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Everyone is talking about Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe, and rightly so. The pair have dominated the spring classics, winning just about everything between them, except Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Behind them, this spring’s bridesmaid and nearly man has been the quietly impressive Jakob Fuglsang (Astana). The veteran Dane has been on a tear this spring, finishing on the podium in the three major one-day races he’s targeted so far.
Each time he’s been close to winning, however, he’s run into either Alaphilippe or van der Poel. At Strade Bianche, it was Alaphilippe getting the best of him. On Sunday at Amstel Gold Race, he was bitterly caught out by van der Poel’s late surge. And on Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne, it was once again the mustachioed Frenchman out-muscling him up the Mur de Huy.
“It just shows that my shape is super-good and that I can finish like this in a race that normally doesn’t suit me,” Fuglsang said. “I’m looking forward to Sunday and hopefully that will be another nice race for us.”
Fuglsang’s recent success in one-day racing comes as a bit of a surprise. With the exception of two national TT titles, all of his other 19 career victories have come during stage races. In 16 career starts in major one-day races, he’s only once punched into the top-five, with fourth in the 2010 Giro di Lombardia. Add two more top-10s in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but Fuglsang’s ever-steady skillset means he’s naturally inclined toward stage racing, where he’s won such races as Critérium du Dauphiné, the Tour of Denmark, and Ruta del Sol.
Fuglsang, 34, is entering the 2019 season in the best early season form he’s had in years, and he’s intent on squeezing it for all it’s worth.
On Wednesday, reconfirming his great form, he uncorked a “long-distance” attack midway up the Mur de Huy. Most of the winning surges come on the famous “S-curve” with barely 300m to go. Fuglsang went midway up the Mur and disrupted the rhythm of the most explosive favorites. It’s a move that almost paid off with the win.
“Nobody tries to go from far, and everyone waits, so with a sprint of 200m, I’m not going to win,” Fuglsang told Cycling Pro Net. “I knew I had to try from a little further. I gave it a shot, and it almost worked out.”
So far, a big win in the one-days has eluded him. He has snagged some quality results in his best season start in years, including the overall at Ruta del Sol, a stage win and third at Tirreno-Adriatico along with fourth overall at Itzulia Basque Country, won by his teammate Ion Izagirre. Fuglsang was bumped off the Basque podium by a race jury decision due to a finish-line mix-up involving Emanuel Buchmann, who went the wrong way at a poorly marked route deviation.
A determined Fuglsang will reload at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. The longer distance and series of climbs over the rugged Ardennes always favors the strong, and Fuglsang has confirmed all spring he is among the strongest in the peloton.
A new Liège finale could see a shakeout similar to Amstel Gold Race, where longer-distance moves have a chance of sticking.
With van der Poel not racing, Fuglsang only has to get past Alaphilippe.
“I don’t hate him,” Fuglsang said with a laugh. “We still have to race for it. At Amstel, at least I got him. We have different qualities — he wins more in one-day races, and me more in the stage races. We are not equal, but at least we can battle. Without the competition, it wouldn’t be as fun.”