A remarkable end to Liege-Bastogne-Liège 2020 saw world champion Julian Alaphilippe celebrate too early and allow Primož Roglič to pip him on the line to take the victory.
Had Alaphilippe crossed the line first he would have still missed out on claiming the Monument, after being relegated to fifth place following an irregular sprint that saw him cut across Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) in the dash for the line, the Swiss rider unclipping and then swerving into Tadej Pogačar’s path. Those two riders then moving up to the second and third podium places.
After Hirschi and Pogačar had their sprints cut short by Alaphilippe’s movement, the Frenchman threw his hands in the air to celebrate the victory but failed to see Roglič sneaking up on his right-hand side to beat him at the last.
Alaphilippe had attacked near the summit of the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, taking a select group with him containing Marc Hirschi (Sunweb), Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
The quartet worked well together, keeping the Mathieu van der Poel-led chase group behind at bay until the flamme rouge.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-McLaren) managed to bridge over in the finishing straight and led out the sprint, Alaphilippe coming around to make his dash for the line, then looking behind at Hirschi before moving over defensively, causing Hirschi and Pogačar to swerve.
With those two distanced, Alaphilippe thought it was job done, but Primož Roglič kept stamping on the pedals, throwing his bike at the line to steal the victory from the French world champion.
The Slovenian takes his first Monument victory at his Liège debut, surely going some way to make amends for losing the Tour de France yellow jersey on the penultimate stage a couple of weeks ago.
How it happened
With the breakaway safely up the road, the riders of Liège-Bastogne-Liège settled in for a quiet opening three quarters for the oldest of the five Monuments, allowing fans to digest Lizzie Deignan’s victory at the women’s race earlier in the day as well as get stuck into the second stage of the Giro d’Italia in this packed, shortened season.
The first big incident of the day occurred with just under 100km to go, as Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) and Jay McCarthy were the victims of no steward being present to warn the peloton of an upcoming traffic island. Van Avermaet was left crumpled on the floor, both riders abandoning the race as well as Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who was apparently caught up in the same incident.
Chris Froome was then dropped from the peloton with 86km remaining, the Tour de France champion among the 50 riders who didn’t make it to the finish line in Liège.
The next crash happened 5km later as the bunch swung around a damp corner, holding up world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and leaving Michael Valgren (NTT) and Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-McLaren) nursing their injuries, Arkéa-Samsic’s Warren Barguil picking himself up and gettin back on his bike.
Michael Schär (CCC) soon tired of his breakaway companions as he dropped them and the road headed uphill, Alaphilippe climbing off momentarily to switch his bike again, having had to give up his rainbow model following the crash. His sports director driving the team car then leaned out the window to try and fix his shoe one-handed, before the Frenchman was eventually given a new shoe and the world champion safely got himself back into the pack.
Schar took a minute and a half lead into the final 45km, but the real race was ramping up behind and he was brought back into the fold on the approach to La Redoute with around 36km to go.
Alaphilippe, Hirschi and Kwiatkowski then all came to the fore, Dries Devenyns (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) setting the pace up front and talking tactics with his team leader.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Primož Roglič were also all present towards the front as Devenyns increased the pace, as Michael Albasini escaped off the front with 27km to go, a fitting tribute in the 39-year-old’s final race of his career.
Luis León Sánchez (Astana) was the next to hit out with 23.5km to the finish line, Devynyns turning around to ask Alaphilippe if he should chase as Rui Costa got on the Spanish champion’s wheel.
Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r La Mondiale) was forced to bounce his bike up and down against the road after he got stuck in gear as Sánchez found a new one, kicking again as Alaphilippe followed this time, Costa still sniffing around, Israel Start-Up Nation then reeling the trio back in.
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) then launched, Alessandro De Marchi (CCC) and Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) marking his move and no team possessing the numbers to really control the race at this moment.
Onto the Côte de la Roche-Aux-Faucons and Dumoulin took over on the front, the group being thinned down all the time. With Van der Poel still present Alaphilippe launched his attack with 500m to the summit, Hirschi scrambling for his wheel as Roglič and Pogačar also followed.
Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling) and Kwiatkowski were next, trying to chase back up to the quartet over the top as Alaphilippe tried to get the move organised. Kwiatkowski eased himself over the gap and left the Canadian in no man’s land, soon swept up by a larger chase group just behind led by Mathieu van der Poel.
With 11km to go, the Dutch road race champion looked behind him for help, finding Richie Porte on his wheel and the pair trying to search for riders to aid their pursuit who didn’t have team-mates up the road.
Hirschi then attacked the leading four, Alaphilippe following and Pogačar and Roglič chasing as Kwiatkowski is dropped.
Into the final 10km and the quartet had a 20-second lead over the chasers, working well together and maintaining their gap into the final 6km, still relaying 2km later to successfully keep Van der Poel at bay.
Behind, Van der Poel started to gap the chase group but found his countryman Tom Dumoulin on his wheel, shutting things down for Roglič up ahead.
Alaphilippe’s wheel skipped round one of the final bends as he lost concentration just before the flamme rouge as Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-McLaren) came into view behind and the chasers just behind him.
Mohorič led out the sprint before Alaphilippe came around him, then swerving into the path of Hirschi who impeded Pogačar, the Frenchman then lifting his hands across the line but not before Roglič swooped in to nab the victory that would have been his anyway after Alaphilippe was relegated to fifth place for his irregular sprint.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2020: Liège to Liège (257km)
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 6-32-02
2. Marc Hirschi (Sui) Sunweb, at same time
3. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
4. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Bahrain-McLaren
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, all at same time.
6. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, at 14s
7. Michael Woods (Can) EF Pro Cycling
8. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Sunweb
9. Warren Barguil (Fra) Arkéa-Samsic
10. Michał Kwiatkowski (Pol) Ineos