A disappointing spring classics season ended in delight for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl as Remco Evenepoel put in the performance of his short career so far to deliver them a Monument on his debut in the race.
The headlines will be all about one man, but home joy was compounded as Quentin Hermans (Intermarche Wanty Gobert) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) made it an all-Belgian podium.
Like Philippe Gilbert before him, Remco did it on La Redoute. After clawing himself into position towards the top of the climb, Evenepoel put in a ferocious attack just before the crest that seemed to break the resolve of all about him. Certainly none could follow it.
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For the next and final 29km of the race, he never looked back. Each of the remaining riders from the breakaway in turn was soon sighted, locked onto, caught, and spat backwards. Evenepoel was alone at the line, able to punch the sky and take in the crowds. He had arrived.
The team most disappointed will be Bahrain Victorious. It was their riders who spent the most time on the front of the peloton on the road to La Redoute, who brought the break back within range, and who tested the legs of those around them on the climbs before.
It was a gap that had at one point topped six minutes, containing more than a dozen riders of varying abilities. It even, at one point, looked like it might go the distance.
That was, in part, thanks to a moment that no one could have wished for. With 59.4km of the race remaining, as the peloton descended at up to 70kph, a slip of a Bahrain Victorious wheel caused a chain reaction that sent as many as 25 riders to the floor, from one side of the road to the other.
While most had soft landings, were able to get back on their feet and even back into the bunch, not all did. The worst off of all was Evenepoel’s team-mate, world champion Julian Alaphilippe, who ended up in a ditch and was taken from the scene in an ambulance.
The decimation of the bunch enabled the break to regain its advantage and make it to La Redoute with a lead but without structural integrity.
With more than 4000m in their legs, the famous climb did for the last of the collaboration, and left Bruno Armirail (Groupama FDJ) out on his own.
Behind, Bahrain Victorious riders including Mikel Landa and Wout Poels put in testing attacks but no race-winning ones. By the top of the iconic climb, they were no more than 20 strong.
Evenepoel destroys field with ‘ferocious, vicious acceleration’
Evenepoel made no effort to hide his intentions. He positioned himself for all to see, and when he went, he went like a rocket. A visible gap on the descent soon became a measurable one as he set his sights on the riders further up the road. Five seconds, 15, 30, as Liege loomed.
Each rider caught was to be digested not savoured. Armirail, the last of them was able to hold his wheel but Evenepoel showed no desire for them to work together. He was always going to win alone.
On the final, unclassified climb of the day he said goodbye to the Frenchman and rode for home. Although on the final upward metres of the day the peloton was briefly able to reduce the gap, they had to go into the red to do so. On the descent and the later flat Evenepoel, in full time trial tuck, was able to increase it again to almost a minute. He took in the crowds, savoured the moment and celebrated a victory that will go down in history.
He was welcomed over the line by big hugs from team boss Patrick Lefevere and sports director Wilfried Peeters, as well as his family.
At 41.4kph average, it was the second fastest record Liege-Bastogne-Liege in history and the fastest since 1963.
“It was amazing,” Evenepoel said afterwards. “It was really hard, with the headwind to keep pushing, but I knew everyone was suffering. I think today was my best day on the bike, maybe ever.
“I’ve been suffering mentally and physically the last half year but finally everything is getting better and getting stable. I’ve been showing the best Remco since turning pro.”
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Liege-Bastogne-Liege, top 10
- 1. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team 6:12:38
- 2. Quinten Hermans (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux +48
- 3. Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
- 4. Daniel Martinez Poveda (Col) Ineos Grenadiers
- 5. Sergio Higuita Garcia (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe
- 6. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain Victorious
- 7. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
- 8. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education-EasyPost
- 9. Marc Hirschi (Swi) UAE Team Emirates
- 10. Michael Woods (Can) Israel-Premier Tech
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