The Moment Liège-Bastogne-Liège Was Won

A solo win for Bob Jungels, another team win for Quick Step. He took flight just over the top of the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons and nobody else could or would go with him.

The early break went and was gradually slimmed down until local rider Jérôme Baugnies was the lone leader, a nice sight given the last time he went to Liège with a number pinned to his back it was by helicopter after he crashed out of the GP de Wallonie last last year, sustaining serious back injuries.

UAE-Emirates worked hard but it looked puzzling rather than impressive, neither Rui Costa or Dan Martin showed signs in the last month that they’d blow the doors off the race and even if they harboured stealthy plans why do so much so soon? With hindsight Dan Martin was their best rider in 18th, he punctured late in he race while at least in contention for the podium and Quick Step will be grateful.

Otherwise little else looked to be happennig. It’s one of those races where it pays to listen to the host broadcaster because they have a motorbike at the back of the bunch and this is where a lot of the action is. If nobody was attacking then one by one riders were being dropped and others were in trouble. But even the Côte de la Redoute, such a hard climb, looked to be ridden at a level tempo as Quick Step’s Enric Mas set the pace all the way up.

Nothing happened then everything happened. They climbed the Côte des Roche aux Faucons and in went a large group where most of the leaders were being shepherded into place by their domestiques, out came only a few of the favourites at the top. Philippe Gilbert tried a move but this wasn’t the Gilbert of old who’d bathe his rivals in lactic acid. But it was wiser, it allowed others like Sergio Henao to bridge across and then Bob Jungels had a go but was brought back. They went over the top of the climb, or notionally because the “summit” for the mountains prize isn’t the end of the climbing, the road dips and then rises up with a long false flat and here Jungels took off solo. Once again the entire lead group missed the Quick Step move leaving a powerful rouleur to go solo and by now most the leaders had run out of helpers to chase. It was up to the leaders to act but it was another case of zugzwang, if anyone tried to move they’d probably pay cash for their efforts: ask Valverde who did try a solo chase but got shut down and then vanished from the race. Lotto-Soudal had the numbers but only in terms of the bodycount, not the watts. Wellens chased but as good as he is, he’s no match for the power of Jungels and the gap wasn’t closing. All along Julian Alaphilippe was playing the perfect gendarme, marking every move. He could have sat tight citing his new status but he was energetically covering the moves.

Onto the Côte de Saint Nicholas in the suburbs of Liège and Jelle Vanendert put in a big attack and took over 20 seconds out of Jungels. You wondered if this was a GPS or moto error but manual timing confirmed it and Jungels was now in sight for the chasers, a target to aim for. Jungels only had one task and his low, powerful style was a contrast to Vanendert’s more upright, almost geriatric position.

Romain Bardet showed his savoir flair to attack late and was joined by Michael Woods and the pair passed Vanendert. Neither was going to win the sprint so a pre-emptive move got them on the podium just ahead of Julian Alaphilippe who showed what could have been, with Alejandro Valverde in thirteenth place.

The Verdict
The race burst into life with 20km to go and a share of the TV audience were probably roused from their siesta by the raised voices of the commentators as at last something happened to awaken viewers. Only Jungels quickly pulled out a substantial lead which took the edge off the suspense and if Vanenedert soared like Icarus on the Saint Nicholas he soon lost his feathers on subsequent descent. Goodbye to Ans but if the finish were on the Boulevard de la Sauvenière in Liège as planned for next year then Jungels probably would have won too and perhaps with a bigger lead but the idea is the new finish will force some to go on the attack earlier to eliminate any rivals in case of a sprint along the banks of the Meuse.

Quick Step win again, their 27th win this season and it’s a big win for Jungels, still just 25 and a rising talent who won the lively Bergamo stage of the Giro last year and continues to progress but towards what, more monuments or being a contender in a grand tour? He won under his own steam today, attacking when nobody else could follow and quickly building up a good lead but was bolstered by team worknotably from Alaphilippe in the final. Meanwhile a lot of riders had a discreet time of things, some made the first group but barely showed on TV while others didn’t, the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Michał Kwiatkowski coming in over three minutes behind but this is two cite just two pre-race picks, many more joined them.

98 thoughts on “The Moment Liège-Bastogne-Liège Was Won”

  1. Awesome stuff from Jungels, I’m guessing more post-race ‘what might have beens’ from the favorites. Stranger to me than Jungels getting away was the disappearing act you pointed out by Kwaitkowski – a bad day for an off day?

  2. The Iron Curtain that once descended over Europe from the Baltic to the Adriatic may have been lifted, but it’s been replaced by a vast decking of wooden laminate flooring…. 🙂

  3. QS once again showed what a great seemingly coherent team of star riders they have right now. Your comparison with the Harlem Globetrotters is really fitting.

    Even more than the individual class of those riders it’s their team spirit which makes them so hard to beat.

    When Jungels rode away and the gap was at 10 to 20 seconds the race was indeed won. Impossible to say if someone in that first group had enough gas left in the tank to reel him back if he wanted to. It looked as if no one wanted to do the work for others but I agree that they probably also couldn’t.

    Once again it struck me how they can use such a wide and straight road as a descent leading down to Liège in the finale of a monument. Normally à lone rider loses at least 20s alone in that descent if the chasing group rides really coherently. But astonishingly that never happens here despite a group full of riders who are capable to win on that finale.

