Spring came to a spectacular close at the men’s and women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.
Both races came down to the wire, with five-up sprints deciding who would take the medals for the Ardennes monument. Demi Vollering came away rewarded with her first WorldTour win after a stellar classics campaign, while Tadej Pogačar proved that Tour de France greats can win the biggest one-day races too.
- Race report: Demi Vollering delivers in downtown Liège
- Race report: Tadej Pogačar takes maiden monument at Liège
But what were the key players behind Vollering and Pogačar saying after Sunday’s showdown? Here’s what:
Primož Roglič – ‘I could not follow the best’
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) showed an uncharacteristic moment of weakness when the pace heated up on the Roche-aux-Faucons climb Sunday. The Slovenian matched the frantic tempo of UAE-Team Emirates and Deceuninck-Quick-Step at the base of the day’s final climb only to miss the split when Michael Woods kicked to pull out the final five toward the summit.
Roglič put the motor into a 12-strong chase group, but was unable to reel in the charging leaders, finishing out his final race before the Tour de France in 13th place.
- Amstel Gold Race: 69th
- Flèche Wallonne: 2nd
- Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 13th
“I didn’t have my best legs in the final. I could not follow the best riders in the race. Of course you always try to go with the first, but it was not possible today. The opening phase was quite slow because of the headwind, but at the end the race completely exploded. I felt that, too.
“I look back on my spring with satisfaction. I was always ready to fight for the podium. Now I’m going into a rest period. After that I’m going to prepare myself for the Tour de France by doing altitude training.”
Elisa Longo Borghini – ‘Sprinting for town signs is helping’
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) went to the line in the final selection of five riders after teammate Lucinda Brand had been active in the final escape group Sunday morning.
Not known for her finishing speed and outnumbered by two SD Worx riders, Longo Borghini came fast from the back of the group with a strong kick, but never had the legs to hit the front, finishing third on the podium.
- Amstel Gold Race: 8th
- Fleche Wallonne: 3rd
- Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 3rd
“I did believe I could go on the podium. [Sport director] Ina Teutenberg told me to go at the very last moment. I took Vollering’s wheel but I couldn’t pass her. I’m pretty satisfied about my third place and I couldn’t ask for more. Hopefully Audrey [Cordon-Ragot] is proud of me and my sprint!
“I couldn’t expect more and chapeau to the winner because she was really strong today, and the world champion put her in the best position to win this race. Congratulations to the two riders ahead of me. I have no regrets, this morning I said I would have been happy if I came to the finish line having given my 100 percent, and I did, so I can’t complain. The team rode really well, so I need to thank Trek-Segafredo, they were riding really good for me. I really need to learn and believe a little bit more in myself and believe that I can also play the game in a sprint. Sprinting for the town signs in training is helping!”
Bye Ardennes!A week of hard racing is done and dusted. A lot of lessons learnt and two 3rd places at Flèche Wallonne and Bastogne- Liège. Now time to recover and to spend some time with people I love the most before building up for the other important goals. 🥳
📸 @GettySport pic.twitter.com/dqUoe45BFT
— Elisa Longo Borghini (@ElisaLongoB) April 25, 2021
Julian Alaphilippe – ‘Perfect from Pogačar’
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuinck-Quick-Step) again came close to winning in downtown Liège, but again came away empty-handed. Like last year, the world champion saw a Slovenian edge him out of monument glory in a dramatic sprint finale – only rather than Primož Roglič diving under his nose like in 2020, this time it was Tadej Pogačar who stole the show.
Alaphilippe was aggressive in ensuring the final bunch of five that stayed away in the final 10km and launched a searing sprint from fourth wheel in the kick for the line. The Frenchman looked to be on his way to the win only for Pogačar to come off his wheel and round him with a hard acceleration for the win.
- Amstel Gold Race: 6th
- Fleche Wallonne: 1st
- Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 2nd
“It was a big goal for me. I think I did well to be on the podium behind the Tour de France winner – I’m quite happy but I would prefer to win. Being on the podium in Liège is always something special. I tried to win but Tadej was stronger. Congrats to him.
