The 2021 edition of the Ardennes Classic came down to the traditional uphill sprint on the iconic Mur de Huy, with Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) going head to head in the final 300 metres of the race.
Despite a dangerous early attack on the Mur from Roglič, Alaphilippe perfectly timed his attack, leaving it late and taking the victory in the dying metres.
How it happened
The 2021 Flèche Wallonne followed a slightly altered course, raced over 193km, but the finish remained unchanged.
Riders faced 12 short and brutal climbs on the road from Charleroi to the usual finish in Huy, the first of which came after 50km of racing.
Following a relentless middle sector, guaranteed to weaken riders as the peloton took on climbs like the Côte de Thon (1.1km at 6.4 per cent) and the Côte de Groynne (2.1km at 4.7 per cent), the race hit the finishing circuit after 122km of racing.
With 60km left of the day, the peloton faced the first ascent of the Mur de Huy, the iconic finishing climb of Flèche Wallonne, as they took on the first of two 30km finishing laps.
After ascents of the Côte d’Ereffe and the Côte du chemin des Gueuses, the race hit the Mur for the penultimate time as riders then faced one more lap and then the final ascent of the wall to the line.
The Mur is a brutal 1.3km, 9.5 per cent average gradient, which often results in a slow motion uphill sprint to decide the winner.
Early in the day, a number of breakaway attacks were fired by would-be escapees, before a group was finally formed after around 40km of racing, with eight riders establishing the day’s leading move.
That group included the likes of Alex Howes (EF Education-Nippo), Diego Rosa (Arkèa-Samsic), Sander Armèe (Qhubeka-Assos) and Maurits Lammertink (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), who grew their advantage out to around five minutes up to the 100km point of the day, before the peloton began to close down their advantage.
Into the final 50km of the day, the gap had tumbled down to inside two minutes as Movistar, Ineos Grenadiers and Deceuninck - Quick-Step all assisted with the chase behind.
With just under 30km to race, pre-race favourite Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) was caught in a crash in the bunch and was forced to chase back on, with Tao Geoghegan Hart dropping back to help his team’s co-leader.
But after a relaxed chase, including a shoe change, Pidcock rejoined the peloton with 24km left to race, as the breakaway began to fall to pieces.
With 13km to the line, just four riders remained from the initial break with a 20-second advantage, but their time gap was diminished as Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) attacked from the peloton right at the foot of the Côte du chemin des Gueuses, the penultimate climb of the day.
Maurits Lammertink attacked his breakaway rivals to extend his time out front, as the rest of the break were caught following a flurry of attacks from the peloton.
Deceuninck - Quick-Step were determined to set up the traditional uphill sprint and reigned in the opportunistic attackers inside 10km, leaving only Lammertink out front with a 10-second advantage.
Lammertink was finally caught at the foot of the Mur, as Dries Devenyns (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) attacked early, but the peloton came back together on the early slopes.
With 350m to the line Roglič launched his move, a relatively early attack for the climb, and pulled out a formidable gap to the rest.
Alaphilippe set off in pursuit shortly after, but patiently closed down the gap with Movistar’s Valverde behind.
Roglič began to fade in the final 100 metres and as the road flattened out he’d lost his momentum, allowing Alaphilippe to latch on and fire past right at the line to take the victory.
Alaphilippe claimed his third victory in Flèche Wallonne, having won back-to-back in 2018-19, with Roglič settling for second and Valverde third.
Britain’s Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) sprinted to sixth place, 11 seconds behind the winner.
Flèche Wallonne 2021, Charleroi to Huy (193.6km)
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, in 4-36-25
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
3. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 6s
4. Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 8s
5. Warren Barguil (Fra) Arkéa-Samsic, at 11s
6. Tom Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
7. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
8. Esteban Chaves (Col) Team BikeExchange
9. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, all at same time
10. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 16s
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