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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, April 25, 2019

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

The best portion of a good man's life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love. - William Wordsworth

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La Flèche Wallonne team reports

We posted the organizer's race summary with the results.

Here's the report from winner Julian Alaphilippe's Deceuninck-Quick Step team:

Julian Alaphilippe’s phenomenal season continued this Wednesday in Belgium, where the 26-year-old again conquered Flèche Wallonne, adding the one-day race to his impressive haul of 2019 victories, which also includes Milano-Sanremo, Strade Bianche, as well as stages at the Vuelta a San Juan, Tour Colombia, Tirreno-Adriatico and Vuelta al Pais Vasco.

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe drives for the line ahead of Jakob Fuglsang. Sirotti photo

“Last year, I notched up my first big victory here, so being able to repeat that success gives me a lot of joy, but it tastes differently, because this edition was far more difficult. I am extremely proud of our team, who rode a perfect race, protected me from kilometer zero, chased down all the moves and always kept me in position. Being able to repay their hard work makes me very happy”, said the fourth rider in history to win Milano-Sanremo and Flèche Wallonne in the same season.

Eleven climbs peppered the 83rd Flèche Wallonne, whose 195.5km-long course was regarded by many as the toughest in recent memory. However, this didn’t deter Deceuninck – Quick-Step, as the team kept the five-man breakaway on a leash, pilling on the pressure in the crosswinds, infiltrating in the moves launched inside the final hour and bringing Julian back into the pack following a flat. Then, on Côte d’Ereffe and Côte de Cherave, Dries Devenyns and Enric Mas maintained a high tempo to prevent attacks and made sure the peloton would arrive as one at the bottom of Mur de Huy.

The fearsome climb (1300 meters, 9.6%), which has been used as finish venue of the race since the ‘80s, making for one of the most spectacular finales in pro cycling, awaited the reduced bunch, who were greeted with a strong headwind, meaning that  no early moves were launched until 500 meters to go, when Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) rode clear of the field.

A short glance over the shoulder convinced Julian to up the pace on the steep gradients of the Chemin des Chapelles and put some daylight between him and the others, before linking up with the Dane, whose wheel he stayed in until 120 meters to go, when thanks to another trademark acceleration, Alaphilippe powered past his opponent and earned Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s 25th victory of the year.

“I can’t say there was any pressure on me today, but what’s certain is that all eyes were on me, and you could see several attempts coming from riders who tried to go clear before the Mur de Huy, but my team did a splendid job and controlled everything”, said the third reigning Tour de France KOM champion to triumph at Flèche Wallonne. “The final 300 meters of the race were really hard, due to the headwind on the Mur, but I left it late and timed my acceleration perfectly. As I said, it was tough, and that’s why this victory gives me not just great satisfaction, but also a huge motivation for Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”

Third-place Diego Ulissi's UAE-Team Emirates sent me this:

Diego Ulissi showed excellent condition and an aggressive attitude in La Flèche Wallonne today to finish third. Just a few days before the Ardennes Classics closes with Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Italian finished on the podium behind winner Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Jakob Fuglsang (Team Astana).

Diego Ulissi

Diego Ulissi (right) made the podium after a tough race. Sirotti photo

The race was full-out from the very beginning and left only 30 riders to play for victory on the last time up the Mur de Huy.

“Today I was very good,” said Ulissi, “I moved on the last lap as planned, but then I saw that behind, they didn’t let us go free. When they brought me back, as our leader Daniel Martin was no longer in the game, I tried to save as much energy as possible and take on the last climb the best I could.

“I must say that I made a great final climb, very consistent. I was also a little surprised because the last 200 metres have always been a bit impossible for me, but not this time. We also moved very well as a team, first with Henao in the breakaway of the first lap, and then with Rui Costa, who tried to help me in the final.

“On Sunday, we have Liège-Bastogne-Liège, one of my favourite races. I head there with a good physical condition. We must continue like this!”

Fourth-place Bjorg Lambrecht's Lotto-Soudal team sent me this report:

Lotto Soudal animated the Flèche Wallonne today by attacking various times and was rewarded with two riders finishing inside the top ten. The 22-year-old Bjorg Lambrecht once again confirmed his excellent shape and sprinted to a beautiful fourth place on the steep Mur de Huy. Jelle Vanendert finished ninth.

The race really started when an acceleration of Bjorg Lambrecht on the second ascent of the Mur de Huy created a big front group. Besides Lambrecht, also Tim Wellens was part of this dangerous move. However, the cooperation between the riders did not run smoothly and moments later, they were reeled in by a heavily reduced bunch. That was the moment when Tomasz Marczyński decided to attack. A little later, the Polish Lotto Soudal rider was joined by Mohorič but due to a fierce pace set by Enric Mas, the duo was caught on the Côte de Cherave.

Despite multiple attacks in the local laps, the Flèche Wallonne was once again decided in a sprint between the favourites on the Mur de Huy. Tim Wellens, Jelle Vanendert and Bjorg Lambrecht started the steep hill in a good position but were not able to respond to the acceleration of Alaphilippe. In the sprint, the Frenchman held off Jakob Fuglsang and celebrated his second consecutive Flèche Wallonne victory. Only moments later, Bjorg Lambrecht crossed the line as fourth and set - after finishing fifth in the Brabantse Pijl and sixth in the Amstel Gold Race - another impressive performance.

Peloton

The peloton wait for the race to start. Sirotti photo

Bjorg Lambrecht: “The strong winds caused a lot of nervousness in the peloton. That’s not my strongest suit and already after a few dozen kilometres, I ended up in a second group. For a while, I feared for the rest of my race. The legs did not feel great at first, maybe I still had to recover from the efforts on Sunday. As the race progressed, I felt better and better and on the second ascent of the Mur, I set the pace myself to not get in trouble during the part after the climb, where the wind could play its role. Meanwhile, the first group was reduced to around forty riders and then, it was mainly about choosing the best possible position.”

