Cycling

Alaphilippe ends one-day classic drought with Fleche win

2018-04-18 19:24
Julian Alaphilippe (Gallo Images)

Huy - Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe earned the greatest win of his career on Wednesday, but had to be told after the finish line he had finally clinched victory in the Belgian one-day classic Fleche Wallonne.

The 25-year-old, twice a runner-up in the race, beat last year's winner Alejandro Valverde of Spain into second, with Belgian Jelle Vanendert third.

Alaphilippe - who had never won a one-day classic having also finished second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy, as well as third at Milan-San Remo - put in a blistering spurt on the punishing final Mur de Huy climb to the finish.

"It's the third time I've participated in this race and the third time I've finished on the podium," said the Quick-Step rider at the end of the 198.5km trek.

"I really wanted to win a big race. Finishing ahead of Valverde is special. I'm super happy.

"When I crossed the line I didn't even know I'd won! I thought (Vincenzo) Nibali was up ahead of me. It was my cousin who told me at the finish that victory was mine."

Nibali actually finished 43rd, 2min 13sec behind the winner. Alaphilippe kept in victory contention by staying near the frontrunners for the final burst up the Huy climb, but he was quick to share the plaudits among his team.

"In the finale it went well for us. Pieter Serry did a great turn for us on the Cherave climb, then Bob Jungels brought me up to the foot of the Huy climb along with Philippe Gilbert.

"Once I made my move to the front I just kept focus on my own effort. Vanendert's pace was doing some damage to the guys behind us and in the final metres I just tried to hurt myself as much as possible."

Valverde, the record five-time winner of this race, had left too much of a gap to Alaphilippe's back wheel and when he tried to kick for home, he couldn't close the distance.

It brought to an end the 37-year-old's four-year win streak at the Fleche and leaves him at risk of missing out on an Ardennes classic victory for the first time since 2013.

Valverde was fifth at the Amstel Gold Race, which he has never won, last Sunday.

If he doesn't win Liege-Bastogne-Liege this Sunday - he is aiming to match Belgian great Eddy Merckx's record of five wins in La Doyenne - Valverde will miss out on an Ardennes victory for the first time in five years.

Alaphilippe said he would like to make it two from two on Sunday, but warned: "It's my first big classic win ahead of Alejandro Valverde who is, for me, one of the best riders in the world.

"We'll go and preview the race course for Liege on Friday, but then it will be time for a well-earned rest.

"But before anything, I want to savour this win with my team-mates."

Earlier, Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen won the women's Fleche race for the fourth year in a row.

Results from the Fleche-Wallonne one-day classic, held over 198.5 km from Seraing to Huy, on Wednesday:

1. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) Quick Step 4hr 53min 37sec, 2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) at 4secs, 3. Jelle Vanendert (BEL/LOT) 6, 4. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/MIT) same time, 5. Michael Matthews (AUS/SUN) s.t., 6. Bauke Mollema (NED/TRE) s.t., 7. Tim Wellens (BEL/LOT) s.t., 8. Maximilian Schachmann (GER/QST) s.t., 9. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) s.t., 10. Patrick Konrad (AUT/BOR) 12, 11. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) 15, 12. Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED/DDD) 19, 13. Rudy Molard (FRA/FDJ) 21, 14. Diego Ulissi (ITA/EAU) 25, 15. Alexis Vuillermoz (FRA/ALM) 28, 16. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) s.t., 17. Serge Pauwels (BEL/DDD) s.t., 18. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 30, 19. Rui Costa (POR/EAU) 32, 20. Robert Gesink (NED/LNL) 34

Selected:

24. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/QST) 42, 28. Rigoberto Uran (COL/EFD) 54, 33. Michael Woods (CAN/EFD) 1:22, 41. Bob Jungels (LUX/QST) 1:55, 42. Mikel Landa (ESP/MOV) 1:59, 43. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/BAH) 2:13

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