Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) became the first Frenchman in over two decades to take victory at Flèche Wallonne victory in what was the biggest win of his career. Alaphilippe jumped clear from a stretched out peloton with 150 metres to go and left everyone else trailing on the double-digit gradients of the Mur de Huy, the iconic climb of the Belgian Classic.
“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,” said Alaphilippe. “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.”
Eight men broke clear at the start of the day, but the race was properly ignited with 40 kilometres to go, when a large slipped away and caught the escapees, while at the same time putting 20 seconds between them and the bunch. From that group, six riders – Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida), Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott), Tanel Kangert (Astana Pro Team), Max Schachmann (Quick-Step Floors), and early escapists Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ) and Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe) – went on to build a 50-second gap over the pack. Schachmann then responded to an attack by Haig over the top of Côte de Cherave, with six kilometres left.
On the brutal Mur de Huy, 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 ease. The duo passed Schachmann inside the final 150 metres before Alaphilippe 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.
“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”, Alaphilippe explained at the press conference.