Thanks for joining me today for this, the second of three of the Ardennes classics. Be sure to return on Sunday for Liege-Bastogne-Liege when Alaphilippe will look to end France's 39-year wait for a victory in La Doyenne.
Road race - Men
Flèche Wallonne - 24 April 2019
Flèche Wallonne – Follow this cycling race live with Eurosport. The action starts at 11:33 on 24 April 2019. Our live coverage lets you follow all the key moments as they happen.
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And here's the moment Julian Alaphilippe made his move to net his ninth win of the season - and QuickStep's 25th.
Here's your top 10 and - shock horror! - there's no place for Alejandro Valverde in it...
Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) rides over to take the final spot on the podium.
Victory for Julian Alaphilippe! The Frenchman from Deceuninck-QuickStep weaves across the road and closes the door on Jakob Fuglsang of Astana before winning by less than a bike length. That was closer than it promised to be...
Now Alaphilippe goes!
Alaphilippe jumps into Fuglsang's wheel and they open up a gap...
They're on the tight hairpin and it's Fuglsang who makes the first move...
Kwiatkowski still on the front alongside Vanendert and Diego Ulissi of UAE. Alaphilippe and Valverde are biding their time...
Under the flamme rouge and the gradient is about to start to bite. Lotto Soudal have Vanendert and Wellens on the front now, with Kwiatkowski still there.
It's Wout Poels who leads Sky team-mate Kwiatkowski on the front as the riders swing onto the Mur de Huy.
Now Astana hit the front ahead of the tight right-hand turn before the climb. And now Rui Costa comes to the front for UAE setting the tempo for Martin and Henao...
It's Bora now who set the tempo with three riders on the front ahead of the final ascent of the mythical Mur de Huy...
The peloton has split on the descent but it seems that all the big guns are still present. Bora are putting in a big push now through Formolo. Alexey Lutsenko and Carlos Betancur are battling to rejoin the pack after being tailed off...
They're over the top of the climb and things are now all strung out on the descent through the trees.
Michael Matthews is fighting to hold on to this main pack, such is the fearsome pace being set by Mas.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) has a good record in this race and is lurking in third place behind Mas and Alaphilippe. The Pole has Tim Wellens in his wheel with that man Valverde just behind.
It's over for the two escapees as Enric Mas now dances on the front of the pack, pace-setting for his team-mate Julian Alaphilippe.
The leaders negotiate the little cobbled section ahead of the penultimate climb, the Cote de Cherave (1.3km at 8.1%). The gap is down to 10 seconds as Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) puts in a dig at the head of affairs.
We now have two powerhouses out ahead after Mohoric catches Marczynski. They have 15 seconds obver the pack, which is now being led by a rider from Bora.
Dries Devenyns still doing the chasing duties for QuickStep ahead of the next climb as we go under the 10-to-go banner. Astana are also poised with Sanchez, Lutsenko and Fuglsang. Bora and Ag2R mean business, but Movistar are not as apparent as in recent years.
Our lone leader still has 12 seconds to play with as QuickStep continue bossing the pack. The pace is unreal on these narrow country roads - and Mohoric is still dangling out between Marczynski and the pack.
Lone leader Marczynski goes over the summit with a 20-second gap over Matej Mohotic of Bahrain Merida, who is trying to bridge over. The pack follows around five seconds later, fronted by three QuickStep riders working for Julian Alaphilippe. Astana, Movistar and Ag2R-La Mondiale are all there, too, for their men Fuglsang (or is it Lutsenko today?), Valverde and Bardet.
After his earlier effort is thwarted, Tomasz Maczynski zips clear again for Lotto Soudal on the Ereffe. No response as yet.
If you're only just joining us, we're onto the third of three 29km circuits with the three climbs - the Côte d’Ereffe, Côte de Cherave and the Mur de Huy - coming right up. The pace is really high as the riders jostle for positions ahead of these decisive ascents.
ATTACK: Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal) makes another move. The Pole has been very active this past hour and he puts in another stinging surge to pave the way for Tim Wellens.
It's back together! We have a peloton of around 100 riders that has reformed ahead of the final set of climbs up the Cote d'Ereffe, Cote de Cherave and Mur de Huy.
Huge effort from Movistar here to close the gap for Valverde. Alaphilippe's QuickStep are also there, as are Michael Matthews' Sunweb teammates.
Tim Wellens, Enric Mas, Carlos Verona, Wout Poels, Giulio Ciccone, Luis Leon Sanchez, Dylan Teuns, Davide Formolo, Gorka Izagirre, Max Schachmann... this 20-man group is very strong. They have about 20 seconds to play with. Only Movistar and EF Education First don't appear to have riders involved.
Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo) has zipped clear on the climb with Bjorn Lambrecht (Lotto Soudal). They catch Bouwman and Carpenter with ease before the summit. The bell rings and it's an interesting group that has formed with, er, Davide Formolo at its head. Around 30 riders have swept up Rosskopf through the feedzone.