  4. Don’t forget Mike Woods from EF drapac who finished second. This is an awesome result from a guy who is a relative newcomer to pro cycling. He can climb too- watch for him at the Giro

      • Tyler 2003? (top spot)

        Lance before him was twice 2nd, 1994 (between two Gewiss doped guys) and 1996 (between two Swiss doped guys).
        Lemond 1984 was the first and last before Lance.

        Rusty had already got a top ten last year, as Hesjedal in 2012 & 2013 (when he was paramount for D. Martin’s victory). In 2010 you had Horner 7th and Ryder 12th.

        Not so many NA riders around, anyway.

        Who’d be the candidates? In the USA Tejay and Dombrowski don’t cope well at all with the Classics. Phinney, Bookwalter, Pate are the heavy sort of guy you’d sent on the cobbles, if anything.
        Best call is probably Alex Howes (waiting for McNulty). When people speak about “how good Lance was for cycling, all in all” – and somebody still does – they should have a look at the USA postnuclear scene. LeMond “was good for cycling”, if anything. Hampsten. Lance? Please. By their fruits ye shall know them.
        Canada can be happy enough with Woods.

      • Inrng has tipped Woods in the past. As a newcomer (read: sketchy bikehandler) he may not have felt comfortable leading a high speed chase after Jungels, though he was positioned to do so and may have had the legs. Very strong athlete, doing well to have become Rigo Uran’s top lieutenant?

        • Jüngels created the gap on the false flat after the official top of Roche aux Faucons. Hardly a bike handling issue. Gap expanded and he sealed the deal on the the fast downhil leading into Saint Nicholas (+80Km/h) – Woods was not the chaser on that section.

          • The initial gap was created at the top of the climb when the EF Drapac rider behind Jungels grabbed a bottle and eased up slightly. Jungels just kept going at the same pace and then when he realised he had a gap went full on. I’m not sure who the EF rider was but that bottle definitely changed the outcome of the race.

          • That was Woods. In an interview after the race, he mentioned he grabbed a gel there and allowed the gap. “That was kinda my fault” he said. It turned out that hesitation, was the moment the race was won.
            I’ll be interested to see how well he can go at the Giro – top 5? Climbs with the best, but his TT is a weak spot.

          • @Morten Reippuert- Yes it was during the “seal the deal” phase that I was referring to. Valverde “paid cash” there and the horsepower deficit was probably decisive for the would-be chasers, but I felt like Woods would probably not be comfortable making an effort like Valverde made on that particular stretch of road, particularly if he had been looking to cooperate as perhaps he should have been. Chapeau to Jungels, can’t argue when strength wins like that.

    • I was on a flight from Brussels to Venice on Sunday evening, and the guy on the front row with his feet up against the wall, wearing an EF Drapac polo shirt, was looking rather pleased with himself as he was fiddling away on his phone.

      I didn’t recognise him at the time, but from google it was Mike Woods. The airport was crawling with people in team kit.

  5. Anon. For the amount of money available, and even given that SKY concentrate on Grand tours, their Classics season has been worse than dire.

    There is something seriously wrong with their approach to the classics, both management and riders. My guess is that Quick Step invest a similar or smaller sum of money into their classics squad, and get a far better return. A second place early on and a couple of top tens to show for all their expenditure is an extremely poor return.

    Liege was a little flat until Jungles made his move. It is always good to see a longer range attack succeed. Hat tip to Jungles and Quick Step.

    • I agree but when Sky win pretty much anything there are questions about doping (rightly so). But Quickstep have won pretty much everything and there are no questions.
      I am just pointing how hypocritical we are as cycling fans. Looking at the money, the riders and everything sky have you shouldn’t be surprised by their results. If sky had had the same success as Quickstep we would be calling for investigations.

      • Sky wins mostly with one rider, Froome.
        QS with 27 wins this year has 12 guys taking wins. Whole team could be doing new doping or masking but most QS riders have been around a top level for years.
        No miracle transformations from a Subaru to a Ferrari like Froome.

        • Off topic but I’d rather have a WRX or BRV over a Ferrari anyday, although Outback seems like a good analogy for Froome pre-2011 Vuelta..

        • Surely a whole team winning everything is more suspicious than one rider. That could mean the team give their riders some special ingredient and it makes them all awesome, whereas Froome is just a freak. Cycling has always been dominated by physiological freaks. If Gilbert spent 2 years doing naff all and then rocked up at Sky and won Flanders with a crazy solo raid everyone would go mental. I’m not suggesting Quick Step are up to anything. They have a lot of good riders, they motivate them well and they use them well. I’m just agreeing with the hypocrisy.

          • Gilbert has always been Gilbert, except for his worst seasons in BMC, which weren’t consecutive, either (2013 and 2016). Frankly, that’s something quite normal for any rider, a bad year from time to time. It happened to Merckx, Hinault and pretty much everyone.
            When we say that Gilbert wasn’t performing in BMC we tend to forget to specify how relative a concept that is: a “not so good year” can mean winning a couple of Giro stages and podiuming in just a couple of classics (2015), or winning Amstel and Brabantse (2014).
            It’s never the sort of transformations you see elsewhere.