“I wasn’t focusing on anyone [in the sprint]. I opened my sprint at the right moment and did everything as I should, but one rider was stronger today and there wasn’t much to do about that, so I don’t have any regrets. Pogačar was clever, he was on my wheel and that played out well for him. His timing was good and he had the power to come back from behind. It was perfect from him. Bravo. It’s a magnificent victory. No regrets.
“Despite not winning the race, I am still happy, because being on the podium of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is always a special moment. Overall, I can be satisfied with my Ardennes campaign.”
— Liège-Bastogne-Liège (@LiegeBastogneL) April 25, 2021
Annemiek van Vleuten – ‘I wanted to try that one big attack’
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) made a number of attacks on the final climb of the Roche-aux-Faucons in a bid to split the race early. With sprint threats Demi Vollering and Marianne Vos in the bunch, it was down to the Movistar captain to make the race as hard as possible, and her aggression helped to drop Vos from the front group.
Heading into the final straight, van Vleuten again tried to shake things up, opening a long sprint. However, with fast-finishing Vollering on her wheel, the 38-year-old was destined to come out second-best.
- Amstel Gold Race: 3rd
- Fleche Wallonne: 4th
- Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 2nd
“I kept clear in mind that I wanted to try that one big attack to make the difference, yet there was such a strong headwind at La Redoute, and so you couldn’t open a gap without the others following you. If there was an attack, I had to be there, but I wanted to be the first to go on the move. In the end, I tried it after the Roche-aux-Faucons, but it came back together, and with van der Breggen pulling we knew it was going to be a sprint finish.
“After all the wear and tear of today, and seeing how, in races like the men’s Tour of Flanders, the one who looks like the favorite in terms of raw speed doesn’t win, I wanted to, at least, launch my sprint to try and get a good result – and I got that nice podium.”
Alejandro Valverde – ‘Left all the responsibility for the sprint’
There was no record-tying fifth win for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) this weekend. The Spaniard turned 41 on Sunday and was hoping for a celebratory fifth Liège victory that would draw him equal with Eddy Merckx’s record. However, the equally Merckxian Tadej Pogačar – who was just seven years old when Valverde won Liège for the first time – came and spoiled the party.
Valverde was maneuvered into leading out the five-man sprint at around 300-meters to go and was inevitably swamped, narrowly missing out on an eighth trip to the podium at the race.
- Amstel Gold Race: 5th
- Fleche Wallonne: 3rd
- Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 4th
“I think we’ve done a good job, staying with the top contenders and fighting for the win until the very last meters. I want to thank, and congratulate, the whole team for their job: they’ve really been there at all times, both in the pursuit of the early break and the late moves, Verona giving me a good hand in the end – I was able to join the selection at the Roche.
“I maybe left all responsibility for the sprint and just kept the lead for as far as I could go. Of course I’d have liked to make the podium, and winning would have been even better, but we must accept this result as it is and feel happy.”
— Movistar Team (@Movistar_Team) April 25, 2021
Kasia Niewiadoma – ‘Angry with my weak sprint’
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) was aggressive through the final hour of the race, and it was her and Annemiek van Vleuten’s moves that shelled many of the favorites over the final flurry of climbs.
Niewiadoma marked Anna van der Breggen’s wheel heading into the final gallop but was unable to jump to get into van Vleuten and Demi Vollering’s draft when the duo opened their acceleration. The Pole went head-to-head in a drag-strip sprint with Elisa Longo Borghini but ran out of gas, sitting up as the Italian came around her to deny Niewiadoma the podium slot.
- Amstel Gold Race: 10th
- Fleche Wallonne: 2nd
- Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 4th
“Coming into the finish I truly believed I could get a podium spot. My teammates had put in so much work and I was determined to finish it off right. I gave my best in the sprint but as you can see I’m just not much of a sprinter. That annoys me so much because it makes you feel quite sad when you cross the line after an otherwise great race.
“I definitely feel happy and satisfied with how my body felt this last week. The result in Amstel could have been a lot better. I’m very happy with second at La Flèche Wallonne. Today, I feel a bit angry with my weak sprint in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. That’s the result, but what has been important is that I’ve had a lot of support from my teammates in the last three races. They’ve been very committed, shown a lot of mental strength and every race they’ve been ready to go in to battle. That gave me a lot of confidence. I’m very grateful for them.”