Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang ended a run of near-misses by clinching cycling’s final spring one-day classic at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday, with a win or bust 20 kilometer solo break.
After finishing runner-up three times at the Fleche Wallonne and third in the Amstel Gold Race this month, Astana’s Fuglsang completed the 256 kilometer course in 6 hours 37 minutes and 37 seconds, well clear of Davide Formolo and Maximilian Schachmann in second and third.
“It’s an amazing feeling and a great way to finish off these three classics,” he said after soloing from the summit of the final climb.
“I don’t know why it took me so long, maybe I had to grow up,” said the 34-year-old.
He also revealed that pre-race favorite Julian Alaphilippe, who he finished behind on both his previous two races, had wished him luck when he himself had run out of steam.
“I looked at Alaphilippe to see if he had the legs, and he said to me ‘I hope you win’, so I knew he was running on empty,” Fuglsang revealed.
He then decided to go all in when EF’s Canadian leader Michael Woods, third here last year, attacked from a small group on the final climb.
“When Woods went I knew it was the right moment,” he said. “Now you have to die, now you have to go for it.”
When asked his feelings on Fuglsang’s win-or-die attitude, runner-up Formolo raised a smile.
“For me, it was mainly dying,” said the Italian.
“I was just missing a few meters to stay with Jakob, but that’s cycling.”
But Fuglsang, a former mountain bike champion, had a brush with disaster just 5km from home after sliding on white markings on the rain-slick road.
“It gave me the adrenaline rush I needed to get to the line,” Fuglsang said.
– Freezing conditions –
Bora rider Schachmann was magnanimous in defeat too.
“He deserved the win,” said the fast-rising 25-year-old German, who has four stage wins so far this season.
“I’m pretty happy having gone on the last climb with (Adam) Yates, (Vincenzo) Nibali and Woods, I’m proud.”
Despite looking fresh after the race, Schachmann admitted he had suffered on a cold, wet day with 73 riders failing to finish.
“The weather was extreme at three degrees and it rained for I don’t know how many hours,” he said.
The well-wrapped peloton that embarked Sunday morning through the winding Ardennes forests soon lost former winner Dan Martin and a frozen-looking world champion Alejandro Valverde who both pulled out early on.
A group of six ambitious riders launched a long-range escape from 13km, swiftly racking up a 10-minute gap before the last survivor Julien Bernard was caught 70km out.
Veterans Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert then attacked from deep, but only succeeded in losing energy and the initiative.
With 11 climbs left, there were a string of escapes all reeled in by the team Alaphilippe, winner of Milan-San Remo and the Fleche Wallonne.
The Frenchman edged Fuglsang after a two-man break in the Fleche and the pair also escaped together in the Amstel Gold before being caught in the last 400 meters.
This time Alaphilippe was dropped on the sharper section of the final climb when Fuglsang’s lead was still just a handful of seconds.
Yates bided his time in the elite group over the final 100km but just missed out on the podium as Schachmann edged him on the line, leaving the Briton with a respectable fourth place.
On their final race in Sky colors before the switch to a new sponsor next week, former Liege winner Wout Poels came 10th, while Michal Kwiatkowski was 12th, just 1min 29sec adrift.