Third in the Amstel Gold Race, second in La Fleche Wallonne… it was only logical that the in-form Fuglsang would cap his Ardennes Fortnight with a win in La Doyenne.
On a wet and cold day in Belgium, the experienced Dane made his move on the eleventh and last climb of the 256-kilometre race, latching onto an attack from Canada’s Michael Woods (EF Education First) with the Italian Formolo on the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons.
Fuglsang cruises over line in first Monument win
After Woods faltered, Fuglsang despatched Formolo before riding clear with 13km remaining. And despite surviving a heart-in-mouth moment on the final descent – when his back wheel skidded on the wet surface and he remarkably avoided a crash – the 34-year-old held his nerve to take the biggest win of his career.
In notching his Astana team’s 13th win of the season, Fuglsang also became the second Dane in history to win one of cycling’s five Monuments after Rolf Sorensen in this same race back in 1993.
'Amazing save!' - Fuglsang prevents high-speed crash on descent
The tenacious Formolo came home 27 seconds down to take second place while Germany’s Schachmann showed a Peter Sagan-less Bora-Hansgrohe's strength in depth by winning the sprint for third place from a select six-man chasing group ahead of Great Britain’s Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Woods.
Spain’s Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) were part of that group while the Dutch 2016 winner Wout Poels took 10th place for Team Sky on their last outing before morphing into Team INEOS for next week’s Tour de Yorkshire.
Pre-race favourite Julian Alaphilippe – who got the better of Fuglsang on the Mur de Huy on Wednesday – could only take 16th place on a day to forget for his Deceuninck-QuickStep team, who failed to place anyone in the top 15 despite controlling the race for long swathes.
Meanwhile former winners Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) were among the withdrawals on a day of torrential showers and challenging conditions, with just 101 riders from a field of 175 starters completing the race.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege: as it happened
It wasn’t exactly as bad as the snow storms which blighted the legendary 1980 edition of the Old Lady, but the wet conditions that blighted most of the 105th edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege cannot have made it a pleasant experience for those in the saddle.
Within the first hour eight riders defied the rain to form a break which would build up a maximum lead of over 10 minutes on the southern leg through Luxembourg and to Bastogne.
Frenchman Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Énergie) was late to the party but was the stand-out name alongside Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), Tobias Ludvigsson (Groupama-FDJ), Andrea Pasqualon (Wanty-Gobert), Jérémy Maison (Arkéa-Samsic) Kevin Deltombe (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise), Kenny Molly (Wallonie Bruxelles) and Mathijs Paaschens (Wallonie Bruxelles).
It was Bernard who showed off his climbing legs by cresting the early climbs in pole position before riding clear of the break on the Cote de Wanne, when the peloton had brought the leaders to within two minutes.
The Frenchman stayed out ahead on the mythical Stockeu and Haute-Levee climbs before being caught by a strong counter move on the Col du Rosier with 70km remaining.
Spearheading that move was the Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) who had earlier reacted fast to join the move on the Haute-Levee. The strong 28-man break included a flurry of big name riders including Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott), Sergio Heano (UAE Team Emirates) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha Alpecin).
But there was no place for Ardennes specialists Valverde (Movistar), Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Enrico Gasparotto (Dimension Data), all of whom had withdrawn from a race played out in heavy rain and in extremely cold temperatures.
World champion Valverde, the four-time winner who turned 39 mid-week, would have become the oldest rider to win one of cycling’s five Monuments, but the Spanish veteran pulled up with 105km remaining.
Four-time winner Alejandro Valverde abandons Liège-Bastogne-Liège
From the large counter Tanel Kangert (EF Education First) and Omar Fraile (Astana) darted clear on the Col du Rosier before being joined by Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R-La Mondiale), Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Merida), Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott), David De La Cruz (Team Sky), Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto Soudal), Winner Anacona and Carlos Verona (both Movistar) and Alessandro De Marchi (CCC Team).
As the rain momentarily ceased, the 10-man move stretched its precarious lead to 50 seconds after the Col du Maquisard as behind the chasing duties were left to the Deceuninck-QuickStep team, who had not managed to get any bodies in the attack.
Although pre-race favourite Alaphilippe came to the front of the pack on the infamous Cote de la Redoute, as if to prepare himself for an attack, the only move came further up the road from the break as Kangert rode clear as some of the escapees started to falter.
Despite the best efforts of Italians De Marchi and Caruso, the remnants of the break were swept up just ahead of the penultimate climb, the Cote des Forges, which the Estonian lone leader hit with a slender gap of 30 seconds over the streamlined pack.
Austria’s Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) attacked on the pack to join Kangert out ahead, with two becoming four on the descent after Belgian Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) broke clear with South African champion Daryl Impey (Mitchelton Scott).
Wellens had a pop on the final climb of the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons but it came to nothing after Woods sparked the main favourites into life with his dig from the pack.
Fuglsang and Formolo managed to join the Canadian as they zipped past Wellens and the other escapees and left the other big name riders in their wake.
Fuglsang attacks, Alaphilippe and Nibali left behind
The rain returned on the short descent following the climb before the road continued to rise – a steady, punishing gradient which Fuglsang exploited to drop both his rivals.
“It was a hard one,” the Dane said after his win. “For the last climb I had the team giving me a perfect position. They were a bit everywhere during the rest of the day but they did a good job at the end. Gorka [Izagirre] put me in a good position so when Woods attacked I could respond.
“I knew from the parcours that from the first part of the Roche aux Faucons I needed to do a selection and then I tried to open up a gap on the second part. Woods dropped back and I saw that Formolo gave me a few metres, so I went for it.”
But his job was far from done. Fuglsang needed to complete the final 10km including a testing descent during which he miscalculated a corner and almost came a cropper – showing supreme bike-handling skills to keep upright.
“It was a scary moment but a little bit of adrenaline for the closing kilometres,” he joked afterwards.
Despite a strong chase group forming around the likes of Yates, Nibali and Landa, Fuglsang dug deep to extend his lead and – as the sun finally broke through the clouds – cap a superb run of form dating back to his second place in Strade Bianche in March.
With four of the five Monuments completed, focus now shifts to the Grand Tours with May’s Giro d’Italia getting under way in less than a fortnight.