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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, April 19, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken. - Albert Camus

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La Flèche Wallonne team reports

Here's what winner Julian Alaphilippe's Quick-Step team had to say:

Julian Alaphilippe scored the biggest triumph of his career at one of the hardest ever editions of Flèche Wallonne (Seraing – Huy, 198.5 kilometers), after jumping clear from a stretched out peloton with 150 meters to go and leaving everyone else trailing on the double-digit gradients of the Mur de Huy, the iconic climb of the Belgian Classic which this year ran its 82nd edition.

"I have been on the podium of this race twice, and if the first time three years ago I was surprised, the second time I was frustrated, but I also took that result as a confirmation. I have always kept believing and worked hard to land a victory in a classic. The team was extraordinary, protected and kept me in a good position, so I want to thank them for their help! Everything was perfect today and now I want to celebrate this fantastic performance", Julian said after scoring his fourth win of the season.

Eight men broke clear at the start of the day, but the race was properly ignited with 40 kilometers to go, when a numerous group which included a strong Quick-Step Floors delegation slipped away and caught the escapees, while at the same time putting 20 seconds between them and the bunch. From that group, six riders attacked and went on to build a 50-second gap over the pack; among them was also Volta a Catalunya stage winner Maximilian Schachmann, who responded to several attacks, including the one of Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) over the top of Côte de Cherave, with six kilometers left.

On the brutal Mur de Huy, a climb which features on the course since 1983, Schachmann dropped Haig and rode alone into the famous S-bend, while behind the big favourites began to show their intentions. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal) was the first to attack, only for Alaphilippe to respond with remarkable ease. The duo passed Schachmann inside the final 150 meters before Julian kicked again on the tough ramps of the climb and gapped defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Vanendert, who were left fighting for the minor places on the podium.

The biggest victory of Alaphilippe's career was also the first of a French rider at Flèche Wallonne since 1997 and marked Quick-Step Floors' 26th UCI success of the season, one that cements our grip on the World Tour team standings after 17 events. This unforgettable day was rounded out by Max Schachmann's maiden top 10 in a classic, after the young German still had enough left in the tank to finish in eighth place.


Julian Alaphilippe wins a big one.

"I was the only leader of the team, but I couldn't have made it without such a strong squad! In the end, after Pieter shut down every move on the Cherave and Bob and Philippe worked to bring me in the best position at the foot of the Mur de Huy, I let my legs do the talking. Things were heating up, but I remained calm and rode my own tempo before attacking at the right moment", Julian explained at the press conference.

In three Flèche Wallonne participations, Alaphilippe had never finished lower than second place, and now, after finally getting that much-desired win – the standout achievement of his career – he is looking forward to Liège–Bastogne–Liège, the last Monument of this spring.

"For now, all that I want is to enjoy this incredible moment. It's a beautiful victory and it makes me very happy. From tomorrow, we will start to think of Sunday. Liège–Bastogne–Liège is a race that suits me, I was on the podium at my debut there, in 2015, and I hope to have another strong display."

Alejandro Valverde's 4-year ownership of this race came to an end in 2018. Here's the report from his Movistar team:

It’s never easy to win, even if it seems so. Alejandro Valverde and the Movistar Team dug deep until the very end of a Flèche Wallonne they came really close to notching up, just like they’ve done for the past four years. The reign came to end, though, as Julian Alaphilippe (QST) bested the marvel from Murcia over the grueling, 1,300m-long Mur de Huy.

In a surprisingly hot day, and over a course tougher than in previous editions with the addition of the côtes of La Vecquée and La Redoute before the final circuit, the Telefónica-backed squad’s rivals picked up the pace from very afar from the finish. The early work by Erviti, Anacona and Amador to keep the early break on a leash had to be seconded later on by Rojas and an impressive Mikel Landa, who multiplied themselves to keep the Blues represented on the splits and push hard to bring back a dangerous six-man break – containing no less than Vincenzo Nibali (TBM).

The late work by some other teams made possible for the bunch to bridge back before the last ascent to Huy, yet made it quite more disorganized. Alaphilippe anticipated Valverde’s move, the Spaniard slightly out of position against the Frenchman, and while ‘Bala’ gained back plenty of terrain before the last 100 metres, Valverde had to ‘stay content’ with a remarkable seventh podium finish at the Flèche, prelude of yet another quest for glory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Sunday 22nd).

Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde gets second this year.

REACTION / Alejandro Valverde:
“I’m not disappointed by any means. Should I have won again, it would have seemed like it was easy for us, and people must know that it’s never easy to take a victory. I’m actually satisfied with this result. I proved again I’m once again up with the top guys in the hills. This second place in Huy and last Sunday’s fifth in the Amstel Gold – I think we stand a really good chance at Liège.

