Jakob Fuglsang of Astana has finally got his first big one-day win of the 2019 season. Fuglsang soloed to the victory ahead of Davide Formolo and Maximilian Schachmann; both of BORA-Hansgrohe.
Going into the race it was beginning to look like Jakob Fuglsang was going to be the season’s eternal bridesmaid in one-day races. Despite victory overall in Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol and a stage win in Tirreno-Adriatico, the Dane’s one-day palmares this year featured three podium positions thus far and none of them were the top step; with two second place finishes behind Julian Alaphilippe, and a third place behind Mathieu Van Der Poel.
New Zealand had the Mitchelton-SCOTT duo of Sam Bewley and Dion Smith in the line up for the 105th edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. For Bewley it was a case of his first monument of the season, somewhat surprising given that in previous years he’s been a staple for the team in races like Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. But this year his focus has been on stage racing, with his only one-day entry until now being at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race back in January.
The battleground for this year’s third monument classic was 256km in length and took in 11 climbs before the finishing run in that levelled out towards the end. Weather from the start was dire, with the rain-soaked roads providing a bleak prospect ahead for the field. Rain would be the main feature for much of the race and would play a role in many of 74 riders abandoning the race, with Dan Martin and Rui Costa of UAE Team Emirates and Alejandro Valverde of Movistar all on the list of riders to abandon the race.
A breakaway of eight riders shaped the early stages of the race with Julien Bernard of Trek-Segafredo, Wallonie-Bruxelles’ Kenny Molly and Mathijs Paasschens, Kevin Deltombe of Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Tobias Ludvigsson of Groupama-FDJ, Lilian Calmejane of Total Direct Energie, Andrea Pasqualon of Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Jérémy Maison of Arkéa-Samsic. Despite the break’s lead topping 10.30mins, Deceuninck-Quick Step threw down the hammer early, with a split in the peloton prompting their aggression that was complimented by the involvement of Bahrain-Merida with just under 100km to go.
With 95km to go just over 2 minutes remained of the breakaway’s lead, while back in the peloton Deceuninck-Quick Step seemed to suddenly drop back in the bunch as a number of other riders from various teams moved forward to set the tempo as up ahead Julien Bernard emerged as the lone leader of the race with 1.24mins in hand with 85km remaining. He had a lone chaser in the form of Paasschens as behind him the breakaway found themselves progressively being picked up by the pack.
Deceuninck-Quick Step continued to be present on the front of the peloton, looking after the interests of their favourite Julian Alaphilippe; but with about 75km to go a number of riders attacked from the peloton with Greg Van Avermaet of CCC Team in the move along with Maximilian Schachmann of BORA-Hansgrohe, Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain-Merida and Philippe Gilbert of Deceuninck-Quick Step, but the attack wouldn’t last and the peloton would regain contact.
Bernard’s advantage was brought back with 69km to go, as Greg Van Avermaet continued to attack the peloton. The next move to look hopeful went clear courtesy of Tanel Kangert of EF Education First and Omar Fraile of Astana. They led over the Col du Rosier with four climbs remaining, but a group of nine riders was coming across to them and the group joined forces with 60km to go. Michael Albasini of Mitchelton-SCOTT was present, so too Damiano Caruso of Bahrain-Merida and Alessandro De Marchi of CCC Team, Movistar’s Carlos Verona and Winner Anacona, Team Sky’s David de la Cruz and Lotto Soudal’s Bjorg Lambrecht.
Deceuninck-Quick Step continued to push the tempo on the front of the race as well they needed to as the breakaway had a decent 30 second advantage approaching 32km to go. Kangert was also unwilling to simply bide his time in the break, instead choosing to go solo. He would last all the way until the final climb of the day, the 1.3km and 10.2% average gradient Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons where he was joined by Tim Wellens of Lotto Soudal, Daryl Impey of Mitchelton-SCOTT and Patrick Konrad of BORA-Hansgrohe.
As Wellens and his group made their move so too did Astana, marshalling their forces at the front of the field, deposing Deceuninck-Quick Step. Their timing was perfect because up ahead Tim Wellens was making his bid for victory, darting clear with a 17 second advantage with 16km to go. The remnants of the peloton were onto him though, and as the catch was about to be made Michael Woods of EF Education First went on the offensive, pursued by Fuglsang and Alaphilippe.
It looked briefly like it would be a case of the same story of Alaphilippe and Fuglsang, but then inexplicably Alaphilippe dropped back, leaving Fuglsang, Woods and Davide Formolo of BORA-Hansgrohe out in front while a group containing Vincenzo Nibali, Adam Yates, Alaphilippe and more tried to bring things together or at least limit the damage. Two riders emerged from that group in pursuit of the leaders, with David Gaudu of Groupama-FDJ and Dylan Teuns of Bahrain Merida, while behind them it became clear that this time Alaphilippe simply didn’t have the legs.
While Gaudu and Teuns were joined by Wout Poels of Team Sky, up ahead Woods dropped off the wheels of Formolo and Fuglsang with 13km to go and the Italian was next to go as this time Fuglsang made his move and there was no one to go with him. His lead quickly opened up to a 20 second advantage over the Yates group and built from there to 35 seconds with 9km to go as Fuglsang showed no signs of slowing down.
With less than 5km to go the race became about gap maintenance for Fuglsang who powered onwards towards his first ever monument victory. After a day full of wet weather the skies cleared to welcome the Dane home in style. With 1km to go there was no way Fuglsang would be caught and after a look over his shoulder he could be confident that the win was in the bag. Passing the Danish flag he allowed himself to punch the air in satisfaction, finally sitting up with a few metres to spare as winner of the 2019 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. 27 seconds later Davide Formolo crossed the line in second place, while Schachmann made it a BORA-Hansgrohe 2-3 after Vincenzo Nibali led out the sprint. Adam Yates took fourth and Michael Woods fifth with David Gaudu, Mikel Landa, Vincenzo Nibali, Dylan Teuns and Wout Poels completing the top ten.