“All three of us wanted to start the Mur de Huy in the best possible spot. I began the climb in around tenth position but I was able to move up on the first steep slopes. Then, I had to catch my breath for a moment, but I knew that I could still accelerate in the final 150 metres. Of course, I am very satisfied with this fourth place. You always want to be on the podium but I can’t be disappointed with a fifth place in the Brabantse Pijl, a sixth in Amstel Gold Race and a fourth in Flèche Wallonne.”

“It is a fantastic feeling to take the next step. I am already looking forward to the future, in which these races will always be a main goal. Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday is again another kind of Classic. The predicted weather conditions won’t be to my advantage, contrary to for example Tim Wellens. For now, just let us enjoy this moment and then we’ll see what Sunday brings.”

And here's Bora-hansgrohe's race report:

Coming in the middle of three hard races, La Flèche Wallonne would be brutally tough from start to its uphill finish. While shorter than many other one-day races, the 195.5km distance is more than enough to exhaust even the fittest rider, while the eleven climbs covering the entire parcours meant that there was nowhere to hide – if you didn’t have the form to win, this would be made clear early on – and nowhere would this be more apparent than on the Mur de Huy, where the race would end, but also be climbed twice earlier in the day.

The race started with sunny skies and warm temperatures, and the break made the most of this to leap ahead, but while this group of five built up an advantage approaching six minutes, there was still a lot of the race to go. A counter-attack from the peloton with 60km remaining, with Cesare Benedetti one of three riders to make their move, quickly caught what was left of the break. Some strong riders in this group spurred on the peloton, who upped the pace to try to bring the lead group to a more manageable distance, with Davide Formolo, Patrick Konrad and Maximilian Schachmann taking a commanding position on the front.

With it all back together from 29km, it was a dangerous time, the high speeds splitting the bunch and riders anxiously awaiting the inevitable attacks, and this didn’t take long – two successive jumps from the peloton leading to a duo fighting to stay ahead with a slim advantage, but with three BORA-hansgrohe riders in the bunch, this was shut down and it was all back together with 6km and two climbs to go.

The final kilometre was all uphill and it was clear no-one wanted to make their move too early, but while all three BORA-hansgrohe riders held on well in the 26% sections of the wall-like climb and tried to make their way up through the reduced bunch, they couldn’t stay with a duo that went clear in the closing metres. Max was the first to cross the line, taking fifth spot in another strong performance, with Patrick close behind in seventh.

Peter Sagan

Bora-hansgrohe rider Peter Sagan didn't finish the race. Sirotti photo.

From the Finish Line:
"We rode pretty aggressively throughout the day and we were always present in the front, in many different groups. Patrick and I entered the final climb on Mur de Huy in the front but it was very chaotic at the bottom. I was able to find a gap and started my sprint in the final metres." – Maximilian Schachmann

"I tried not to repeat the same mistake I did last year when I started the final climb too hard. I kept my own pace in the first part and then in the final 300 metres I went full speed. I was a little bit better than last year and I am really proud of the team. I think we all did a good job, it was a successful day and we will try again on Sunday." – Patrick Konrad

"I think we did very well today, the squad worked perfectly together. We were always positioned in the important groups and in the finale, the guys brought Max and Patrick in a very good position and they finished 5th and 7th. This is a good result for us and I think we can be happy with the race." – Enrico Poitschke, Sports Director 

Bora-hansgrohe reports on Tour of the Alps stage three

We posted the organizer's report with the results.

Although today’s third stage, at 106km, was relatively short, it was not lacking in intensity. The route went over lumpy terrain from Salorno, the southernmost town in south Tirol, to Baselga di Pinè. On the way, the riders had to traverse a second category and a third category climb. The last 9 km featured gradients of up to 10 per cent before the finish line at the river bank in Baselga di Pinè greeted the riders. Within the first few kilometres, twelve riders distanced themselves from the peloton. However, the field didn’t let the elastic stretch too far, and the escapees’ advantage remained largely within 3 minutes.

On the last categorised climb, the front group split up, and a duo managed to position themselves at the head of the race. Back in the main field, AG2R La Mondiale set the tempo. On the final climb towards the finish, the sting was really being put into the legs, and the peloton proceeded to collect the remnants of the breakaway. In the final few kilometres, Rafal Majka put in an attack, which forced a selection in the field. He then rode together with a group containing several favourites, and proceeded to launch several more attacks out of this group.

In the last kilometre, Fausto Masnada attacked and rode solo over the finish line, while Rafal put in a very strong finish and rolled over the line in third place, and with that he defended his fourth place in the general classification.

Fausto Masnada

Fausto Masnada wins Tour of the Alps stage three.

From the finish line:
“I feel that my form is good. I want to particularly thank Pawel for his help on the last climb, and all my teammates who helped me earlier in the race to always be in a good position. We still have a few stages left with long climbs, and we’ll continue to fight for good results.” - Rafal Majka

“Today went well for us. We tried to motivate the sprinters in the team to assist the climbers as long as possible. Andreas Schillinger did a particularly good job today, however, Rüdiger Selig suffered from respiratory problems and unfortunately had to abandon the race. In the end, it was a battle between the strongest riders in the race, and Rafal was right up there with them. It is a bit difficult to fight for stage victories with only two climbers in the team here. However, there are still stages with long climbs to come, and we’ll continue to pursue our main objective of a stage win.” - Christian Poemer, Sports Director 

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