“The heat really made for a very different race. Plus, the new route before the last circuit made things harder for everyone. I feel like the team was where they should and worked all they could. There was lot of chaos in the finale with that big break, including Nibali and Kangert, and it was difficult for us to keep things sorted out. We had Rojas into the break, then we worked hard with Mikel – who was really superb – and also Imanol, Winner, Andrey… They did everything they could and I thank them for that, because everybody raced pretty much against us.

“I started climbing Huy a bit too far behind, and even though we knew that our main rival would be Alaphilippe, he attacked a bit earlier than expect, I was still gaining back positions and that effort to bring him back was too much in the end. Alaphilippe has always been an impressive contender, he had claimed a couple of second places here and it was his time to win. Hats off to Julian and his team for their efforts. I continue to enjoy this race and the hills trio, and there’s still a certain race remaining. We’ll do our best to try and win it!”

Jelle Vanendert was third this year. His Lotto-Soudal team sent me this:

Jelle Vanendert has become third at Flèche Wallonne. It’s his best result ever in this Ardennes Classic after a sixth place in 2011 and 2014 and his fourth place in 2012. Teammate Tim Wellens arrived as seventh at the finish on Mur de Huy.

Jelle Vanendert: “Tim Wellens was our leader for today, while Tiesj Benoot and I had a free role; depending on how the race developed we would determine what to do. That could be anticipating or waiting for the Mur de Huy.

“The race turned out to be very different than previous years. Apparently it took five years till the peloton realized that it was necessary to make the race hard to make it more difficult for Alejandro Valverde to win. The first part of the course was already hillier than previous editions. The tempo in the bunch was raised on the first ascent of Mur de Huy and eventually Valverde got isolated. In the finale Tomasz Marczyński and Tosh Van der Sande bridged to the front, but when six riders were left in the front group there was no Lotto Soudal rider in it. The peloton almost came too late to catch the six escapees, but thanks to the work of among other Tiesj Benoot we had reeled them all in by the first steep parts of Mur de Huy.

“I wanted to set a high pace on the last ascent of Mur de Huy to tire the climbers out and to make sure they would be less explosive. That worked. I could maintain a steady pace right from the foot and when I looked behind me with two hundred metres to go, I looked straight in the eyes of Alaphilippe. At that moment Tim Wellens wasn’t riding on my wheel anymore and I just went full to set a good result. I am very happy with this third place. If I would have started my effort at the start of the climb a bit later, I might have become second but winning was impossible I think. On the other hand I was now able to ride up the climb on my own pace.

Jelle Vanenedert

Jelle Vanendert (left) barely takes third against Roman Kreuziger.

“This doesn’t change much for Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. We are with three riders who can end up high in the ranking; Tim, Tiesj and I. First we need to make sure to be in the finale together and then the legs will tell what to do.”

Tim Wellens: “I felt very good today and all race long I felt a good result was achievable. An early break with eight riders was not a bad situation. Movistar got help from UAE to control the gap; we didn’t put any energy in the chase. We were attentive all day long. During the first ascent of Mur de Huy I was already riding at the front because I had the impression that teams with potential podium contenders would already make a move. Not much later a large front group with Van der Sande and Marczyński was established. Unfortunately we had nobody in the front group of six afterwards, because that would have made things easier for us. Maybe the front group would even have remained ahead. Thanks to the very strong effort of Tiesj Benoot the break was caught after all.

“I turned up the Mur de Huy in second position, on Jelle’s wheel. We had agreed that we would try to make the climb as hard as possible, so the punchers would be less explosive. Jelle was very strong. At one point Alaphilippe rode up to him. I could not join them and then I just tried to reach the finish as fast as possible. I can’t complain with this seventh place. I thought more was possible with the legs I had, but a third and seventh place is a nice result for the team. I won the Brabantse Pijl, got sixth at Amstel Gold Race and seventh at Flèche Wallonne today. That gives us confidence for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the most important race of the Ardennes Classics.”

Bora-hansgrohe sent me this race report:

The 82nd edition of the Belgium one-day race saw BORA – hansgrohe rider Cesare Benedetti in the breakaway of the day, which was caught 6km before the finish. Shortly before the finish Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) launched an attack and took the win ahead of A. Valverde (Team Movistar), whilst Patrick Konrad finished as BORA – hansgrohe best-placed rider in 10th place.

The Course
Today the Ardennes Classics continued with “La Fléche Wallonne”, the 82ndedition of the Belgium one-day race started in Seraing and took the riders over nearly 200km up to the finish “Mur de Huy”. During the race the riders had to tackle the Mur de Huy twice before the third time built the finale. The course featured as well as eight other demanding ascents, like the “La Redoute” (2km length, 8,9%).

