BREAKDOWN: Five Takeaways From La Flèche Wallonne’s Final Kilometer
What Does This Mean for Liège-Bastogne-Liège?
Flèche Wallonne Breakdown: The mid-week Walloon classic came down to the last meters of the steep summit of the Mur de Huy – Bahrain-Victorious’ Dylan Teuns took the win, what does that mean for Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège? Spencer Martin gives us his ‘Takeaways’ from Flèche Wallonne.
Dylan Teuns took on the twin King of La Flèche on Wednesday, Julian Alaphilippe (3 career wins), and Alejandro Valverde (5 career wins) with a mix of raw power and superior positioning head into the impossibly steep final pitch. It might have been shocking to watch Teuns ride on the front from 300 meters and come away with the win, but if we go back and watch the film of the final kilometer, it tells an unusually rich story for such a short stretch of tarmac and shows how Teuns made this possible.
4th for the World champion – Julian Alaphilippe
La Flèche Wallonne Final Kilometer Race Notes
1km: Positioning is key to winning on the Huy, and nobody knows this more than 5x winner Alejandro Valverde. If a rider is too far forward, they risk being swarmed from behind towards the top, and if they are too far back, they will never be able to make up the necessary ground to compete for the win.
Heading into the brutally steep finish up the Mur de Huy, we can see two Movistar riders in the top ten, but neither are Valverde, two Ineos riders, including their leader for the day, Dani Martinez. Dylan Teuns, the eventual winner, is surprisingly far up in the ground, and 3x winner, Julian Alaphilippe, is in perfect position around 12-riders back.
800m: As the grade kicks up, the first Movistar rider peels off while their last Valverde domestique takes over. Teuns, who is riding extremely aggressively, moves into 2nd wheel while Martinez falls back and Alaphilippe and Valverde aren’t even in the frame yet.
700m-ish: When Valverde’s Movistar teammate, Enric Mas, hits the front, he looks back and is likely slightly confused that he doesn’t see his team leader on his wheel yet. Teuns looks comfortable in 2nd while the Ineos duo (Michał Kwiatkowski and Martinez) are quickly falling through the field. We can see the tippy top of Valverde’s helmet at the very bottom of the frame, but he still has significant ground to cover.
600m: Valverde quickly recognizes he is too far back and makes a huge effort to close the gap to Mas at the front. He smartly waits until a corner to make this move to cut down on the distance he has to cover, but it is still a massive effort that he pays for later.
475m: With roughly 500m left to go on the climb, we can see that Valverde is in 2nd with his teammate Mas in the lead with Teuns right on their wheels. Is it worth noting that Tadej Pogačar is towards the front but only after a massive effort to correct his poor position at the base of the climb.
At 30 meters
300m: Teuns hits the front a long way from the finish. Valverde jumps right on his wheel, with Aleksandr Vlasov right behind him. Pogačar is in 4th, but we can see him already struggling, likely due to his massive effort to join the leaders earlier on the climb.
100m: Teuns starts his full-on sprint long way to the finish and only Valverde is able to follow him. Just a few years ago, Teuns would be setting up a Valverde win with this move.
Finish: But this year, an odd thing happened. Right when I expected Valverde to sprint around Teuns for an easy win, he started to fall off the wheel of Teuns, who easily rides away for the win while Valverde limps home in 2nd.
Liège Top Ten:
1) Dylan Teuns +0
2) Alejandro Valverde +2
3) Aleksandr Vlasov +2
4) Julian Alaphilippe +5
5) Dani Martinez +7
6) Mike Woods +7
7) Ruben Guerreiro +7
8) Rudy Molard +7
9) Warren Barguil +7
10) Alexis Vuillermoz +7
Teuns got the better of the ‘old man’ Valverde
1)Dylan Teuns has a history of impressive uphill wins
- Teuns has been a good uphill finisher his entire professional career, notably on a pair of similar finishes at the 2017 Tour de Wallonie and the La Planche des Belles Filles finish at the 2019 Tour de France.
- While he doesn’t win often (13 career wins) the potential for this winning ride was right in front of our faces the entire time, but we were just too enamored with big names like Julian Alaphilippe, Tadej Pogačar, and Tom Pidcock to see it.
Not easy to position on the Mur de Huy
2)Positioning heading into the climb was key
- Outside of being a very strong uphill finisher, Teuns won this race due to his supreme positioning heading into the climb. While he lacked the team support of Valverde, it didn’t particularly matter since once he had his position at the front, he was able to hold it and the effects of drafting were extremely minimized on the extremely steep slopes.
- This steepness means that riders who want to win need to be in place at the front before they even get to the climb, and being just 10-slots back can make the difference between winning and losing. Even Pogačar, the stronger rider on the planet when the road goes uphill, couldn’t make up for his lack of positioning at the base.
Position is everything
3)Teuns sprint looked doomed to fail, but his position made it possible
- It might look like he launched his sprint far too early, but by the time he sprinted for the line, Teuns had used significantly less energy than the others due to the fact that he came into the climb at the front and didn’t have to make up any distance on the others.
4)Alejandro Valverde is a legend
- Valverde, at 41-years-old, got his best finish on one of the most explosive and difficult finishes in pro cycling since his 2nd place in 2018.
- However, the sight of him fading while Teuns rode away in the final meters would have been unthinkable in his prime, and, while it is inevitable, it is still shocking to be reminded that the rules of time still apply to Valverde.
Teuns shows a clean pair of heels to the top men
5) Bahrain is an emerging powerhouse
- After a great 2021 after years in the wilderness, one would have excused the Bahrain team if they reverted to the mean in 2022.
- However, they have made it clear that 2021 was not a fluke and they are prepared to build on that success. They already have a Monument win in the bag due to Matej Mohorič’s Milano-Sanremo win, and now have Pello Bilbao in the GC lead at the Tour of Alps and have beat some of the sport’s best uphill finishers at La Flèche.
- And all of this has come after losing a difficult 2020 off-season that saw front office upheaval like team manager Rod Ellingworth leaving to run Ineos.
Teuns now a favorite for Liège?
What Does This Mean for Liège-Bastogne-Liège?
- While some of the Liège favorites like Pogačar and Alaphilippe appeared to struggle today at Flèche, it is worth remembering the importance of positioning and that these are two incredibly different races. While they are both run in the same region and in the same week, there aren’t too many parallels we can draw between events.
- But, two things I want to point out that I noticed today were the performances of Julian Alaphilippe and Aleksandr Vlasov.
- Vlasov, after showing glimpses of greatness, is finally putting it all together after his move to Bora-Hansgrohe in the off-season and his 3rd place at Flèche on such a steep and explosive finish is further evidence that he is on the form of his life. He can’t sprint, which will hurt his chances at Liège, but I wouldn’t rule him out on Sunday (and keep an eye on him at the upcoming Giro d’Italia).
- The other performance I noticed was Julian Alaphilippe’s, who before Wednesday had won three out of the four editions, and despite near-perfect position heading into the Huy, couldn’t match the pace of Vlasov, Valverde, or Teuns. While one bad day doesn’t mean anything, this is part of a larger trend of the World Champion being routinely beaten on finishes he would have dominated in the past. It seems silly to criticize a rider who has won two World Championships in the past two seasons, but Alaphilippe is without a doubt not at the peak of his game so far in 2022.
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# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #