Alaphilippe lets 'legs do the talking' for third Fleche Wallonne victory

Charleroi (Belgium) (AFP) –


World champion Julian Alaphilippe won the Fleche Wallonne cycling classic for the third time on Wednesday after reeling in Slovenia's Primoz Roglic on a thrilling final 1.3km climb that hit gradients of more than 19 per cent.

The Frenchman, who also claimed victory in 2018 and 2019, sat up at the line and wagged a finger at the roadside fans after his impressive late comeback.

Roglic had attacked near the bottom of the final Mur de Huy climb, saying later: "I was at the front so why not?"

Only Alaphilippe and Alejandro Valverde were able to follow, as the Spaniard finished third, six seconds down.

"The legs do the talking. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy with Roglic, Valverde and everyone on my wheel. This one really feels good, with the jersey," said the winner.

"I conserved my energy all day long and I knew exactly what I had to do for the finale," said the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider.

"I wanted to show I had the mentality and lift my arms up at the end of the race."

Vuelta a Espana champion Roglic took defeat on the chin.

"There isn't much philosophy in the last climb, if you have the legs, you go. Julian caught me and passed me so he was definitely the strongest," said Roglic.

Valverde showed that just a few days short of his 41st birthday he is no spent force.

"It was good to be up there with the best," he said. "I've been second, I've won five times, I had to be third too!"

British rookie Tom Pidcock finished sixth, some 11 seconds down after falling and losing a shoe, but the power of his first performance in the race bodes well for Ineos' new rider.

There were 12 categorised climbs and another dozen hills on the 193.6km run from Charleroi to the steep finish at the Mur de Huy climb.

Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar's Team UAE Emirates withdrew from the race just hours before the classic started due to Covid-19 cases.

Pogacar was scheduled to compete alongside last year's Fleche Wallonne winner Marc Hirschi.

UAE Emirates said they aim to participate in Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, another key early season race.

In the earlier women's race Anna van der Breggen won for the seventh consecutive season before she retires to start a family.

Dutch rider van der Breggen edged Poland's Katarzyna Niewiadoma in a two-way sprint with Italian Elisa Longo Borghini in third after 130km of racing in Belgium.

"It's a strange thought that I am sitting here for the last time at this race," said the Dutch star who is retiring to start a family.

"Next year I won't bother the girls anymore, it's up to somebody else. I'm really happy to finish it off like this with seven straight wins," she added.

Men's results:

1. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/Deceuninck) 4hrs 36min 25sec, 2. Primoz Roglic (SLO/JUM) same time, 3. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) at 06sec, 4. Michael Woods (CAN/ISR) 08, 5. Warren Barguil (FRA/ARK) 11, 6. Tom Pidcock (GBR/INE) 11, 7. David Gaudu (FRA/FDJ) 11, 8. Esteban Chaves (COL/BIK) 11, 9. Richard Carapaz (ECU/INE) 11, 10. Maximilian Schachmann (GER/BOR) 16.