            I’d agree that team doping is more of a problem than a single rider doping, but at the same time it’s hard to tell when a team simply got their prep right, since it’s the same staff managing the Classics group.
            What’s more damning is repeated & collective performances through the years but, even more so, making athletes get results or produce performances which don’t agree so much with their profile. Sprinters becoming GT men, pavé tanks grabbing mountain stages, that sort of things – obviously late enough in their career to allow you to notice how strange that looks. I mean, it’s not like you’re dealing with the new Van Steenberger and you hadn’t been aware for years…

            Hey, look, Alaphilippe won a race… where his former worst result had been 2nd (twice). Terpstra won Flanders, curious, out of the last 7 times he raced it he didn’t get a top ten only once (in 2013). The man was 3rd in 2017 and 2nd in 2015. He’s probably the strongest cobbles specialist around, now that Cance & Boonen retired. What a surprise he wins those races (in that sense, the strange case is Sep Vanmarcke’s, not Terpstra’s!).

            Not to speak of what J Evans pointed out below: when you win through tactics rather than sheer physical superiority, we can at least say that doping was not the number one factor.

            I’m not suggesting QS are clean, either. Not at all. As if they hadn’t a history. But. It’s just that it’s pretty much manifest that it’s not the same as Sky, which, on turn, is not the same as USPS, although they sure make some stranger things happen, from time to time.

          • I’m not going down the doping rabbit hole, but remaining on the “Sky under-performing” theme, I think it is interesting that the 3 teams with likely the largest World Tour budgets (Sky, Katusha and BMC?) have all pretty much had a disastrous classics season.

            It’s refreshing to see that $$ cannot buy everything and great tactics (and, let’s be honest, timidity from some other team leaders) can still win big races.

            I wonder if this theme will continue in the stage races – perhaps not as the “variables” can be ironed out over a number of days. Anyone else enjoy the Tour of the Alps? Great racing and fabulous tv.

          • I think the doping allegations are very relevant to Team Sky’s Classics season. You’ve seen it with other teams where a rider gets popped – the management, and probably the riders too, don’t really want to excite talk of whether they were winning clean, or not. Keep your heads down, ride through the storm and wait for someone else to get caught or the attention to die down. Unfortunately with there being this delay on the bloods and TUE appeal it’s really not letting Froome’s team mates ride away from the problem.

            I think QS probably employ similar ‘on the edge of legal tactics’ as Sky – the difference to other teams (excepting Sky) may be more about their ability to do this with thorough medical oversight. Money does buy you talent, but it also seems to guarantee a whole lot more – and that’s a statement about Sports in general. Not just cycling. Anyone remember what happened to Chelsea when their Doctor fell out with the manager?

      • Anonymous – I don’t think you understand QS’ fanbase. British fans/ex-fans of Sky called for investigation (eg. national inquiry) because they were shocked that there is doping in sport. QS’ fanbase is very skeptical and understands that the riders usually go as far as possible to prepare themselves.

        With that being said, Sky’s biggest issue in the classics isn’t their fitness levels, it’s their entire approach to the Classics. They think racing is about fitness, but in the classics, positioning, knowing the course and having the correct strategy is even more important.

        The Paris-Roubaix where multiple Sky riders fell on one corner pretty much sums it up.

        • broadly agree although Kwiatkowski is the exception that proves the rule, he’s had a relatively poor spring campaign by his standards so maybe the training camp induced fitness or otherwise of his teammmates has made the difference this year, he hasn’t had the usual team support early in the races so has been missing something at the end

          • Haha, how is winning 2 stage races plus 2 stages along the way a “relatively poor spring campaign”? Perhaps he hasn’t won a Classic or Monument, but he has more wins this spring than ever before. It’s not possible to keep peak form from February through to April.

            Kwiat suffered in the one-day races because he has very little team support, and therefore nobody to chase QS for him.

          • @CA By his standards it has been poor, he has said so himself, compare with last year when he won Strade Bianche and MSR plus 2nd, 7th and 3rd in Ardennes week. 2016 was a bit dodgy when he joined Sky and there training methods were not to his taste, 2013-2015 was much better. But we agree the team support has been poor, which could be for many reasons all at once. I imagine the morale and atmosphere within the team is not at its best, including senior management, whereas QS are on a roll and being part of that must feel great right now.

          • @CA
            You mean that getting the same as Quintana last year – who obtained it racing just 60% of what Kwiatkwo did at this point – is a good result? For a Classics man? I suppose it must feel fine for him to have a taste at GCs in case Froome is going to be out for a time, I just hope we won’t be getting another lost Geraint that way.

            PS Obviously, to match Quintana’s (horrible) 2017 season, Kwiatkwo still needs a GT stage & final GC podium, plus a top ten in the last Monument available. A different guess might be that the Pole is eyeing the Worlds.

          • That’s the point – Kwiat can’t win everything. If he’s winning GC and stages in February, then how is it possible to also win Monuments in late March and late April? That’s a window of peak performance that is 60+ days…. impossible!

            The point that Quintana achieved that with 60% race days highlights that perhaps Kwiat could not have been expected to win in that many more races. It is way too high of a workload, but we expect Kwiat to be clean, but also to win Liege and to win Catalunya. Unrealistic expectations.

          • @CA
            You mean that when he was 2nd at Algarve, 2nd at Pa-Ni, 4th at Waregem and 1st at Amstel as a 24 years old boy, that looked suspicious? Sure: he was riding for Quickstep ^__^
            I don’t even need to ask what you think about Valverde 2017 or Nibali 2012 (Tirreno, then podium at Sanremo and Liège).
            But even Poels and Gerrans won their Liège after a very strong – and winning – start of the season. Are you assuming that they spent two precious separate peaks to achieve that?
            I’d say that most top riders can win in March (and even more so in February) without being in peak form, essentially because nobody else is, barring some lesser riders who look for their chance that way… but they’re, well, less strong.
            As a consequence, I’d expect a top versatile rider to be able to perform well in the whole broad set of conditions and dates, unless he’s got way bigger objectives later that same year (which is what I suggested above).

