Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) has claimed his first ever Monument with victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2019, attacking with 15km to go and holding on despite nearly crashing with 5km left to race.
The Dane had finished second to Alaphilippe twice at La Flèche Wallonne and Strade Bianche, whilst the pair also threw away victory at the Amstel Gold Race, so Fuglsang crossed the line with relief, pumping his fist at finally climbing up to the top step of the podium this spring.
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Fuglsang made the decisive move on the final climb, the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons, as Alaphilippe and other contenders struggled after a tough day of racing in rainy conditions.
Michael Woods (EF Education First) and Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) had gone on the attack with Fuglsang, before he proved too strong for them and pulled clear with 13km to go and soloing to the line.
Davide Formolo rolled across in second place 27 seconds later, his first Monument podium appearance, with his Bora-Hangrohe team-mate Maximilian Schachmann following after another 30 seconds had elapsed.
Adam Yates finished fourth, with Mikel Landa (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Wout Poels (Team Sky) also featuring in the top 10.
Philippe Gilbert was dropped on the penultimate climb of the Cote des Forges as Alaphilippe and Deceuninck – Quick-Step then struggled to show themselves at the front of the peloton as Astana took control.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) were two early casualties, both abandoning the race due to ill health.
In the women’s race, Annemiek van Vleuten returned to winning ways, claiming the victory after attacking at the bottom of the Côte de la Redoute.
How it happened
As ever, the route was punctuated by short, sharp climbs, with nine featuring inside the last 100km of the 256km route, meaning only the strongest riders would make it to the business end of the oldest Monument.
However, this year’s course provided a major shake up, with a new flat and fast finish opening the race up for more riders to potentially challenge for the win.
Attacks came as soon as the riders rolled out of the 6.8km neutral zone, with the day’s breakaway soon establishing itself, made up of eight riders: Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), Tobias Ludvigsson (Groupama-FDJ), Jeremy Maison (Arkéa-Samsic), Andrea Pasqualon (Wanty-Gobert), Kevin Deltombe (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Mathjis Paasschens (Wallonie Bruxelles), Kenny De Haes (Wallonie Bruxelles). The break gained their maximum gap of the day of nearly nine minutes after 40km of racing.
The conditions on the road were far from ideal, with rain falling from the time the riders left Liège. After reaching Bastogne and the feed zone, Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) abandoned the race. The Irishman was recovering from illness at the Vuelta al País Vasco and had been riding in support of team-mate Diego Ulissi after not feeling well enough to try and repeat his victory of 2013.
Next to abandon was four-time winner Alejandro Valverde, who climbed off at around the 100km mark, his Movistar team tweeting soon afterwards to explain the Spaniard had been suffering from various physical problems over the last few days. Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma) also withdrew after crashing on a descent and being taken away in an ambulance.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step began pulling so hard on the front that the peloton began to split, bringing the breakaway’s gap under five minutes, with Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) then attacking the breakaway, splintering the group, and going solo.
With 66km to go Bernard was caught and the peloton splits had not succeeded as the race all came back together.
A couple of kilometres later, Tanel Kangert (EF Education First) attacked, with Omar Fraile (Astana) going with him. The pair were soon joined by a number of other strong riders, including the Belgian youngster Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto-Soudal).
This forced Deceuninck – Quick-Step to chase once again, with Kangert eventually going clear off the front as they rode on to the Côte de la Redoute.
As the peloton also followed on to La Redoute, where a Japanese chef living in Luxembourg had chalked “Phil” on to the road hundreds of times, his Belgian hero Philippe Gilbert began to drop, with Patrick Konrad then attacking the peloton on the next Cote des Forges and distancing the Paris-Roubaix winner.
Patrick Konrad soon joined Kangert, who had been left dangling out front with a 10 second gap for a number of kilometres, as Alaphilippe hung around the back of a strung out peloton as Astana came to the front, with no blue Deceuninck – Quick-Step jerseys to be seen anywhere.
Ion Izagirre flew off the road into the trees as Astana closed the gap to under 10 seconds with 17km to go, as the peloton started to get twitchy as the final climb, the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons approached.
Tim Wellens and Daryl Impey brought Kangert and Konrad back in, before Wellens attacked again and was followed by Michael Woods (EF Education First) having a go. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) quickly closed the gap with an attack, with Alaphilippe and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) being put in trouble.
Fuglsang, Woods and David Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) formed a three-man leading group, until Woods and Formolo were dropped by Fuglsang, who sped off to hunt down a first ever Monument victory.
A serious poursuivant group formed behind Formolo and Woods, featuring Nibali, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Mikel Landa (Movistar) but Fuglsang held a gap of 23 seconds over the next seven kilometres.
Inside five kilometres to go, with Fuglsang crouched over his handlebars on a descent, his back wheel slipped out, but the Dane somehow managing to stay upright as he closed in on the finish and his first ever Monument.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2019: Liège to Liège (256km)
1 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, in 6-37-37
2 Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 27 seconds
3 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 57s
4 Adam Yates (Gbr) Mitchelton-Scott
5 Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First
6 David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
7 Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, all at same time
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-00
9 Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-05
10 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 1-26