The Mur doesn't lie: Alaphilippe is back on top
April 21 st 2021 - 16:37
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) returned to his winning habits on the Mur de Huy, conquering the Flèche Wallonne for the third time in his career (2018, 19, 21) on Wednesday. The French World Champion edged Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in the final metres after a strong attack from the Slovenian in his first attempt on the Mur. The Spanish expert Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished 3rd and claimed a podium spot for the 8th time in Huy. This is Julian Alaphilippe’s third victory with the rainbow jersey on his shoulders and the second this season.
The 168 starters roll from the Dôme, Spirou Charleroi Bastket Club’s facility, and reach km 0 at 11:32. UAE Team Emirates, featuring last year’s winner Marc Hirschi and Tadej Pogačar, don’t start after two members of the team underwent tests that returned positive to Covid-19.
Attacks fly from the gun and it takes 19km of hard battle for a group of five riders to get away with Alex Howes (EF Education-Nippo), Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto-Soudal), Sander Armée (Team Qhubeka Assos), Maurits Lammertink (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and Julian Mertens (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise). They are joined by Diego Rosa (Arkéa-Samsic), Louis Vervaeke (Alpecin-Fenix) and Simone Velasco (Gazprom-Rusvelo) at km 39.
The gap reaches 5’10’’ over the first climb of the day, Côte d’Yvoir (km 51.5), with Sander Armée leading the breakaway. Riders from Ineos-Grenadiers, Movistar, Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck-Quick-Step work together to control the break with a maximum gap of 5’25’’ at km 75.
Ineos-Grenadiers set the stage for Pidcock
The tension increases in the bunch in the first climbing sequence of the day, with the Côte de Thon, Côte de Groynne and Côte de Haut-Bois. Movistar take the helm in the Côte de Gives and the gap is down to 3’15’’ as the race enters the final circuit, with 71km to go.
The pack moves closer with the first ascent of the Mur de Huy: 2’25’’ at the summit with Ineos-Grenadiers’ Tom Pidcock and Michal Kwiatkowski in the front positions. The British squad keeps pushing on the Côte d’Ereffe before Dylan Teuns’ Bahrain Victorious set the pace with 40km to go.
A strong pace on the penultimate ascent of the Mur de Huy sees the race explode. Only Vervaeke, Lammertink, Armée, Moniquet and Howes remain at the front with a lead down to 1'15''. Simon Geschke (Cofidis) accelerates in the bunch, many other riders counter-attack and there are only about 70 riders left in contention for the win.
High tension in the finish
The final lap begins with a crash involving the former winner Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) and the gifted rookie Pidcock. They both return to the bunch with some 25km to go, ahead of the final challenges of the day. Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ) leads the bunch in the final ascent of the Côte d’Ereffe and cuts the attackers’ lead to 30’’.
Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) accelerates at the bottom of the penultimate climb of the day, Côte du chemin des Gueuses. Omar Fraile (Astana) and Ilan Van Wilder (Team DSM) join him but Deceuninck-Quick-Step and Ineos-Grenadiers make sure they are caught right after the summit, with under 10km to go to the finish.
Lammertink holds on for as long as possible at the front and is eventually caught right at the bottom of the Mur de Huy. Primoz Roglič is the first favorite to go, 350m from the line. His massive acceleration allows him to open a gap but Julian Alaphilippe slowly catches him and moves past in the final 100m to conquer the Flèche Wallonne for the third time.