          • I didn’t say suspicious.

            My point is, everyone seems to be disappointed that Kwiat’s had a bad spring, but he started winning races in February, nearly 75 days ago… So it’s not reasonable for our expectations to want him to win Liege and a stage race in February.

          • Wout Poels is the perfect example. Just because he did it once doesn’t mean it is reasonable to expect it year after year. In fact, he has never recreated the perfect conditions that existed that year, which proves my point. Simon Gerans did it once too, only once.

          • Kwiatko had a bad Spring because if you fail the Ardennes in order to win Algarve, man, you got your prep dead wrong.
            What you say about Gerrans isn’t exactly true, given that, if you consider what sort of rider he is, he was in superhuman form both in February and for the Ardennes also in 2009. What? Never getting a top 5? Yeah, 8th in *GC* in Portugal being 6th on Malhao is telling, than 7th at Amstel, 6th at Liège and above all 8th at the Flèche is brutal for that kind of rider. Poels is a different beast, health issues and whatever, but I always thought that it’s the typical Sky rider which people indeed accept to be performing *because* he’s riding at Sky – like, expecting that sort of boost. Anyway, in his special personal season, he did precisely what you deem “not possible”.
            However, Kwiat’s far more talented than both Gerrans and Poels, and a talented rider doesn’t need to be in top form to grab a great result in February, precisely because nobody among the best is or should be. My point about those two guys is that they got a result without peaking, just as *I hope* K. didn’t programme a peak in February.
            Did he? Well, in that case that *might explain* why he had a bad Spring: wrong prep. That doesn’t make his Spring great.
            It’s like defending Quintana’s 2017 GT campaign commenting that he was brutally strong in February and March: that’s *the reason why* (or one of them) he fell out of form too soon at the Giro and was burnt at the Tour, but it doesn’t make his results any better as such. If anything, those wins helped him salvage (hardly so, but better than nothing – especially the Tirreno, obviously) a wrong season, they don’t make it good.
            You didn’t say “suspicious”, you said “we expect Kwiat to be clean, but also to win Liege and to win Catalunya”: that wouldn’t be a problem, would it?, unless you think that without doping you can’t have a shot to the victory from late winter to Ardennes – but that’s precisely what Kwiatko did when he was 24.
            However, as I said, if the question is that he’s shifting his objectives and hence needs to explore different ways to race and train, this makes sense as a long term plan. And, sure, winning a Tirreno is a good result per se, Sagan’s lost a couple of good occasions which may not be back to get the sort of race which, sooner or later, he’d need to raise his palmarés to the level it deserves.

          • I think you touched on it – I wonder if Kwiat is considering taking a run at a GT, so smaller stage races become important (for training and build-up purposes). At age 27, he’s entering that peak age too, and you can be assured that Brailsford thought of that.

            I can’t stop thinking about the massive efforts that Kwiat put out in last year’s TdF. His 57th placing looks very mediocre, but he rode really strongly, chasing up a lot of mountains for the team. He wouldn’t be the first one-day rider to switch to GTs.

            Geraint T may be the plan B for the 2018 Tour and/or Vuelta, but Kwiat may be plan C, and then plan A/B in 2019 and onwards.

  6. Zugzwang, Savoir Flair, Icarus on the Saint Nicholas….plenty for the logophile cycling fan to enjoy here as ever, thanks!

    Jolly bad luck for Dan Martin to puncture when he did but his apparent strength bodes well, I look forward to seeing what he can do in Romandie, especially with the uphill ITT this year climbing 785m in 9.9km

  7. Attacking riding keeps winning races. Maybe, just maybe, the reduction in team sizes has made it less controllable – which was the aim.
    As for those above talking about doping, as ever, we just don’t know, but look at most of QS’s victories: they haven’t been dominant or exceptional (no Gilbert 2011 or Boonen 2012); they’ve mostly been attacks that the other riders have elected not to follow. Then those riders behind have not worked well together.
    And that’s not just been the case with QS victories: M-SR, P-R, AGR just off the top of my head (and I don’t have Gabriele’s eidetic memory).
    Also, all of QS’s big victors have been riders who have shown promise for many years.

    • Don’t underestimate how fiercely the fellow QS riders protected their man in front. It wasn’t just Alaphilippe yesterday. Niki terpstra’s wins were team-efforts as well, with the strongest Gardian Gilbert finishing on the podium as well. It’s also something they have acknowledged a couple of times post-race. They just suck the life out of the chase (if they can, and usually they could).

    • Absolutely agree – this year QS’ victories have been much more about team tactics, team depth and great strategy than it has been about potentially doped riders. They have picked good young riders who have developed slowly to form a very strong batch of riders.

      You could even make an argument that in some of the victories this year, QS’ winner wasn’t even the strongest in the race.

      And then you also need to consider that QS’ competition has made major mistakes to help QS out. Look at L-B-L, why was UAE on the front early on? Every team should have refused to lead, forcing QS to take full responsibility to chase from minute one. If that was the case how fresh would Bob Jungels have been when he made his attack?

