Liege (Belgium) (AFP) – Luxembourg’s Bob Jungels produced yet another surprise win from distance in cycling’s Spring Classics, winning the Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday after a solo breakaway from 20km out.
Canada’s Michael Woods came second with France’s Romain Bardet third to complete an unexpected podium at the end of the 258km race that took 6hrs, 24min and 44sec.
Jungels had made a break from 20km as a decoy, he admitted after the race, but he opened such a gap that the chief contenders failed to galvanise themselves until it was too late.
“We all thought Julian (Alaphilippe) and the others would pass me at Ans, but they never made it,” Jungels said with a broad grin.
A field packed with potential winners embarked in fine, sunny conditions from the cobbled town centre streets of Liege into the rolling, wooded forests to Bastogne.
An escape group of nine riders ramped up a gap of five minutes before a businesslike peloton decided that was quite enough on a course where it is famously difficult to keep track of others in the dense green Ardennes forests.
The Spring Classics have been littered with long range wins ripping up the rule book, as Vincenzo Nibali sprung a surprise in the Milan-SanRemo, Niki Terpstra broke from deep in the Tour of Flanders and Peter Sagan lighting the fuse that saw him burn up the opposition from 55km out in the Paris-Roubaix.
But this race has been decided on the final climb to Ans for the last 14 years and pre-race favourites Alaphilippe and four-time winner Alejandro Valverde were the men expected to battle it out.
At the penultimate climb, with 20km to go at the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, Quick Step captain Philippe Gilbert, then Sergio Henao and finally Jungels made attempted breaks off the front that kept everybody working.
Jungels looked around and saw a chance and the Luxembourg champion set off alone. With 17km to go Dan Martin went after him with such conviction that Alaphilippe briefly followed him.
But Martin’s run of bad luck continued and he suffered a puncture with 6km to go.
Bardet then followed a break from Woods and the pair came in some 37 seconds after Jungels had crossed the line in a joyous zig-zag celebration.