Julian Alaphilippe is not a one-year wonder
Julian Alaphilippe turned a few heads when he emerged from the shadows to finish second at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (LBL) last year.
After a huge season in 2015, where he also finished second at the Tour of California, and a bout of glandular fever in the off-season, his Etixx-Quick Step coach Brian Holm told Cycling Weekly not to expect too much from him in this Ardennes campaign.
Like any new band knows, the second album is harder than the first, but Alaphilippe’s second go round in the Ardennes was almost as finely crafted as his first.
Sixth at the Amstel Gold Race – one better than last year – was followed by another second at Flèche Wallonne.
His 23rd-place finish at LBL doesn’t look great on paper, but the Frenchman was with the front group the whole way in horrendous conditions and finished alongside many of his pre-race rivals just 12 seconds down on Wout Poels.
With Alaphilippe, Petr Vakoc and Dan Martin in their ranks, Etixx-Quick Step will have an exciting Classics line-up for years to come.
The new climb at Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a gamechanger
The climb of Rue Naniot near the end of LBL proved to be the decisive point in the race, just like we believed it could be. But even though we believed it could be decisive, we didn’t really think that someone would be allowed to get away with an attack on the steep cobbled climb.
Instead he was joined by Poels, Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Samuel Sanchez (BMC) and they were just allowed to ride away.
Valverde reportedly said afterwards that he didn’t expect the attack to stay away, so he didn’t follow it…In hindsight, that was a huge mistake.
The successful change in course could also serve as a notice to the other Ardennes races, especially the Flèche Wallonne, which is in severe danger of going very stale.
Another year, another race decided in the last 100 metres. The Mur de Huy is a magical climb, but leaving it as the only real obstacle on the route will lead to more unexciting racing.
Not all snowy races are ‘epic’
The forecast of snow at LBL made those old enough to remember it hark back to the ‘epic’ 1980 edition of the race, where only 21 riders finished and Bernard Hinault permanently lost the sensation in two of his fingers.
These days, though, it just meant that riders were decked head to toe in the latest wet weather and winter gear, making many of the different teams completely indistinguishable.
It’s not that the racing was particularly dull at LBL, but it was a little bit of an anti-climax in the end and the wet conditions in the final few kilometres – especially on the cobbled climb – made chasing down escapees quite tough.
Maybe in 35-years time we’ll look back on this edition as a ‘epic’ race, we’ll have to see if the story stands the test of time.
Bernard Hinault talks about the 1980 Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Wildcard teams don’t just make up the numbers
Wanty-Groupe Gobert have been in the headlines this spring for mostly unfortunate reasons. The death of Antoine Demoitié at Ghent-Wevelgem left a cloud over the whole sport and in a close-knit sport like cycling it must have been a massive challenge for his teammates to return to racing.
Not only did they return, they even won one of the year’s biggest Classics, with Enrico Gasparotto taking the Amstel Gold Race. Even without the tragedy of Ghent-Wevelgem, Gasparotto’s win for a wildcard team ahead of a WorldTour field was a remarkable story.
Then there was Sonny Colbrelli of Bardiani-CSF, who finished third at Amstel Gold, followed by Bryan Coquard of Direct Energie.
Cofidis were prominent in the Flèche Wallonne and despite not placing in the top 10 they finished with three riders in the top 20 – more than any other team.
Gasparotto was, again, the highest wildcard finisher at LBL – coming 12th – but Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18) and Arnold Jeannesson (Cofidis) also stayed the course to finish in the top 20.
Team Sky had a Monument winner in their ranks all along
Team Sky‘s brass brought in Michal Kwiatkowski this winter in an attempt to bring Ardennes success to the team, but who would have guessed that Wout Poels would be the man to bring them their first Monument?
Who would have also thought that Kwiatkowski’s best one-day result of the year would be a win in a cobbled Classics, with him getting a surprise victory at E3 Harelbeke?
Kwiatkowski had a dig off the front with about 10km to go on Sunday, which he must have known wouldn’t stick to the end. So maybe Sky’s recons of the new Rue Naniot climb would not suit Kwiatkowski’s style and they put their eggs in Poels’ basket instead.
Now the questions of when they’ll win a monument will end and the question instead will be ‘when will they win another monument?’