  8. Just to be clear, I don’t think quickstep are doping. I have loved the way they have ridden this whole spring, they really are a Wolfpack where everyone is working for the team.
    I just want to point out the hypocrisy whereby if sky had done as well as them we would not see as many comments about how great they are but we would have everybody questioning them.

    • It might be hypocrisy if Sky were to have done as well and be questioned IF they didn’t have a run of jiffy bag, positive test, TUE’s abuse, on and on bunch of issues to create those questions. Q.S. has nothing to create ?’s.

  9. Agree with J Evans there. Long range attacks that stick because the chasers don’t cooperate seems the nature of the game this season. Quick Step puts their money into classics riders instead of bunch sprinters or GT-GC contenders so no wonder they play this game best.
    Why this is such a recurring theme right now? Hard to tell but team size reduction at least seems a part of the explanation. Not all of it though.

    • No bunch sprinters at QS, come on man: Viviani, Gaviria, Jakobsen, Hodeg took roughly half of those 27 wins out of a bunch sprint. Not to mention alumni like Kittel, Cav, Boonen, Meersman,…
      (Viviani also took the most regrettable not-win of QS at G-W)

  10. There are reasons people question Sky performances. Anyone who is even a bit objective couldn’t be stupid enough to believe that Froome took too many inhales or that his kidneys were functioning badly. These are far less likely than doping. Then there are all the other things Sky have done. That is why there are questions.

  11. Zugzwang — what a wonderful word choice. I don’t play chess so I had never heard this word before and had to look it up. And then I smiled. The insight and writing on this site, as ever, is excellent.

  12. It is quite interesting that most of this year, when a Quickstep got away, chasers failed to arrange a coherent chase. It happens so often that the suspense is taken away, you almost want the chaser to catch the attacker for a change.

    I wonder what caused this. The overly prescriptive voice of the DS in the earpiece that forbade riders to work unnecessarily?

    • The intended effect of team size reduction was to help avoid one team dominating and open the races up, yet the paradox this Spring is that the opposite has happened.
      It has concentrated strength.
      Quick Step, whose raison d’être was always aligned with the Spring Classics, have laid and then wiped the floor.

      Sky have had a decent Spring but in the stage racing, such as there’s been.
      Does this then suggest that they will become as or even more dominant when the bigger Stage races come around?

      • The races *were* tactically open, which is why team reduction has been put in place, not to avoid one team dominating – I think that inrng and several readers already noted that from some POVs smaller teams could even favour the strongest outfits.
        QS dominating? I think it’s more about a sum of factors, one of the most significant ones being Sagan’s presence and behaviour.

        • EXACTLY – I think a good argument can be made that reducing team sizes might actually favour the strongest and deeper teams. It is difficult to explain and I don’t have the time right now though, unfortunately.

  13. Chapeau for thé description of Romain Bardet’s Riding. Those little descriptive nuggets are priceless. I was over the border in Prendas Territory yesterday and saw at least 3 INRNG supporting riders out. The jersey coming towards you always looks class. Thanks for making Monday’s more bearable

  14. Thank god for Eurosport on Demand. Avoided the result and just gave myself the last hour, which was enjoyable, but sounds like I didn’t miss much prior to that.

  15. Also, is Boonen retiring the best thing that’s happened to QS in years?

    Would this Wolfpack/all in for the team mentality have been possible in the cobbled classics if the (fading) star man had still been there?

  16. Sorry Inrng, but “savoir flair” (even if everybody enjoyed it) is not french ; it would be either “savoir faire” or rather just “flair”. Or maybe it’s a wordplay ? But it’s very weird for french people, it litteraly means nothing…

    • It is a distinctive of @inrng’s writing style and as someone who knows a little of a few languages it is great to see someone, who obviously knows a lot, let off the leash to play with words.

      Suggest that you look up franglais.

      As a chess player always glad to see a good use of zugzwang in other circumstances.

      Think there are quiet a lot of similarities between a chess tournament and a cycling stage race – some players will attack at all costs and be fans favourites, but the winner is often the one who is capable of not making mistakes and taking opportunities when they come with brutal efficiency. A lot of chess “fans” don’t appreciate the player who takes the quick draw in the last round to win the greater prize which has been earned since the start of the event. A bit like the cycling “fan” who expects the yellow jersey to win on the Champs Elysses.

      Tim Krabbe is someone who writes beautifully on both chess and cycling.

    • Of course “savoir flair” is not plain vanilla french, but it is still a good “jeu de mot”. Don’t really see what the problem with this is.

  17. “Jelle Vanendert put in a big attack and took over 20 seconds out of Jungels. You wondered if this was a GPS or moto error but manual timing confirmed it.”

    Thanks for this – I was sat watching thinking the initial 50 seconds gap couldn’t have been correct, mainly because the time unexpectedly continued to tumble when Jungels was on the “flat” and Vanendert was still climbing.

