Cycling: Alaphilippe ends one-day classic drought with Fleche win

Cycling: Alaphilippe ends one-day classic drought with Fleche win

Julian Alaphilippe
(L to R): Third-placed Belgian Jelle Vanendert of Lotto Soudal, winner French Julian Alaphilippe of Quick-Step Floors and second-placed Spanish Alejandro Valverde of Movistar Team celebrate on the podium. (ERIC LALMAND/BELGA/AFP)

HUY, Belgium: Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe earned the greatest win of his career on Wednesday (Apr 18), but had to be told after the finish line he had finally clinched victory in the Belgian one-day classic Fleche Wallonne.

The 25-year-old, twice a runner-up in the race, beat last year's winner Alejandro Valverde of Spain into second, with Belgian Jelle Vanendert third.

Alaphilippe - who had never won a one-day classic having also finished second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy, as well as third at Milan-San Remo - put in a blistering spurt on the punishing final Mur de Huy climb to the finish.

"I really wanted to win a big race. Finishing ahead of Valverde is special. I'm super happy," said the Quick-Step rider at the end of the 198.5-kilometre trek.

"When I crossed the line I didn't even know I'd won! I thought (Vincenzo) Nibali was up ahead of me. It was my cousin who told me at the finish that victory was mine."

Nibali actually finished 43rd, two minutes 13 seconds behind the winner. Alaphilippe kept in victory contention by staying near the frontrunners for the final burst up the Huy climb, but he was quick to share the plaudits among his team.

"In the finale it went well for us. Pieter Serry did a great turn for us on the Cherave climb, then Bob Jungels brought me up to the foot of the Huy climb along with Philippe Gilbert.

"Once I made my move to the front I just kept focus on my own effort. Vanendert's pace was doing some damage to the guys behind us and in the final metres I just tried to hurt myself as much as possible."

Valverde, the record five-time winner of this race, had left too much of a gap to Alaphilippe's back wheel and when he tried to kick for home, he couldn't close the distance.

"I was the man to beat, obviously, so everyone made life difficult for me," said the 37-year-old Spaniard.

"Trying to catch Nibali's late break tired us out just before the final climb. But it was on Huy that I lost the race, not earlier."

His four-year win streak at the Fleche now over, Valverde - who also won in 2006 - now risks missing out on an Ardennes classic victory for the first time since 2013.

He added: "I'm happy with the result, there's no sour grapes. Alaphilippe deserved to win, he's a great rider."

Valverde is aiming to match Belgian great Eddy Merckx's record of five wins in 'La Doyenne' - as Liege-Bastogne-Liege is known - on Sunday.

Although he remains wary of the formidable tactics that have made Quick Step the peloton's dominant force in recent weeks, Valverde warned: "I finished second, I'm in great form."

Alaphilippe said he would like to make it two from two on Sunday, but warned: "It's my first big classic win ahead of Alejandro Valverde who is, for me, one of the best riders in the world.

"We'll go and preview the race course for Liege on Friday, but then it will be time for a well-earned rest.

"But before anything, I want to savour this win with my teammates."

Earlier, Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen won the women's Fleche race for the fourth year in a row.

Anna van der Breggen
(L to R): Second-placed Dutch rider Amy Pieters, winner Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen and third-placed Dutch rider Annemiek Van Vleuten celebrate on the podium. (DIRK WAEM/BELGA/AFP)

Source: AFP/de