After attacks from men like Vliegen, Zaugg, Buchmann, Ligthart, Impey, Serry and Teuns, the most dangerous-looking attack of the race came with twenty-six kilometres to go, when race favourites Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Julian Alaphilippe, podium finisher in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year. While Alaphilippe was initially reluctant to work with the Lotto rider, he soon came to the front and did his bit, even briefly attacking Wellens on the final passage of the Haagard. However, they never escaped from under the thumb of the peloton, never achieving a bigger gap than twenty seconds, and they were captured with eleven kilometres to go, thanks to the work of the Orica-GreenEDGE team, riding on the front of the peloton - and shelling riders - in aid of their leader Matthews. Even Matthews himself put in a quick attack to speed up the running of the peloton. Bardiani, Cannondale and IAM also spent time working on the front.
As soon as the duo were caught, the peloton took notice of Matthews' depleted Orica team, and Pieter Weening was the first to react, making his move on the Holstheide. He was followed by yet another Etixx-Quickstep, Gianni Meersman. He too was chased by a Cofidis rider, Stephane Rossetto. The chasers were caught, but Weening avoided their fate for a further few kilometres, the Roompot Oranje rider stayed out in front until six kilometres to go, when he seemed to crack, and fade back into the peloton.
The last chance for any late attackers was the Ijskelderlaan with four kilometres to go, and Lotto-Soudal tried to make it count. Tony Gallopin went off the front, and drove a group clear, bringing an elite selection of Julian Alaphilippe and his team mate Petr Vakoč, Wanty's Enrico Gasparotto and last year's attacker David Tanner of IAM Cycling. The five got a large gap, with Alaphilippe doing all the work on the front to tee up team mate Vakoč.
Going under the Flamme Rouge, it became clear that the five would fight it out on the Schavei. Alaphilippe fell away, his work done, and Vakoč immediately attacked, opening a small gap on Gallopin and Gasparotto. Gasparotto led the chase back up to the Czech champion, but had to settle for second place, with Vakoč opening a -second gap.
Behind in the peloton, the helpless Michael Matthews had to watch Vakoč celebrating as he crossed the line, and then lost the sprint for minor places to Bryan Coquard.
It's a great start to the Ardennes classics for Etixx-Quickstep, and it shows beyond any doubt that two of their three leaders for the races are on form. While it's difficult to say how Vakoč will perform against a stronger field, he's certainly headed to provide valuable support at the very least.