  18. The QS domination debate is interesting, doping theories aside.
    A couple of further points.

    1) The rivals. The Classics field was the weakest in years. For different reasons, the top dogs who were expected (and indeed started) to lead the generational shift after the Boonen-Cancellara generation have been facing a complicated season… and more than one season in the case of several of them: Degenkolb, Kristoff, GVA, Vanmarcke (whose case would probably need a witch-doctor or something).
    Add to them some good second-line riders who could show up from time to time in the past seasons and who, far from making the jump, look like they went backwards, say, Stannard, Trentin or Langeveld.
    And you can’t blame QS super-form for that: these guys didn’t look too good in absolute terms, they generally didn’t come even close to winning.
    As a term of comparison, look how many *extremely* young riders are appearing in the top-tens. Probably they’re actually *too* young to win or to be solid or to race with the proper authority you’d need to face a huge team or big name rivals… even if they sometimes end up doing so, in the current context.
    Mads Pedersen, Van Aert, Moscon were still U23 and they were top-tenning this year in some of the major cobbled Classics! Politt, Benoot or Küng just turned 24! They’re all very good, no doubt, but experience obviously should help in these races.
    Sure, there are riders who started to show up or confirmed their growth, but they obviously need more time to prove they’re on the level of the contenders I named above: I’m thinking about Valgren or Stuyven (maybe even Démare, although I find him slightly disappointing, but maybe this is just his dimension on the cobbles).
    Other riders confirmed their previous level, more or less, maybe getting a little worse or a little better, yet being pretty much up there: what a pity they were all Quicksteppers, from Terpstra to Gilbert, from Lampard to Stybar.
    Then, there was Sagan. Whose presence heavily conditioned race strategies, as such and because of the added factor of his attitude. Sagan’s team was decent at Roubaix but still too weak everywhere else. But his presence scared pretty much anybody else from pursuing or collaborating. Besides the pure Sagan factor, we should also notice that most of those who disappointed were fast men, most of those who did good aren’t. Which per se will make any agreement to chase more complicated.
    People were laughing about QS multi-pronged approach in previous years, when they couldn’t achieve enough results despite multiple attacks from far, but now that chasing is more complicated (less gregari, less sprint-motivated teams, less high-expectations teams, Sagan’s menace) it pays dividends. They’re doing the same, the context is a bit different.
    Oh, and their “cousins” at Lotto-Soudal. Watch them race against each other, especially but not exclusively in the Ardennes ^__^

    2) The thin line in victories. QS always won a lot of these races. They usually top – and by far – the win chart at this point of the season. But as they couldn’t win the biggest ones, the smallest victories suddenly looked meaningless year after year. Dunno, they’ve been winning 50% of the Waregems in the last decade. And it’s not like this year they’ve won all the biggest ones: among the most meaningful races, they’ve lost Amstel, Het Volk, Gent, Roubaix, Sanremo, Strade Bianche, Brabantse, while winning Liège & Flèche, Flanders & E3. But now those big victories cast a different light on the loose change of stage wins and minor races they’ve always been collecting in quantity.

    • That’s a very good counter-argument against the QS domination theory and, conversely, prior to my paradoxically point above, I had tried to use IR’s Team Victory rankings to show that victory numbers were perhaps a little more spread around – unfortunately the March table is almost a month out of date now and significant events have happened since.

      Your Sagan factor has been very relevant but let’s not forget that QS have themselves been without Gaviria for most of the Spring.
      To what extent would he have played a part and how may this have changed their approach / success?
      He may have scooped two or three of ‘the ones that got away’?

      Thunking again about Sky’s modest Classics performance this year, let’s not forget that Giro time is close and I suspect that the A Team will get rolled out again.
      And we all know what happens when that occurs?

      • Oh, but they *have* dominated.
        I’m just trying to focus on a broader set of manifest reasons.

        However, they’ve indeed won more than in previous years, but not in an unprecedented way. Taking Romandie as a reference, they used to win 22-23 races before it throughout the 2013-2017 period (27 like this season in 2012. Way less in previous years – I don’t know if it’s a database problem).
        They usually won less Begian classics and perhaps slightly more stages, especially but not only in minor races (there’s were you lacked Gaviria to play good ol’ Cav – of all the rest he could win “only” Gent, if anything, but I doubt it, he hadn’t looked good in Het Volk or Kuurne).
        They’ve won 11 classics this year, while they typically (like, every single season) win about half of that, I mean some 5 or 6, but this isn’t unprecedented, either, since in 2012 they got 10 and of similar or better level, too.
        I’d take into account also the more extended calendar (lots of minor stage races in February now) and the fact that, as I noted elsewhere, the athletes, in very recent years, looks like they’re able to strecth their form for a longer period in the Classics, thus allowing a longer and more complete campaign.
        That said, we can see how 2006 was another special year: with just Qatar as the more exotic scenery available, they achieved 21 wins before Romandie, 9 of which were Classics (Sanremo, E3, Ronde, Kuurne) or at least semiclassics (Lugano, Chiasso, Scheldeprijs etc.), quite much comparable to what they got this year.

        Hey, wait… I can see a pattern there… multiples of three…

        • Gabriele – I agree, they have dominated in terms of wins, but the method they’ve dominated hasn’t been the “brutal domination, ride every single other team off their wheels domination”.

          They won with smart strategic racing and assuming that the other teams won’t want to pull back an attack just to watch Sagan or another fast man take the win (including a QS fast man).

          • That’s obvious enough, as J Evans, AK and I myself wrote somewhere else in comments scattered around in this same page.

            And my point is precisely that they’ve played this game before, sometimes even with the exact same, notable results (at least three times in a dozen seasons).
            But even when things “looked bad”, it’s mainly a thin perception line, as I said above: they’ve been often winning a lot but maybe it was enough not to win any Monument to have their season labelled as “a failure”.
            Think 2015: at this point they had won some 20 races with 10 different riders, including half a dozen of classics among which Amstel, Strade Bianche and Kuurne, but although or because they were *just* runner-up in… Flanders, Roubaix, Flèche & Liège (!) it was all about how useless they were without Boonen.

