Quick Step’s Remco Evenepoel capitalized on the withdrawal of UAE’s Tadej Pogačar from an early crash to solo away on a small climb and win Liège-Bastogne-Liège for the second consecutive year. Pogačar hit the deck early on behind a stricken Mikkel Honoré who suffered an untimely flat, and in the aftermath the double Tour de France winner was forced to withdraw, suffering what is now described as a fractured wrist for which Pogačar is currently undergoing surgery.
With the race’s expected showdown off the menu, it was left to Evenepoel to confirm expectations, and with the help of a dominant performance by his Soudal-Quick Step team, particularly by Ilan Van Wilder, Evenepoel found himself in prime position on the Côte de la Redoute to make his expected solo attack. The World Champion got a small gap on INEOS’ Tom Pidcock, who caught back on during the subsequent descent, but left the rest of the challengers in arrears, including two Trek Segafredo riders Giulio Ciccone and Mattias Skjelmose. Then on an uncategorized climb to Cornémont Evenepoel made another acceleration to unhitch the non-cooperating Brit, and the race was over with 24km remaining.
Pidcock settled into a chase group that involved the two Treks, then several more riders, only to be winnowed down again on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons to himself, Santiago Buitrago of Bahrain Victorious and Ben Healy of EF Education. That group stayed ahead of the muddled chase and took the two remaining podium spots when Pidcock came past Buitrago’s strong sprint just meters from the line.
For the second consecutive year a poor performance on the cobbled classics by Quick Step has been reversed by Evenepoel’s brilliance in Belgium’s other Monumental classic, but it would not be fair to describe that as a singlehanded rescue. In fact, the team’s performance did a great deal to deliver the win today, not only keeping their leader near the front and away from trouble on a rainy day, but to tire out the field and set up the winning move. Julian Alaphilippe managed to help out a fair amount in the race’s final hour or so, despite his struggles to regain form from his earlier crashes this spring, and Louis Vervaeke contributed as well, though none as spectacularly as Van Wilder, who finished his day’s work wrestling his bike nearly all the way up La Redoute before Evenepoel took off.
Evenepoel is now the first rider to successfully defend his LBL title since Michele Bartoli, winner in 1997 and ‘98, and the first rider to cross the line first in the rainbow jersey since Moreno Argentin capped off his run of three wins, the last as World Champ, in 1987.
But the biggest story of the day is the condition of Pogačar, who is expected to challenge for a third Tour win in about 10 weeks’ time. While a wrist fracture could derail his preparation if it is severe or complex enough, there is hope that a simpler type would leave him adequate time to arrive in France fully ready to extend his brilliant career. Tbd...
- EVENEPOEL Remco, Soudal - Quick Step, 6:15:49
- PIDCOCK Thomas, INEOS Grenadiers, at 1:06
- BUITRAGO Santiago, Bahrain - Victorious
- HEALY Ben, EF Education-EasyPost, at 1:08
- MADOUAS Valentin, Groupama - FDJ, 1:24
- MARTIN Guillaume, Cofidis, 1:25
- BENOOT Tiesj, Jumbo-Visma, 1:37
- KONRAD Patrick, BORA - hansgrohe, 1:48
- SKJELMOSE Mattias, Trek - Segafredo
- HIRSCHI Marc, UAE Team Emirates
- VAN GILS Maxim, Lotto Dstny
- WOODS Michael, Israel - Premier Tech
- CICCONE Giulio, Trek - Segafredo
- SIVAKOV Pavel, INEOS Grenadiers
- BARDET Romain, Team DSM
- IZAGIRRE Ion, Cofidis
- DE PLUS Laurens, INEOS Grenadiers, 2:02
- PARET-PEINTRE Aurélien, AG2R Citroën Team
- VELASCO Simone Astana Qazaqstan Team, 2:13
- ROTA Lorenzo, Intermarché - Circus - Wanty
Liège - Liège 258.1 km
Can we get an Ardennes triple? (or two?)
Expected finish: 16:35-17:15 CEST
Falconeer of the Day: Tadej Pogačar
Strong and smart beats stronger and dumber.