The Quick-Step Floors rider became the first Frenchman in over two decades to conquer the mythical Mur de Huy.
Julian Alaphilippe scored the biggest triumph of his career at one of the hardest ever editions of Flèche Wallonne (Seraing – Huy, 198.5 kilometers), after jumping clear from a stretched out peloton with 150 meters to go and leaving everyone else trailing on the double-digit gradients of the Mur de Huy, the iconic climb of the Belgian Classic which this year ran its 82nd edition.
“I have been on the podium of this race twice, and if the first time three years ago I was surprised, the second time I was frustrated, but I also took that result as a confirmation. I have always kept believing and worked hard to land a victory in a classic. The team was extraordinary, protected and kept me in a good position, so I want to thank them for their help! Everything was perfect today and now I want to celebrate this fantastic performance”, Julian said after scoring his fourth win of the season.
Eight men broke clear at the start of the day, but the race was properly ignited with 40 kilometers to go, when a numerous group which included a strong Quick-Step Floors delegation slipped away and caught the escapees, while at the same time putting 20 seconds between them and the bunch. From that group, six riders attacked and went on to build a 50-second gap over the pack; among them was also Volta a Catalunya stage winner Maximilian Schachmann, who responded to several attacks, including the one of Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) over the top of Côte de Cherave, with six kilometers left.
On the brutal Mur de Huy, a climb which features on the course since 1983, Schachmann dropped Haig and rode alone into the famous S-bend, while behind the big favourites began to show their intentions. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal) was the first to attack, only for Alaphilippe to respond with remarkable ease. The duo passed Schachmann inside the final 150 meters before Julian kicked again on the tough ramps of the climb and gapped defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Vanendert, who were left fighting for the minor places on the podium.
The biggest victory of Alaphilippe’s career was also the first of a French rider at Flèche Wallonne since 1997 and marked Quick-Step Floors’ 26th UCI success of the season, one that cements our grip on the World Tour team standings after 17 events. This unforgettable day was rounded out by Max Schachmann’s maiden top 10 in a classic, after the young German still had enough left in the tank to finish in eighth place.
“I was the only leader of the team, but I couldn’t have made it without such a strong squad! In the end, after Pieter shut down every move on the Cherave and Bob and Philippe worked to bring me in the best position at the foot of the Mur de Huy, I let my legs do the talking. Things were heating up, but I remained calm and rode my own tempo before attacking at the right moment”, Julian explained at the press conference.
In three Flèche Wallonne participations, Alaphilippe had never finished lower than second place, and now, after finally getting that much-desired win – the standout achievement of his career – he is looking forward to Liège–Bastogne–Liège, the last Monument of this spring.
“For now, all that I want is to enjoy this incredible moment. It’s a beautiful victory and it makes me very happy. From tomorrow, we will start to think of Sunday. Liège–Bastogne–Liège is a race that suits me, I was on the podium at my debut there, in 2015, and I hope to have another strong display.”
Photo credit: ©Bryn Lennon/ Getty Images