            Also note that this year they weren’t the only ones benefitting from this strategic twist: how did Valgren, Nibali, Sagan (Roubaix), Wellens, Benoot win? It’s just that the game came closer than ever to what they’ve always been quite good at.

  19. Kudos for Quick Step for the variation and setting up / sending multiple different riders out to the attack on each different race. Probably kept a lot of DSs guessing what would be the best way to react, etc.
    I’m glad they are changing the finish. I can’t help but think that a race this big deserves something… different.

  20. Is there another rider that shines so briefly and brightly as Jelle Vanendert? He’s regularly up there against the best in the Ardennes and then seemingly disappears – am I somehow ignoring him animating week-long stage races or Grand Tour stages? I have to Google him once a year as a reminder of who he is (which does point out that he does have one TDF stage).

    • He’s got this one niche, apparently he’s got a huge VO2 but struggles with positioning which makes you think he’d be suited to stage races and long Alpine style climbs. Another niche specialist is Simon Špilak who seems to win week long stage races in Switzerland.

      • Did think of Spilak, although he features in other stage races pretty frequently. Huge VO2 max but struggling with positioning makes me think of Steve Cummings. Would have thought that Vanendert would do well as a Cummings/de Gendt-style breakaway specialist.

    • Vanendert won a tour stage in the pyrenees in 2011 if I remember well.
      But yes, it is pretty curious to see how he always appears in the Ardennes classics and then disappears. Besides, he does not appear every years – I think he was in his best shape of the last years for this ardennes season.

  21. The ability to rewatch the race easily has frustrated me. Is ASO taking an aggressive stance to youtube videos, as it has been hard to find ‘final 40km’ of many races this year.

    I’ve just watched the ASO highlights package and they seem to be missing a good opportunity. It is 4 minutes long, with nearly half of that covering the GC table and interview. A good 30-45min highlight package, similar to the TDF stages would be fantastic. As would accurate reportage/narration during the actual package. Oh, and they finish by saying we are now onto the stage race period, with the next notable race being Dauphine in June. Really?

    • haha i know, the comment about the Dauphine in that video was a head scratcher… do they really think we’re that thick or are they that thick?

    • Can you no longer get Eurosport Player outside of Europe via a VPN? It used to work for us in the USA (the wife loves the Italian commentary by Riccardo Magrini) but since we’re in Italy now we have no issues with viewing…and they seem to replay this stuff constantly.
      Just today (Saturday) was L-B-L again + a full review of all the one-day races starting with MSR, followed by replay of the Romandie chrono stage (yawn)…and finally today’s Romandie stage…in about 20 minutes.

  22. Kudos to QS.

    That said,(1) the aggressiveness of the teamwork should not be underappreciated. As pointed out above, If you looked closely in LBL – Alaphillpe was covering the moves and then gapping the riders behind him forcing them to need to sprint to catch back up.
    (2) In LBL, Astana, Bahrain, Michelton Scott and Lotto all had numbers but they refused to sacrifice a rider jointly to help out, ultimately Astana did and what did that get them – the other free riders – in this case Bahrain getting something.
    (3) No matter what Jungels had the biggest engine of all the riders left so it would have required serious work to bring him back
    (4) QS have smartly identified the right tactics for the first year of 7 rider teams including team composition.
    (5) As also mentioned in so many of these races it has been about not wanting to help Sagan get to finish.

    (I would expect media rights to continue to make it harder to get a free viewing of races without paying for it)

  23. “…a rider gets popped” well illustrates the problem here. That should be “rider is caught cheating” but the culture of pro cycling seems unable to take their rules (which are what make a sport a sport) seriously.
    When BigTex ends up having to cough up only $5 million of his vast, ill-gotten fortune and a guy caught with almost twice the allowed level of salbutamol in September of 2017 is still competing, it’s hard to expect much to change.
    As to L-B-L, chapeau to Jungels and QS for another masterful performance. All the dope in the world doesn’t much help if your team tactics are lacking.

  24. Notable that throughout the spring classics the other teams never got to grips with working together to counter QS’s tactics.
    After Jungels’ attack quite a few teams (Astana, Bahrain, Sunweb, Mitchelton, Lotto) in the group behind had more than one rider, but none had the gumption or the will to collaborate and each put one rider into chasing (although good luck to the Lotto DS who tries to persuade Wellens to do that – his complaints about Vanendert at Fleche look all the more unreasonable).

    • When you’ve got such a selected group (say, ten to twenty), it’s hard because normally everybody who’s up there just put in a very high quality effort, therefore they’re strong riders, more or less on form, who consider themselves entitled to a shot to victory. At the same time, it’s hard to create a chase by consensus.

      Even in the same team. You might say that it’s up to the DS to call that, but this is even harder than football: Lotto made their call for the Flèche and you saw how that ended. As a DS you can call a valuable rider who’s a potential winner to work for a teammate, but that’s going to bring consequences, especially if things don’t end well (which can happen for a variety of factors).
      It’s not pure chance if the only ones who ended up working – and, please note, thus actually making a gift to the rest! – were Astana, who in that moment had a clearly shaped hierarchy on the road.

