Jakob Fuglsang (Team Astana) took the biggest win of his career at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, soloing to victory from the top of the Côte de Roche-aux-Faucons. Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), one of the men he left behind, took second, while Formolo's teammate Max Schachmann sprinted to third from an elite chase group.
The win caps a wonderful spring for Fuglsang and his Astana team. It's his third win of the season and Astana's 23rd, but the Dane has so often been a nearly man in the classics with three podium places so far. Victory at the final classic of the spring is just reward for his efforts.
In a race which fizzled at times but never really detonated, the main action once again came on the day's final climb – despite the route revamp. Michael Woods (EF Education First) kicked off the action on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons after an earlier attack group had been caught.
Fuglsang was first to react, while the big favourite – and his spring nemesis – Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) faltered. Formolo went too, forming a lead trio over the top. The Dane kept pushing on though, eventually breaking his companions on the shallower rise at the summit.
From there it was all Fuglsang, with Formolo and Woods' solo efforts making no gains, and an elite chase group including Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) failing to make headway either.
Barring a near-disastrous rear wheel slide on the final descent…
"a scary moment, but a bit of adrenaline for the last part"
"It's an amazing feeling," he said after the finish. "I'm glad my wife was right [about me being able to win here], and I will always listen to her from now on”
"On the last climb, I had the team leaving me in the perfect position," he added. "Before the climb, they were a little bit everywhere most of the day but in the important moment they were there and they did an amazing job.
"Gorka [Izagirre] led me into Roche-aux-Faucons in a perfect way and when Woods launched his attack it was a perfect way for me to jump with him. I knew it from Friday when we saw the parcours that I could not wait, so I said 'on the first part of the Roche-aux-Faucons I have to do a selection if I cannot go alone.'
"I tried and I looked back and saw [Woods] was gone. Formolo also let me get 2-3 metres and then I knew that now I had to leave everything out, now I have to die before the top and try to keep going."
It was a damp and chilly morning in Liège as the peloton rolled out to begin the 105th edition of the oldest Monument on the calendar. Perhaps due to the poor conditions, it didn't take very long for the break to establish themselves, with little fight from the peloton in the early stages.
Four riders – Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), Tobias Ludvigsson (Groupama-FDJ), Andrea Pasqualon (Wanty-Gobert) and Jérémy Maison (Arkéa-Samsic) – got away almost immediately, while Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Énergie), Kevin Deltombe (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and the Wallonie-Bruxelles duo of Kenny Molly and Mathijs Paasschens would soon link up to make it eight up front.
The opening stages – still wet and cold – were a quiet affair, with Deceuninck-Quick Step and Lotto-Soudal among the teams setting the pace at the head of the peloton. The break’s advantage reaches 10:30 at one point, but was just over six minutes as the eight men reached the southernmost point of the route in Bastogne.
Deceuninck-Quick Step upped the pace with around 110km to race, so much so that the peloton split. The resulting chaos left behind a reduced peloton of around 80 riders, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) the major victim, abandoning 105km from the finish. Another former winner, Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) had abandoned earlier on.
He would last out front until shortly after the Côte de Haute-Levée, when attacks from the peloton saw his gap evaporate. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) was among the most active men as a large group broke away from the peloton. There were some elite names in the move, including Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), but the two groups soon came back together on the Col du Rosier.
On that same climb, with 64km to race, Tanel Kangert (EF Education First) and Omar Fraile (Astana) countered, kicking off yet more attacks from the peloton. The Movistar duo of Carlos Verona and Winner Anacona were there, as were Alessandro De Marchi (CCC Team), Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale), David De La Cruz (Team Sky), Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Merida), Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott) and Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto-Soudal).
The group worked well together, gaining 40 seconds on the peloton by the foot of La Redoute with 39km to race. There, it was Kangert who pushed on, but the climb passed with no attacks from the peloton.
On the way to the final climb of the day, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, three riders made their way across to Kangert. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) and Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) made it a four-man group on the final climb of the day, but despite Wellens’ attack, they were all brought back by the Astana-led peloton.
Jakob Fuglsang, so often the bridesmaid this spring, followed an attack by Michael Woods (EF Education First), while Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) made it across to make it a lead trio.
Fuglsang was solo once again on the drag over the top though, shedding the duo and going for glory. Further back, a group including Nibali, Yates, Mikel Landa (Movistar), Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) got away from the peloton.
But Fuglsang was only gaining time on those behind. After podium places at Strade Bianche, Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne, the Dane wouldn’t be denied his big classic win here.
(Credits/Resources: D Ostenek / cyclingnews / Bettini Photo).