Meanwhile, it's onto the Mur de Huy for the leaders. Rosskopf has dropped Carpenter who in turn has dropped Bouwman. They only have 25 seconds on the pack, which was fairly rattled by that crash.
BIG CRASH: A handful of riders go down at speed after hitting road furniture after a fast bend. Adam Yates, Domenico Pozzovivo and Roman Kreuziger are all involved - and while Yates remounts, his race is effectively over. Much worse for the other two, who will be taken to hospital sharpish. They're conscious but fairly battered and bruised.
It's Michael Gogl (Trek Segafredo) who leads the chase group-cum-pack over the summit of the Cherave. The three remaining leaders won't stay out for much longer. Meanwhile, that's curtains for Peter Sagan, who has been dropped. The former world champion has added the Ardennes to his programme this year - and his focus will clearly be on Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday - but he's a shadow of his former self it seems.
This eight-man chase group features Perichon, Benedetti, Marczynski, G. Izagirre, Haas, Slagter, Caruso and Gogl. But they don't have much to play with and are soon joined by Winner Anacona, who pulls over another 20-odd riders on the climb, so that could be that...
CRASH: Half a dozen riders down in the pack including Ion Izagirre (Astana) and Eddie Dunbar (Team Sky).
We're heading to the Cote de Cherave, the second of three climbs in the closing circuit.
Gorka Izagirre (Astana) is in this chasing group, which is now eight strong. But the gap is just 15 seconds on the peloton, with the break a further one minute up the road.
Puncture for Julian Alaphilippe! The French favourite takes a full bike change before being paced back into the peloton by team-mate Mikkel Honore. Better now than on the final circuit...
But it appears that Bouwman may have an even better lookalike in... the latest actor playing Spider-Man.
I mentioned Koen Bouwman being a dead ringer for the Milky Bar Kid earlier... as I did during last year's Giro d'Italia.
There's a seven-man chase group now which includes Nathan Haas, who must have had a second wind after his earlier attempt to break clear. Meanwhile, out ahead it's Bouwman who leads Carpenter and Rosskopf over the summit of the Ereffe. They have 1'33" over the chasers.
Kenneth van Rooy has been caught and passed by the chasing group, who have not been caught as I first thought. Wirtgen is also there, so he must have been dropped again from the leaders, while it now appears that Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Merida) has replaced Willie Smit (Katusha Alpecin) in this group. It's all change as we hit the Cote d'Ereffe.
Pieter Serry setting the pace for Deceuninck-QuickStep on the front of the pack as the wind increases. He'll be monitoring possible echelons ahead of the next climb, the second ascent of the Ereffe. Wirtgen has managed to rejoin the leaders so we have four out ahead with 2'25".
The chasing trio has been reeled in, prompting a move from Nathan Haas of Katusha Alpecin. He's closed down by a rider from Wanty Gobert and then QuickStep and Sky combine to make it all much more chaotic on the front of the pack before restoring some order.
Over the top of the Mur de Huy for the first time, our three leaders - Rosskopf, Bouwman and Carpenter - have 20 seconds on Wirtgen, with Van Rooy a further minute back; Benedetti, Perichon and Caruso are 2:15 back with the peloton at 2:40.
Over in the Tour of the Alps, Tao Geoghegan Hart came close to a third successive win for Team Sky, the young Briton finishing second in stage 3 behind winner Fausto Masnada. Geoghegan Hart won the opening stage before another Sky tyro, Pavel Sivakov, moved into the race lead with victory in stage 2. Sky, interestingly, have young Irish rider Eddie Dunbar in their Fleche team today, and the 22-year-old is near the front of the pack. What a story that would be...
Movistar, Ag2R-La Mondiale, Astana and QuickStep all have men on the front of the pack, with UAE Team Emirates, Bora and Mitchelton Scott all heavily present too. The gap is tumbling down.
Tom Wirtgen is the next rider to be dropped from the break as Bouman, Rosskopf and Carpenter ride clear. The two Americans are former team-mates from the Hincapie Sportswear Development Team. They distanced the Luxembourg rider on the mythical hairpin bend on the Mur, where the gradient ramps up to 20+ percent.
Our four leaders are zipping towards the foot of the Mur de Huy for the first of three ascents of the fearsome wall. They have about one minute to play with over the distanced Van Rooy, with the three chasers now 2:40 in arrears and just ahead of the main pack.
Three riders earlier countered from the bunch and have a small gap on the climb. They are Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Willie Smit (Katusha Alpecin) and Pierre-Luc Perichon (Cofidis).
We're onto the Cote de Cherave for the first of three ascents. Kenneth van Rooy, who was first over the opening two climbs for the break, has been distanced on this punchy climb. The Belgian will have a battle to get back on now, with the leaders holding a gap of 3:10 over the pack.