      Do you ask young and raising – and Australian – Haig to work for Kreuziger who’s the strongest man, even if the latter has less than a handful years of high level career left – and doesn’t pack a fast finish, either? Or do you ask the in form, quality man who’ll soon need to work for your GT captains, to sacrifice his race for the youngster who didn’t make any single top-ten this season?
      Are you asking your star Tom Dumoulin to work along Villella (!) for Oomen’s sake? Sure the latter is talented and the former has little serious hope of actually winning, but the difference between them is too small. In this case, it had to come from the rider’s heart, but apparently Tom isn’t that sort of guy – or not last Sunday.
      And what about Bahrain? Their main chance was having *two* relatively strong men in for the finale, should they have spoilt any serious team option when the rest weren’t doing their part? And, again, you’d have had the big question mark: who does work for whom? (I’d say that Bahrain didn’t play as they could have the last kms, but what they did previously was just logic).

      The big mistake by Lotto – or by Wellens himself – was trying to play the Tim card in the finale. I don’t know if the guy hopes to now be able to match the best in a pure power showdown, but Vanendert is actually better at that. Wellens best option – if he had the legs – was still to go all in with a middle range move (prompting a move after the Redoute or on la Roche). Lotto has generally been a tactical disaster this Spring and, as I said above, that may have depended on how they managed their riders previously.

      Curiously, things *sometime* work better when the group is bigger (more gregari) or smaller (easier for 5-6 captains to find an agreement for the fair share of the workload). This 20 men things seldom work well, also because it’s too easy to hide in such a group, while if you’re skipping turns in a smaller group everybody is going to notice and put the pressure on you.

      Probably, the best strategy might have been several captains starting to take a couple of short turns on the front (not *attacks*) and hoping that it might work through example, but that’s not very different from wishful thinking. The other idea was indeed to try and attack in order to bring away a smaller group which could actually work better, but there wasn’t enough difference between the top riders to achieve that.
      And the Alafactor shouldn’t be underrated, either.

      PS Note that this way different from Andy Schleck, who was (not) being chased by a serious peloton of more than 40 riders…

      • All good points and points the non-QS teams had to deal with in each of QS’s breakaway wins – and they never did. Of course it’s not simple, plus each racing scenario is different, as well as the fact that you have to do all of this in the moment. Perhaps because of that last point, other teams needed to discuss potential collusion before the racing had begun, once it became apparent that they were consistently failing to deal with QS.

        • Agreed. Also notice that QS themselves failed to counter “their own” tactic when they had to chase from a dozen men selected group in Strade Bianche or Roubaix, both long range attacks not based on pure strength, actually quite similar to Liège and Flanders (Het Volk, Amstel and Sanremo are also interesting but the time compression makes the race dynamics a bit different, more alike the absurd finale of Lampaert’s Waregem).

      • Post race analysis gives some crunch to some of those statements. Haig did a lot of work controlling the pace and breakaways once Jungels had gone. Still he and the other ‘plan B’ riders needed to do more, ala TdF end of stage chases. Of course, everyone is cooked and there aren’t teams who have rested for five days specifically for this stage.

        Wellens said he had average legs and advised Vanendert. Which is why attacked so much, also believing until late that they would get across to Jungels. Setup Vanendert nicely and almost had Jungels and 2nd. Haig buggered Vanendert by pulling him back almost alone.

        It is the world level, but very very similar situations occur most weeks at my club racing. You don’t want to be that guy who drives hard to pull back someone a little but up the road; he is so close that he will be caught anyway. Then someone plays breakaway chicken a bit too hard and the chasing pace goes down. Then someone counters. Then it is all over. Just like we’ve seen so far this year. Smart and courageous racing. Or as some smart well prepared groups like to say… who dares wins. Sometimes.

        • A lot of work if you believe in your teammate means going on the front and pulling, just like Villella did. Then you see that you don’t need anymore to control any further breaks. And you don’t need great legs, either, to do that, because once you’re two or three guys shifting turns you can go really hard for that minute or so having double time to recover. Or, if you believe that solid chasing isn’t needed anyway, you still can set up your teammate’s attack with a hard 30″ uphill steady pull which would have made possible for Vanendert to get Jungels. What those guys said after the race is meant precisely to try and justify that they didn’t race as proper teammates, but as captains themselves or at most as lieutenants but with their own right to hit the mark: yet, since they feel that it wasn’t the best idea ever, they try to cover it up with some excuse. The club ride example proves that point: everybody there is riding for himself, if you had teams within the club – and you were able to ride as such – you’d rarely see the situations you describe, which are otherwise common when there’s a small group of leaders with no gregari. However, as I said above, I understand perfectly (maybe not *that* perfectly in Lottos’s case) that both the colleagues and the team didn’t want to push a protected rider into the gregario slot.
          However, I agree with the last couple of lines!

    • I think it was just a near perfectly executed move by QS. Gilbert’s little dig will have put everyone in or near the red to follow and in that inevitable little lull at the top of the climb Jungels went whilst everyone caught their breath. It ended up with the best time trialist left in the race riding off, requiring at least two riders to pull him back whilst the best ‘sprinter’ left in the race sat on. It was a lose/lose situation for everyone else.

      • After watching the replay a couple of times, I can only agree with you. Bike Racing 101 as demonstrated by QS. Last time I checked doping doesn’t improve your tactics, though I suppose one could argue these guys wouldn’t have been up there to execute them – if you’re accusing QS of using some of that “marginal gains” stuff?

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