La Flèche Wallonne: Alaphilippe 2nd on Mur de Huy
Young Etixx - Quick-Step rider Julian Alaphilippe was in fantastic position going into the final 200 meters of the finale of 205.5km La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, giving his all and earning a 2nd place finish behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), but ahead of Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) in 3rd.
The 22-year-old French rider was able to stay in front of a drastically reduced peloton that caught Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) after he went solo on Côte de Cherave (8.1% gradient) at the foot of the Mur de Huy. Michal Kwiatkowski, UCI World Road Champion and winner of Amstel Gold Race, was also present in the group and he finished 33rd.
Etixx - Quick-Step played a major role in controlling the race, putting six riders on the front with 36.1km to go and the gap at 1'33" to the original breakaway. Eventually several riders bridged to the remainder of the breakaway, and then LL Sanchez (Astana) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), who had bridged to the leaders, went ahead with 16.7km to go. But they were both caught well before the final kilometers, and Wellens went over the top of them to start his solo effort that was eventually brought back.
Tony Martin led Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe into the final kilometers, keeping the duo in good position for the crucial final climbs of the race.
Alaphilippe's 2nd place finish is the 23rd of the season and adds to the 51 podium placings of Etixx - Quick-Step in the 2015 season. Etixx - Quick-Step remains at the top of the UCI WorldTour with 699 points, having taken over the lead after the victory of Kwiatkowski in Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.
"This is my first time racing Flèche and I had never done the Mur de Huy before," Alaphilippe said. "I'm surprised and happy about my 2nd place after a strong team performance today. My goal was to help Michal Kwiatkowski be in the top positions before the Mur de Huy. The Côte de Cherave created a tense finale. A lot of riders wanted to attack there. My job was to follow the attacks in support of Michal. A big bunch showed up on the Mur de Huy, which was a different scenario compared to previous years. As a team we did a great job surrounding Michal and controlling the attacks of the day. On the Mur de Huy I found myself very well positioned at the front. I had great legs on the climb and the nature of the Mur de Huy makes it difficult to contest the finale if you are not in front. So my Sport Director told me to just go for the victory as I was in great position with good condition. I did everything I could, but I saw Alejandro Valverde was in front and on this steep climb there was just no way to close the gap. He deserved the victory today. I'm still a young rider trying to gain experience and am happy that I can be there to both help my teammate, and also try if there is an opportunity for myself in the finale. One day I'd like to try and win these kinds of races, which I love. I will carry on and keep learning from both my teammates and the peloton around me. Now we will focus on Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It's another race I've never done before, so I am curious about it. I will see the parcours for the first time on Friday during recon and I am super excited. I hope to play an important role in the team strategy to help Michal in the front so the team can be able to contest the finish."
"Today the team did a great job to put me in front the entire day, but unfortunately I couldn't finish really well," Kwiatkowski said. "Probably I paid a little bit for all the emotions after the victory of Amstel Gold Race. It was really a big moment, and the emotions that followed it had a big impact on me. I think mentally I'm still adjusting to what I accomplished. In any case the team found a way to be on the podium with a strong Alaphilippe. He had a strong performance and it was only his first time. He closed all the attacks on the second-to-last climb. He did a great job for me and in the final he still found the legs to contest the race. He was 2nd, so we are very proud of him. We are doing really well as a team and we hope to finish the Ardennes Classics with a top finish at Liege-Bastogne-Liege."