Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège performance was the perfect day for winner Remco Evenepoel.
The Belgian prodigy rode solo for the final 29km of the 257km race, holding off a group of pursuers to win his first Monument, and simultaneously save Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s Classics season.
“It was really hard with a headwind it was really difficult to keep pushing,” the 22-year-old said after the race in the Liège sunshine. “But I know that everybody was suffering already the whole day it’s been quite a hard day and a long day as well.
“I think today was my best day on the bike, maybe ever, so the perfect day to have the best day on the bike, I guess,”.
His team have been under pressure this spring after failing to win one of the major cobbled Classics, races which are normally meat and drink for the home squad. And it seemed their spring of bad luck was continuing when Evenepoel’s co-leader, world champion Julian Alaphilippe crashed out, eventually being taken to hospital.
However, the team remained at the front of the race, Mauri Vansevenant leading onto the race’s key climb, the Côte de la Redoute, chasing a shattered breakaway. At the top it seemed as though the climb would pass without incident, but just as the gradient began to ease Evenepoel launched a stinging attack, the pursuers unable to hold his wheel.
With 21km to go he caught Bruno Amirail (Groupama-FDJ), the last of the day's breakaway, leading the Frenchman onto the final classified climb, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons. While Amirail fell away the Belgian rode on, his lead on the chasing group of favourites extending to more than 30 seconds.
Attacks from that group cut the advantage to just 18 seconds and heartbreak seemed on the cards, but on the long descent towards the finish line Evenepoel doubled that, eventually winning by 48 seconds.
Evenepoel burst onto the professional scene in 2019, taking victory at Clasíca San Sebastián among others. He continued in a similar vein in the pandemic hit 2020 season, until a horrific crash at that year’s Il Lombardia saw him off the bike for months, putting a brake on his stellar career.
Sunday’s victory saw him become the first home rider to win La Doyenne since Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal) in 2011, and while the older rider completed his final Liège, his young compatriot finally seems back on the path to greatness.
“I think I've been suffering mentally and physically a lot the last year and a half,” Evenepoel continued. “Finally this year I feel that everything is going well and everything is getting stable and I'm getting to the best Remco again.”
“Today I've been showing the best Remco since turning pro, so I'm really proud and happy to win this race.”
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