Meanwhile, Anna van der Breggen reflects on her fifth consecutive triumph on the Mur de Huy...
We're now onto the Cote d'Ereffe, the first of three climbs that are repeated three times on this finishing circuit. UAE Team Emirates and Movistar set the tempo on the front and numerous riders have been shelled out the back. The gap for our five leaders is 3:30.
Those pre-race interviews from Sagan, Fuglsang and Woods should keep you busy ahead of the final nine climbs, which are coming right up!
The pace is very high causing the break's lead to come down to 3:45 and inflicting a few splits in the peloton. This could be the first selection...
CRASH: A handful of riders go down - including Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) - near the back of the pack. We're onto that finishing circuit now with the Cote d'Ereffe coming up.
Sergio Henao (UAE Team Emirates) picks up a flat. The Colombian finished 11th here last year when still at Team Sky, and fourth the year before, seventh in 2015 and runner-up to Dani Moreno in 2013, so it's a race that Henao clearly enjoys.
Confirmation that Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) won the women's race ahead of Dutch compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) with Denmark's Annika Langvad (Boels-Dolmans) completing the podium. With Marianne Vos and Demi Vollering completing the top five, there was a strong showing from the Dutch there...
Meanwhile, back in the men's race and the riders are approaching the 29km finishing circuit for the first time. They have about 13km before things get really interesting, with the gap still 4:50 for the five leaders.
FIVE ALIVE: World champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) wins her fifth consecutive Fleche Wallonne atop the Mur de Huy!
Mackaij is caught with 500m remaining!
Flamme rouge for our lone leader... can she hold on?
Entering the last 2km and with the final climb of the Mur de Huy coming up, Team Sunweb's Floortje Mackaij has a 15-second gap over her pursuers...
Amanda Spratt attacked over the top of the Cherave but there was a regrouping on the descent... 4km remaining.
A strong group has formed around Niewiadoma, including her teammate Alena Amialiusik. It's going to be an exciting finish on the Mur...
With Jackson reeled in, Kasia Niewiadoma puts in a big attack on the Cherave. The Pole from Canyon-SRAM is the in-form rider of the moment after her victory in Amstel Gold on Sunday.
The pack explodes on the Cherave with 8km remaining.
With 10km remaining in the women's race, Alison Jackson of Tibco-SVB puts in a big attack.
Meanwhile, back with the men's race and the riders are passing through the feed zone.
There are 20km remaining in the women's race. Tatiana Riabchenko led the streamlined pack over the first ascent of the Mur de Huy. Around 40 riders are left in the bunch and what has been a cagey race will now be decided on the remaining two climbs: the Cote de Cherave and then the dreaded Mur de Huy.
A reminder of our five-man break, which includes a Dutchman, a Belgian, a Luxembourger and two Americans: Koen Bouwman (Team Jumbo-Visma), Joey Rosskopf (CCC Team), Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Robin Carpenter (Rally UHC Cycling) and Tom Wirtgen (Wallonie Bruxelles). They have been out since around the 20km mark and the gap is back up to five minutes again.
Adam Yates's record in the Fleche Wallonne isn't exactly great: the Briton hasn't raced here since his DNF in 2016. But Yates is a different rider now to the one he was back then, and this season he's already tasted victories in Valencia, Catalonia and the Basque Country. His Mitchelton-Scott DS Laurenzo Lapage said: "La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are two of his major goals this season. He has identified them as such since the first training camp and I think the Flèche suits him better now with the new finale in Liège. Anyway, he is in a great condition and has just returned from altitude training in Sierra Nevada. We’re lucky to have a rider like Michael Albasini, who will be very helpful in the battle for positioning ahead of the Mur. Once at the bottom, the legs will do the talking, there’s no need for teammates anymore."
Five-time winner atop the Mur de Huy, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is once again a hot favorite despite the world champion's subdued performance on the Amstel Gold Race (65th). "Alejandro had a bad day, it already happened to him in this race, and that's it", his DS José Luis Arrieta explained. "It doesn’t change anything. Yesterday he was feeling great in training, today also. Flèche is his race and he should be in front if everything goes normal.The final three laps will wear down the peloton and it will be up to leaders to control the moves. (Julian) Alaphilippe is the main rival. (Dan) Martin also, and we could see other riders, but they should have the weight of the race on their shoulders."
Defending champion Alaphilippe finished fourth in Amstel Gold Race on Sunday after looking a shoo-in with 1km remaining. That came after his second place in Brabantse Pijl. The Frenchman’s DS Geert Van Bondt said yesterday: "He is one of the big favorites, and many teams will look at us to control the race, but it will be difficult. We only expect echelons on the Flanders classics but I think it can happen tomorrow in the first part of the race, given the wind predictions. First we have to survive this and then we’ll enter the final circuit, and we’ll try to control things until the last ascent of the Mur de Huy. Then, we all know Julian has that fantastic push towards the finish line and we hope he can achieve the same as he did last year."
