Liège - Bastogne - Liège: Alaphilippe Contends Again, Finishes 2nd
Young French rider Julian Alaphilippe again showed his strength at just 22-years-old, placing 2nd in 253km Liège - Bastogne - Liège in rainy conditions with a select group. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the race, and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was 3rd.
This was the first participation of Alaphilippe in the third and final Ardennes Classic.
Liège - Bastogne - Liège came back together with 6km to go, but already a select group was forming at the front. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) tried to attack but was marked by Alaphilippe before the group caught the leaders and pressed on. Romain Bardet (AG2R - La Mondiale) tried an attack as well, but that was caught with 4.6km to go. A last gasp effort to escape by Daniel Moreno (Katusha) was also caught by the group, with Valverde moving to the front to chase the rider down. It was Valverde who would launch from the best position, and he won the race in front of Alaphilippe to his right.
Michal Kwiatkowski, the UCI World Road Champion and winner of Amstel Gold Race last weekend, lost contact and was unable to rejoin the group in the last kilometers and climbs. Zdenek Stybar was on the front inside 15km to go and set the pace high enough to shed riders behind him before the finale.
The original breakaway was caught earlier than expected in the race, but a flurry of attacks with about 70 to 75 kilometers to go amongst several crashes demonstrated a nervous peloton.
Etixx - Quick-Step finished on the podium of every Ardennes Classic, with Kwiatkowski winning the first, and Alaphilippe finishing 2nd at both La Flèche Wallonne 2015 and Liège - Bastogne - Liège. As a result of the top finishes Etixx - Quick-Step preserves their lead in the UCI WorldTour team ranking (779 points).
"I'm super happy about my race and result," Alaphilippe said. "It was a hard race, one I was doing for the first time. You never know what can happen during the race so this really was the best result as I was mainly just trying to discover myself on this parcours. I even had to use some energy, as I was involved in a big crash with riders like Dan Martin (Cannondale Garmin) and Nicolas Roche (Team Sky). I had to chase for a lot of kilometers and finally rejoined the peloton at the top of La Redoute, so you can imagine the effort it took on that kind of a climb to catch the group. I then was able to recover and focus on helping Michal Kwiatkowski. But when we reached the top of Cote de St Nicolas the Sport Directors told me to turn my attention to my own chances in the sprint as Michal had been distanced. So I refocused on a new goal. I was able to make it and contest the sprint, but in the last kilometer I was maybe a bit too far back. Everyone was controlling Valverde, but at 500 meters to go he accelerated to catch Moreno and I had to put in a bit of an effort to close the gap and sprint. But even if I was better positioned I think it would have been impossible to beat Valverde today. He was the strongest rider and he deserved the victory. This race is one I will never forget. When you're growing up listening to people talk about the great Monuments of cycling, and then you try to win one, it is a unique feeling. Also, this week was something special with the whole team. We worked well together starting with the victory of Michal at Amstel Gold Race, and then at Flèche when I was 2nd, and then today. We rode really united. As for me, I worked hard to be prepared for these three races of the Ardennes Classics. The hard work paid off. So, I am happy and this is a boost of confidence for doing better in the future."
"I felt OK until the final, but then there was the big accelerations in the last kilometers and I was unable to follow," Kwiatkowski said. "I don't know what exactly happened today. There is always room to improve, so this week I will try to analyze what may have went wrong to see what can be done better next time. But at the same time I want to enjoy all I've accomplished in the first part of my season. Amstel Gold Race was really the icing on the cake, and now that I have concluded the first part of my season with the last of the Ardennes Classics I have to say I am satisfied with how I've done so far, and I am also happy with how the team rode. For example, Alaphilippe. Congratulations to him. He's a big talent and showed it today when he worked for me, and was still able to contest the finish. He is also a great guy. I think we will see him in the future amongst the best in the peloton."
"In the middle of the race I was struggling, but after La Redoute I started to feel a little better," Stybar said. "I put myself in the service of the team, which is what we decided before the race. I was happy to serve this role and for me it was a great experience. When I started this morning I didn't know what to expect. So, to still play an important part in this race so soon after the Cobbled Classics, it makes me realize I can maybe consider this an option as an objective in the future. As for Julian, he is a classy guy and deserved his 2nd place today."
"Once again we showed how to race like a team," Sport Director Davide Bramati said. "We worked in full support of Michal as captain. But when Michal had some difficulties the decision was made to let Julian try his chances in good position. As usual everyone worked to reach the goal on the road, which is to win the race. We found a strong Alaphilippe, but we also found a strong team supporting our leader in Michal today. Congratulations to everybody, including Stybar. He demonstrated professionalism to prepare himself for this race and then to put himself at the service of his teammates. These kinds of unselfish acts are what makes this team special and it is why we are ranked at the top of the UCI WorldTour at this moment."
Gianluca Brambilla also crashed in the same moment as Alaphilippe, but he broke his left collarbone as a result of the fall. The injury will require an operation. More information will be provided in the next days.