Alaphilippe and Liège champ Poels will miss Ardennes

Two Ardennes favorites are out of the hilly races due to knee injuries. Julian Alaphilippe and Wout Poels will look to recover for the summer.

Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe and Team Sky’s Wout Poels, two top favorites for the hilly classics in the Belgian Ardennes, will each miss the rest of the spring one-day races due to knee injuries. Poels won Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2016, and Alaphilippe was second at Liège in 2015.

“The problem has been in my right knee. I had some pain which was there when I rode,” said Poels. “It’s been a tough time because I’ve been on the bike, off the bike, on the bike.

“Everybody knows you need to have done a certain amount of work to be super good in the Ardennes classics. If you’ve not put the hours in and done the long days — Liège-Bastogne-Liège is more than 250km — then you won’t do well.”

Poels was fourth overall at February’s Ruta del Sol in Spain but has not raced since. In a team statement, he said his plan for 2017 was to race both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. The 29-year-old admitted the forced rest might give him fresher legs later in the summer.

Michal Kwiatkowski, winner of Milano-Sanremo in March, should take the reins as Team Sky’s Ardennes captain.

Alaphilippe, 24, earned quality results through March, with a fifth-place overall finish at Paris-Nice and third at Milano-Sanremo. “It’s a very difficult moment for me. In the past days I didn’t train, hoping the pain will go away, but this didn’t happen,” the Frenchman said. “I am sad to miss the Ardennes classics, which I’m very fond of, but there really is nothing I can do about it. Despite this, I remain upbeat and hope to return as soon as possible to action. At the same time, I want to wish all the best to my teammates who will ride the Ardennes over the next weeks.”

Quick-Step will likely rely on Tour of Flanders winner Philippe Gilbert in the Ardennes, as he has won all three of those races (Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège) throughout the course of his successful career.

Coincidentally, Giro d’Italia favorite Fabio Aru (Astana) revealed Monday that he too has a knee injury and will miss his home tour.