What was going to stop Quickstep this spring? Whatever could do so wasn’t to be seen on the roads of Wallonia today, as Bob Jungels defied recent history to take a solo win in Ans. Before his attack, on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons with nineteen kilometres to go, the race had been going much to the script we have come to expect for La Doyenne, in which the non-threatening break (in this case, composing Mark Christian and Casper Pedersen of Aqua Blue, Jerome Baugnies of Wanty, Paul Ourselin of Direct Energie, Mathias van Gompel of Sport-Vlaanderen, Fortuneo’s Florian Vachon, Loic Vliegen representing BMC, Anthony Perez of Cofidis and Antoine Warnier of Veranclassic) got a reasonable gap before splitting up and being inevitably pulled back, mainly thanks to the concerted effort of Quickstep and UAE Emirates. Baugnies it was who proved the strongest, but even he never looked capable of staying clear, being, after all, a breakaway rider in a monument. He was caught with twenty-three kilometres to go.
The race, being LBL, still hadn’t kicked off in earnest and would not for three kilometres more, before Philippe Gilbert wafted a spark at the blue touch paper on the Roche-Aux-Faucons with a short-lived attack. Sergio Henao tried to jump on his wheel, but Jungels controlled the move before going clear on the descent. This move separated the race into contenders and hangers-on. And so we got a familiar tale — the contenders got cagey as the leader got a gap. Astana tried to work, Wellens and Martin tried a move, but Alaphilippe ready to pounce softened anybody’s willingness to co-operate as Jungels pulled out his advantage to fifty seconds. Jelle Vanendert, back to his best, looked one of the strongest on the Côte du Saint-Nicolas as the Luxembourger’s advantage fell to half a minute, but nothing the Lotto-Soudal man did could bring the gap below twenty. Valverde was not at the level at which he has been all season. Martin was a minute back with a puncture. Everything was falling into place for the man up the road.
There was some more action in the chasing group as Alaphilippe made an attack to bring back Vanendert, but it was unsuccessful. Having more luck were Michael Woods and Romain Bardet, who got away just after this. And so it would finish. Jungels couldn’t be caught, he came in thirty-seven seconds in front of Woods, who beat Bardet into third. Two seconds behind followed the chase group, as once again this season, the power of the small group or solo attacker was shown — it pays, it seems, to get your nose in the wind early, as being stuck in a group behind can only lead to lack of co-operation, lack of ambition and lack of silverware. We saw it in Roubaix, in E3 and in Flanders. Here it is again. Cynical racing for a sprint has often been a winning strategy, but this spring, racing to avoid losing has not come with rewards. Of course, it helps when your team has contenders in the group behind, as Quickstep, so successful, always have had, with the threat of Alaphilippe probably playing a large role in the weak effort of the chase group. However, Quickstep’s strategy cannot be faulted. They are the team of the season so far, with simply no peers in these spring races. Everything for them, for the first time in a while, simply seems to click.
1. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors 6:24:44
2. Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First: 0:37
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
4. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors: 0:39
5. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
6. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
7. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe
8. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott
9. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den)