The Take out - Liege Bastogne Liege
1. The Jungel Man has arrived - That was about as “yuge” a ride as it gets by Bobby Jungels. It was a one-punch knockout for the Luxembourgian, who just rode off from a shattered group of contenders after the penultimate climb, the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons and was never seen again. He’s one of those guys that seem like they’ve been around forever as he’s won some big races in his six world tour years, but you forget he’s only 25 years old. This win announces that he’s arrived as a true contender at the big classics (like QuickStep needed another of those), and on his way to contending at grand tours for GC. To beat those riders, at this race, in that manner...? What a talent.
2. Teamwork makes the dream work – As Julian Alaphilippe crossed the line in fourth, he pointed to the QuickStep logo on the front of his jersey; he’d personally lost, but his team had won, and that’s all he really cared about (probably). Despite being the big favourite, Alaphilippe didn’t really mind not winning when Jungels had. Contrast that to Lotto Soudal – after Jelle Vanendert dropped Timmy Wellens mid-week on the Mur de Huy, the two “teammates” shared a spat via the press, and they looked like they couldn’t stand each other at Liege either. Wellens was tailing every rider that even thought about going away in the finale; he obviously shared no interest in coming to the finish with Vanendert (who then attacked on the final climb, the Cote de Saint-Nicolas) Maybe one of them could have just tried to chase Jungels to set up the other? Nah, they just let the ‘wolfpack’ win again.
3. Shaking things up – Liege Bastogne Liege is nicknamed “La Doyenne”; the old lady. Well it’s kind of like watching your nan run a 1500m race, it’s all just a bit slow and dull. This was one of the better editions in the last few years thanks to Jungel’s attack, however it still took a looong time to get interesting, with the main contenders being reluctant to burn too many matches before the last climb. When Jungels did go away, he never really looked like he’d be pulled back as we never saw an organised chase. We’ve seen a super spring classics period, and if today’s race was the best that this Liege course has to offer, it emphasises that the race needs a shake-up. The course is just so demanding that it doesn’t usually coax much endeavour out of the field, while the uphill drag that houses the finish also encourages leaving your moves to the final kilometre. With the finish moving from Ans, back to the centre of Liege from next year hopefully it spices things up a bit.
We do mock the "wolf pack" stuff, but they seem to be genuinely invested in each other’s success.
Davide Formolo finished 7th – while he’s still yet to fully deliver on the promise he showed when he won a Giro stage in 2015, he has finished top 10 at the Vuelta and Giro in the last two years. What can he do at the Giro in a fortnight’s time?
Alejandro Valverde winning would have meant that’d he’d equalled Merckx’s record of 5 LBL wins – this year might have been his last chance. He turns 38 on Wednesday, he can’t keep winning forever, can he?
- This race was billed as the ultimate heavyweight slugfest between Alaphilippe and Valverde and it never really looked like that was going to happen once Jungels went away. Valverde was legless when it counted, rolling home in 13th, 51 seconds back - his Movistar team isn’t quite as strong as you think it is, he was very isolated in the final 20km
- A mixed day for the Aussie boys – Jack Haig showed his face near the front when it got tough, 14th caps off a super impressive spring for him. Michael Matthews however, he was dropped on the Roche-aux-Faucons. Geee, that puncture at Amstel will be haunting.
- As a previous winner here, Philippe Gilbert had a fair crack, but like a lot of his springtime racing, he just didn’t have the edge. Vincenzo Nibali was another man with endeavour but no edge. The Bahrain Merida team were sent to the front with 20km to go, presumably for him, but he faltered while Pozzovivo and Gasparotto went on to finish 5th and 6th respectively.
- Good to see a few of the guys like Pozzovivo that should be challenging at the Giro showing their faces – Michael Woods deserved his second placing as he was super active, and Tommy Dumoulin popped up on the Roche-aux-Faucons and in the finale before finishing 15th.
- Dan Martin looked better than he did at Fleche, and his chances were cruelled by a mechanical in the run in. However he probably wasn’t going to feature unless that was just a very short case of the sniffles on Wednesday, and I dare say there were a few furrowed brows on the UAE bus when the DS said “boys, we’re going to ride the front all day for Dan”
- As I remember, the last few editions of Liege have been cold enough to freeze ya peanuts – Liege isn’t known for its’ beautiful scenery (finishing in next to a petrol station in the factory-laden industrial suburbs of Ans will do that to you), but it’s certainly a lot nicer whilst bathed in sunlight instead of grey Belgian drizzle and sleet.
- Team Sky’s awful classics campaign continues – their best result was Sergio Henao in 9th, while Kwiatkowski and Thomas were dropped when the action kicked off. They’ll be happy to return to the sterilized environment of stage racing.
See you back at the social club,