The route has been redisgned for the 83rd edition, with a start from Ans and new 29-km final circuit to be covered three times, with the ascents of Côte d’Ereffe, Côte de Cherave and the Mur de Huy.
The gap has stabilised around the 4:15 mark. Meanwhile, the women's race is about to hit the Mur de Huy for their first time. We'll bring you updates from that race as well.
A blow for Michael Woods: his EF Education First teammate Alex Howes has withdrawn following an earlier crash. Woods, the punchy Canadian, will still have Simon Clarke - who finished runner-up behind Mathieu van der Poel on Sunday - in support.
Please note, the last tweet by me (@saddleblaze) was tongue in cheek... Some of those riders - most notably Philippe Gilbert - are not riding and many (Rodriguez, Moreno, Kirchen, Rebellin) have retired, or should retire (Rebellin).
So, who are the favourites today? Well, Julian Alaphilippe for obvious reasons and Alejandro Valverde, too, even if he seems to have lost a bit of his lustre since becoming world champion last year. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) is a good bet but perhaps not as punchy as the other two. Then there's Michal Kwiatkowski and Wout Poels (both Team Sky) who are suited to this kind of riding, as are Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), whose finished twice two times and third once. Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) are both in a bit of form, then there's the likes of Michael Woods, Enric Mas, Romain BArdet, Peter Sagan, Tim Wellens, David Gaudu, Davide Formolo, Dylan Teuns, Bjorn Lambrecht, Jelle Vanendert, Ben Hermans, Bauke Mollema, Rui Costa and Jakob Fuglsang to consider...
It's Belgian Kenneth Van Rooy who leads the break over the summit, as he did for the first climb. Their gap over the peloton has just dropped below the four-minute mark.
That man Bouwman needs to stop for a mechanical so he'll have to fight back on to the leaders ahead of the next climb, the Cote des Forges, which is coming right up. It's only 1.3km long at an average gradient of 7.8%. It's followed by a rolling 60km run without any categorised climbs before we hit the second half of the race and that succession of nine ascents which will decide who stands atop the podium.
The race is about to hit the first climb of the day, the Cote de Tancremont. The stand-out rider in this break is probably Dutch youngster Koen Bouwman of Jumbo-Visma. The 25-year-old may look like the Milky Bar Kid but he won a stage of the Criterium du Dauphine in 2017 and he's now ridden three Grand Tours for the team. This is his third appearance in the Fleche, having finished 161st and 163rd in his previous two appearances.
There seems to be a truce now in the peloton after that flurry of activity from the classics specialists QuickStep. This may not be a monument, but they will want to guide Alaphilippe back to winning ways today to continue their - and his - stellar start to the season. The gap has come down to four minutes for our five leaders.
With the wind getting up, the Deceuninck-QuickStep team have come to the front to pile on the pressure. They were already working hard to keep the break in check, but the boys in blue - aka The Wolfpack - now sense some blood because a few riders have been caught out as echelons start to appear.
A reminder of how Julian Alaphilippe ended Alejandro Valverde's four-year reign on the Mur de Huy last year...
Here's a reminder of Valverde's five previous victories courtesy of the UCI yesterday...
We have two former winners in the peloton today: defending champion (and overwhelming favourite) Julian Alaphlippe of Deceuninck-QuickStep and the five-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). The Spanish world champion won this race in 2006 and then inclusively from 2014 to 2017 making the Mur de Huy his very own setting for Groundhog Day. He was untouchable during this reign, with Dan Martin and Alaphilippe both finishing runner-up twice to the Spaniard before the Frenchman finally broke his duck last year, with Valverde slipping to second place four seconds in arrears.
The gap is up to five minutes for these five escapees who are making hay while the sunshines. And so they might: nine of the 11 categorised climbs in this race come in a frenetic second half so any break will need to have an ample cushion if they want to make it all the way to the foot of the Mur de Huy's third ascent with a chance of winning.
After 20km a group of five riders has managed to form. They are: Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma), Joseph Rosskopf (CCC Team), Robin Carpenter (Rally UHC Cycling), Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Balkoise) and Tom Wirgten (Wallonie Bruxelles).
Here's today's profile: 195.5km with three ascents of the infamous Mur de Huy. Not for anyone who lacks puncheur credentials...
Hello and welcome to live comments of the 83rd edition of La Fleche Wallonne, the second of three big races in 'Ardennes Week'. I'm Felix Lowe and I'll be bringing you live updates, analysis, tweets and videos from today's action as Julian Alaphilippe looks to defend his crown after missing out to Mathieu van der Poel in that nail-biting edition of the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.