The Inner Ring | The Moment Liège-Bastogne-Liège Was Won

    No need for too much analysis, Tadej Pogačar attacks early on La Redoute. Richard Carapaz gives chase but can’t stay in contact and the Slovenian solos away for the win. It really was that simple.

    Is there more to write home about? A massive crash saw the field split just inside the 100km to go point, on the approach to the first of the climbs after Bastogne. A road block of tangled bodies and bikes meant and caught behind simply could not get past including Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Pidcock and Romain Grégoire. You could blame them for sitting at the back but it wasn’t too much of a rookie mistake given the weather and many riders sitting up to remove clothing before the race heated up. Among those injured was Kévin Vauquelin.

    Up ahead the lead bunch didn’t wait with Israel-PremierTech moving to the front and upping the pace, within no time they’d reeled in the early breakaway and had Van der Poel and company at almost a minute. Things would regroup but those delayed lost some of their plumage in the chase, it might explain why Pidcock didn’t feature as much as expected but the cold probably froze many out of action too.

    UAE led the bunch across the Ardennes with Finn Fisher-Black and Domen Novak setting the pace. Having asked yesterday where Pogačar would attack, La Redoute or the Roche-aux-Faucons, we quickly got the answer as he launched on La Redoute.

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    The interesting thing was he went early. It made sense as the longer the climb the more his advantage over many of the others, especially Mathieu van der Poel. Still, this was early, the opening section parallel to the express road. Novak finished his pull and Pogačar attacked. A quick burst out of the saddle, maybe 12 pedal strokes and he was away while behind everyone else was still standing on the pedals as they tried to chase.

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    Richard Carapaz was the best of the rest but the contrast in styles was flagrant, Pogačar seated and spinning while Carapaz had his chain in the big ring and was bobbing about trying to recruit every sinew possible.

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    Pogačar was away and quickly taking time. At one point he was racing in the dry while the chasers behind were being blasted by hail, even Mother Nature was supplying the symbolism. Marc Hirshi was behind but was hardly needed to dampen the chase. Race over? Not quite as there was a lively contest behind. Ben Healy made several attacks and on his third move he was joined by Romain Bardet. The pair had Benoît Cosnefroy and Romain Grégoire join and would stay away until the Roche-aux-Faucons.

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    The quartet never had much more than 20 seconds and Bardet persisted on the climb, he only had a few seconds on the chase led by Egan Bernal and Maxim Van Gils. Each attack from the group though couldn’t quite reach Bardet’s slipstream and he persisted, visibly on the limit yet never giving up.

    As the descent into Seraing began Van der Poel bridged across to the chase group and the second inevitability of the day cam into view: he’d be on the podium with his sprint. Bardet held for second and sure enough Van der Poel was fastest in the finishing straight to finish third.

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    The Verdict
    A clear win for Tadej Pogačar in a race with few surprises. His team set the pace for much of the day and once his last helper pulled over he attacked and went solo to the finish. All so simple but only he can pull it off.

    Some riders complain in private that their team’s pre-race briefings can be an hour long, an information overload. UAE’s plan was simple as they took turns to set the pace before their leader finished off the job alone in the final 30km. For Pogačar this wasn’t just another win. Two years ago he didn’t start this race after his partner’s mother died and he pointed to the sky crossing the finish line today in tribute; a year ago he crashed and broke his scaphoid.

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    The race for second place was entertaining. On the one hand they were beaten and only trading moves within the final 30km… but it was only last year that we were wowed by the audacity of Remco Evenepoel launching on La Redoute. Before the race often only came to the boil on the Roche-aux-Faucons. Romain Bardet’s catch-me-if-you can act was a thrill and satisfying to see him get his best result after a decade of trying to win here, Egan Bernal was active in the final. Ben Healy has been very strong in the Ardennes but couldn’t get a result.

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    Van der Poel’s podium is probably the best result for him: he can see a route to victory but how to engineer a bunch sprint on the banks of the Meuse? He also becomes the first rider to finish on the podium in the Ronde, Roubaix and Liège… since his father Adrie.

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