Bob Jungels added one more high point to Quick-Step’s 2018 spring of domination by winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. Jungels attacked on the Roche-aux-Faucons, more than 15 kilometers from the finish line. His long, solo victory brought back memories from the Lièges of old — not since 2009 has the race been won with such an audacious individual move.
Why did he go so early? What factors contributed to his win? Let’s roundtable!
What factors led to Jungels attacking so far out?
Dane Cash @danecash: Jungels is a big time trialing talent who doesn’t have the same kind of punch that Valverde has. Attacking from afar was his best (only?) card to play. The initial expectation was probably that the move would allow teammate Julian Alaphilippe to take it easy and let his rivals do the chasing. And the move did just that — while also giving Quick-Step yet another classics win.
Fred Dreier @freddreier: Everyone now expects LBL to be decided in the final two kilometers. Fans expect it, Hoody expects it, Valverde expects it. I think that everyone in that group saw the Roche-aux-Faucons climb as just another hurdle to get over on the way into the finish, and not a legitimate springboard for victory. Why did he go so far out? Because nobody thinks that a move like that can win.
Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: He really had nothing to lose by taking a solo flyer. Sure he’s a top-class rider, but I don’t think anyone pegged him as an outright favorite for Liège. Plus, with that Luxembourg champion’s kit, it’s easy to forget he’s one of the many (MANY) talented Quick-Step riders in the peloton. Camouflage!
Andrew Hood @eurohoody: Jungels’s move was a classic “chase me now or chase me later” tactical move that put all the pressure on Quick-Step’s opponents. Much like the Belgian outfit’s been doing all spring, having strength in numbers is a huge advantage. Jungels said the surge was designed to force their rivals to chase and to help set up Alaphilippe.
What ultimately doomed the chase in its pursuit of Jungels?
Dane: The biggest factor was Jungels himself. Much like in Flanders, Quick-Step put one of the best solo artists in the race on the attack. And, much like in Flanders, Quick-Step had a great finisher (Alaphilippe) lurking in the chase group. Even the teams with multiple riders left knew they’d have to outpunch Alaphilippe and Valverde in the end if Jungels were caught, which is not an appetizing prospect.
Fred: Sure, the chasers had to deal with Alaphilippe, which may have impacted their desire. But it also seemed like there was a general malaise within that group—perhaps it was fatigue, perhaps it was simply the belief that they could peg Jungels back in the final kilometers. Rather than organize a chase, they chose to wait.
Spencer: Well, apparently, none of the guys in this race tuned in to watch Tour of Flanders. Quick-Step pulled out the same tactic that delivered Niki Terpstra to a win back in early April: Send a strong time trialist up the road early, and cover attacks with your fast finisher. Someone should have followed the initial attack. Failing that, they should have really driven a hard chase when he was nearly caught with about 10km to go, instead of attacking and trying to bridge.
Andy: More than an ill-fated chase it was Jungels’s big engine that carried the day. He’s like an Ardennes-bred Terstra, with a strong TT motor that single-handedly foiled the chase. Dan Martin’s late puncture took out a key player out of the mix and Valverde admittedly wasn’t as sharp as he’d been in previous editions. Merckx’s record five Liège wins is safe for at least another year.
Which teams or riders should have played a different hand?
Dane: I don’t have too much criticism for any team tactics. Perhaps Movistar should have saved some matches instead of doing the work for much of the afternoon. If they knew Valverde’s plan was to stay put until the finale, it would have helped to have other riders in that group to chase down the Bob Jungelses attacking from afar.
Fred: There were multiple teams with two riders in the front group when Jungels attacked. Movistar, Astana, Lotto-Soudal, Sunweb, Bahrain-Merida, and even Mitchelton-Scott all had a marquee rider and a secondary rider. So why didn’t these teams organize a concerted chase with their second-tier riders? I think that criticism should go to them for not organizing a concerted chase.
Spencer: I think Bahrain-Merida gets the most blame for putting Pozzovivo and Gasparotto in the top-10. One of those two Italians should have been a designated workhorse to chase down Jungels. Similarly, Mitchelton-Scott had two riders in Haig and Kreuziger who might have done better with a collaborative approach, rathe than attacking on the late climbs.
Andy: Perhaps Woods missed a chance to hitch a ride on the Jungels Express on the Roche-aux-Faucons, but he countered well with Bardet to secure the podium. The race was harder earlier in the day and that took a collective toll on the entire peloton. Heat and humidity were also a factor. There simply wasn’t a determined chase by enough warm bodies to bring back Jungels.
Does Liège-Bastogne-Liège need to change its course? Why or why not?
Dane: I don’t think it would hurt to remove the final climb into Ans and just finish in Liège instead, as Hoody recently advocated. This year’s race did show, however, that maybe that isn’t necessary to make for a more interesting final half hour of racing.
Fred: No way! I love that tired, sluggish drive for Ans in those final seven kilometers or so. Everyone is so hosed, that the racing goes down in slow motion. Plus, that slow finale gifted us some great LBL moments, like the panda man and the guy who wore a full Chicago Bears uniform.
Spencer: Sunday’s race proved that it isn’t quite as formulaic as my esteemed colleague Mr. Hood would have you believe. It’s been awhile since a bold solo attack worked in Liège. I thought this year’s edition was pretty compelling, especially the unexpected race for second, which saw Valverde miss the boat and Michael Woods earn the biggest result of his blossoming career. It’s still not my favorite monument, but I was pretty satisfied after tuning in this year.
Andy: I think the race could be more exciting with a finish in downtown Liège. Despite the fireworks Sunday, we’ve seen too many editions of the race devolve into a waiting game. It all depends on how they would route the finale after coming over Roche-aux-Faucons. If the final run into a new finish in Liège is on wide roads and they do not at least take the race over Saint-Nicolas, it could be a reduced bunch sprint. No one wants to see that.