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Fuglsang Lights Up Lukewarm Liège

Strongest rider wins in La Doyenne.

Tim de Waele/Getty Images

I’m going to start this review by saying something I feel is kind of obvious: it is insane that this Ardennes classics season, and indeed spring, went the way it did. Who among us can truly say we thought Jakob Fuglsang, who has always been good but in an unspectacular manner, easier to associate with consistency than any other quality, would, at the age of thirty-four, tear through pre-season before finishing at the pointy end of some big stage races and finish, in ascending order, on each step of the podium in the three Ardennes races. He’s not a Greg Van Avermaet type, where you always knew the big win was around the corner, but instead has taken a giant leap this season.

Now to deal with something else obvious: it wasn’t a great Liège. The flatter finish was not a panacea, with doomed move after doomed move breaking free, before Fuglsang broke the elastic and looked every inch the victor soon after. I’m not saying that the course should be rethought immediately — doomed moves can sometimes be doomed moves until they suddenly aren’t. However, there was a pretty large peloton all the way up to Roche-aux-Faucons with no attacker, even Tanel Kangert who was probably the best of them, looking remotely like winning.

While we’re on Kangert, it was very clear that EF Education First were going for the same tactical approach which saw them win Flanders, softening the peloton up with some early attacks before launching their leader Michael Woods with fifteen kilometres to go. It nearly worked too, Woods escaping on the final climb with Formolo and Fuglsang, but neither he nor his team were counting on the power of the Danish rider. Woods simply couldn’t keep up and will likely be disappointed with his fifth place. EF however are beginning to show a little tactical acumen in these one-day races, something that will surely stand to them.

Whether it was tactical acumen or pure strength that helped them, Bora-Hansgrohe are another team with a good showing at this race even lacking Sagan (and oh how well could a Sagan on top form have done today). Schachmann, himself in a rich vein of excellence, won the sprint for third behind his team mate and second-strongest rider of the day, Davide Formolo. Formolo may be finally delivering on the hubbub that accompanied his entry to the professional peloton, only a hair’s breadth away from a monument victory.

Yes, let’s talk about that save. With all the times that word was used in the last ten minutes of the race, one might think Fuglsang was the hero of a cup final penalty shoot-out, his (cliché alert) mountain-biking pedigree coming to bear as he hauled his bike back under control on the way into Liège. Leading Liège-Bastogne-Liège and crashing at a crucial moment. Wouldn’t that be horrifying. Honestly, the whole thing doesn’t bear thinking about. Right, Dan?

Speaking of, it was a bad day for former Liège victors, Wout Poels the only former winner to put up a good show. Dan Martin and Alejandro Valverde abandoned early with illness, in Martin’s case and in Valverde’s I will assume it is something that goes further than being merely bee-related. In addition to this, Bob Jungels was absent and Philippe Gilbert was empty.

Indeed, it was a poor performance from Quickstep. They burned their guys in the wrong places so even if the isolated Alaphilippe had pulled a rabbit out of the hat I would still think his team had performed poorly. The fact that he proved his total dominance has come to an end merely capped a bad day at the office for Lefévre’s outfit.

All in all then, a great performance from Fuglsang ensured that the best man won and indeed, Formolo doing similar meant that the same went for second place. There will rightly be murmurings about the route and indeed it is hard to conceptualise how this race will be made into the ideal spectacle which is apparently desired.g