The Team Tactics
BORA – hansgrohe started with an offensive tactic in this WorldTour race. They arrived with an ambitious squad of climbers in Belgium, therefore they had some cards to play and decided to go for a good stage result with the Austrian rider Patrick Konrad and the Australian Jay McCarthy. During the race, the two BORA – hansgrohe riders Cesare Benedetti or Pawel Poljanski should try to represent BORA – hansgrohe in the day´s break. To open the finale with some attacks, the team focused on Gregor Mühlberger, Emanuel Buchmann and Rafal Majka.

The Race
Racing under clear skies the breakaway of the day, with BORA – hansgrohe rider Cesare Benedetti, went away early in the race and opened a gap of 4 minutes over the main bunch. As the eight riders at the front passed the climb Mur the Huy for the first time, they had still a gap of one minute. Team Movistar and Team Sky took control over the peloton and tried to close the gap and with 45km remaining the breakaway was caught. Cesare was still at the front of the reduced peloton and set the pace, his teammates Rafal Majka and Gregor Mühlberger also were in the first positions in the 20-man main bunch. 36km before the finish, the race went on fire, as a new group of six riders, again with Cesare Benedetti, built a small gap over the pack 

The group was strong and stayed at the front until the final kilometres. Before the race headed into the final climb Cesare waited for his teammates Patrick Konrad, Emanuel Buchmann and Jay McCarthy to help them for the finale. In an exciting finale J. Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) attacked shortly before the finish line and took the win ahead of A. Valverde (Team Movistar). Some seconds later Patrick Konrad crossed as BORA – hansgrohe best placed rider the line in 10thposition. Jay McCarthy finished 21nd and Emanuel Buchmann took 26th place.

From the Finish Line
“We came to Belgium with a really good team of climbers, therefore we wanted to go offensive in today´s race. Cesare was in the breakaway of the day and also jumped in the second break, which made it until the final climb. As the peloton fell into two parts, we had Gregor and Rafal in the first group and launched some attacks. In the final climb, Patrick was able to finish in a strong 10thplace, which is a really good result. The teamwork was brilliant today, for that I think we deserved more top-ten results.” – Jens Zemke, sports director

“I am satisfied with my result today, the team worked really great together and showed a strong performance. We could realize our plans and put some pressure on other teams due to our attacks. The new course made the race exciting and I think we showed a great teamwork but we focus now on Liege on Sunday.” – Patrick Konrad 

Mark Cavendish to ride Tour de Yorkshire

The organizer sent me this update:

Tour de Yorkshire organisers Welcome to Yorkshire are delighted that Mark Cavendish has confirmed he will return to racing after injury at the 2018 edition of the race.

Cavendish suffered a dramatic crash at the Milan – San Remo race in Italy on Saturday 17 March, fracturing a rib and damaging his ankle after colliding with a traffic bollard, and reports had suggested that he would be back in action at the Tour of California (13-19 May).

Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish getting help after crashing in Milano-San Remo.

His recovery has gone better than expected however, and Team Dimension Data have announced he will now be fit to compete in Yorkshire between 3-6 May.

The 32-year-old Manxman is one of the sport’s highest-profile figures having won no-less than 30 Tour de France stages in a glittering career that also includes the 2011 UCI World Road Race Championships title and a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Welcome to Yorkshire Chief Executive Sir Gary Verity was pleased to hear the news and is looking forward to seeing Cavendish in action. He said: “Mark is a living legend in the world of cycling and we’re over the moon that he will be competing at the Tour de Yorkshire next month.

“His crash in Italy looked really serious but he’s such a tough, tenacious character and we’re thrilled he’s been able to make such a speedy recovery.

“I’m sure Mark will have his eyes on at least two of the stages on this year’s route and we can’t wait to see him launch his trademark sprint. It’s not every day you get to see a sportsman of his stature competing on home roads, and we’re certain he’ll receive a hero’s welcome.”

It has been a long-held ambition of Cavendish’s to ride the Tour de Yorkshire. He was the star attraction when the route was unveiled in Halifax last December, and he has a special affinity with the county as his mother lives in Harrogate.

Cavendish said: “I’m delighted to have recovered sufficiently from my injuries at Milan -San Remo to be back racing sooner than I initially thought and what better way to do that than at what could be described as a home race for me, the Tour de Yorkshire.

“My mother’s from Harrogate and obviously the last time I raced things didn’t go that great (for me) in the 2014 Tour de France; but one thing I do remember is the incredible crowds and I know that the Tour de Yorkshire always provides. It’s the first time that I’ve raced the Tour de Yorkshire and I’m extremely excited.

“Results-wise; I’m not sure where my form will be actually only having had a couple of weeks back on the bike but I’ll just be absorbing the atmosphere in one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

Cavendish is the second big-name rider to confirm his attendance at the Tour de Yorkshire after his Team Dimension Data team-mate Serge Pauwels revealed last week he would be back to defend his title.

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