let the other teams chase, the Sunweb rider held his nerve and almost came away with the big prize. At such a young age, Marc Hirschi is a name we’ll be hearing for a while.
Mathieu van der Poel
Another debutant at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Mathieu van der Poel was forced to do it all himself once again. But unlike his Amstel Gold Race win of last year, the Dutchman wasn’t able to bring the race back together at the last by sheer force of will alone in order for him to take the spoils.
Keeping his head above water in the front group on the climb up Roche-aux-Faucons, an attack like Alaphilippe’s was needed to deny the Dutch road race champion his first Monument victory.
As Alaphilippe and company worked together to keep him at bay, Van der Poel was left to lead the large chase group behind.
The leading quartet was too strong, though, and even though Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-McLaren) was able to bridge the gap in the finishing straight, Van der Poel had spent all his energy bringing the groups close enough for that to be doable.
The Alpecin-Fenix rider wasn’t too dismayed after the finish. After all, this effort comes off the back of him single-handedly putting the BinckBank Tour peloton to the sword yesterday as he took the overall victory.
With the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix coming up, we can expect a mouthwatering showdown with his old cyclo-cross nemesis, Wout van Aert.
Crash. Bang. Wallonia.
While the stacked racing calendar may be exhilarating for fans, it provides extra unwanted peril for riders hoping to squeeze a whole season into a couple of months.
Nasty-looking crashes brought down the likes of Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) and Michael Valgren (NTT), the Belgian lying crumpled in the floor after a disagreement with a traffic island that hadn’t been marked out by a race steward, while Valgren was one of the victims of the Alaphilippe crash, left to nurse his injuries on the steel crash barrier as he waited to limp into his team car.
Van Avermaet’s condition will be fully established in the coming days, but the accident arrives at a time when the CCC star was gearing up for his usual season highlights at Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Time for recovery is at a premium, though, and there is no space for weakness in fields stacked with riders looking to pick up the pieces from a bizarre year of racing.