A long-awaited cycling Sunday is behind us. After the disappointment on Wednesday, when Tadej Pogačar and his UAE Team Emirates were not allowed to participate on the Walloon Arrow due to two falsely positive tests, the oldest Ardennes classic, “La Doyenne“ (Old Lady), was planned to take place on Sunday. Liege-Bastogne-Liege race is one of Tadej’s favorite races, as he took the podium last year at his premiere. Last year, during the final sprint drama, where Julian Alaphilippe nearly knocked five riders to the ground, Tadej took an outstanding third place.
This time, the 107th edition of the “La Doyenne“ race (the first was back in 1892) nailed us in front of the TV screens on Sunday, April 25, and we had something to see. When the situation started to flare up in Peloton, 67 kilometers before the finish line, we held our breath a bit, as Tadej had a defect and because this time he was riding a bike with disc brakes, it took a little longer to change the rim than usual. Fortunately, Tadej managed to join the Peloton before the final stage of the race.
The race started to develop at full speed on the La Redoute ascent just under 30 kilometers before the finish line, where the pace of the Peloton was strongly set by the Ineos riders. Tadej was well prepared for this and positioned himself right behind them. Many of the favorites, however, already found themselves in trouble here, as the Peloton began to tear apart. In the next kilometers, we witnessed a real race of all the main actors without the influence of their assistants. Tadej was always there and in the right place.
The decisive selection took place 14 km before the finish, on the last ascent of the day at the Cote de la Roche. Here, Tadej’s “assistant” Davide Formolo accelerated rapidly and made a great selection among the race leaders. Shortly afterward, Michael Woods attacked as well and only four riders were able to follow his pace in the foreground. Along with Tadej and Woods, these were Julian Alaphilippe, Alejandro Valverde and David Gaudu.
Together they continued at a strong pace and no one was able to catch them anymore. Less than 2 km before the finish, tactics and positioning for the sprint finish began. Tadej decided to stay on the wheel of Alaphilippe for the final sprint. Veteran Valverde was the first to start the sprint, but Alaphilippe and Tadej were the fastest in the final 150m. In the final meters, Tadej managed to outsprint the Frenchman and win his first one-day race in a spectacular fashion. The premiere victory carries even more weight as it was achieved at the oldest and most prestigious cycling monument.
With this victory, Tadej showed his great cycling potential even for difficult one-day races. He proved that, despite his youth and excellent regeneration, he also has exceptional endurance, as he had the most “dynamite” in his legs after almost seven hours of racing, which is why he managed to overtake the greatest cycling masters of one-day races just before the finish line.
After the race, Tadej summed up his thoughts:
“In the last 10km, I knew that if we all work together, we will get to the last km alone and no one will try to attack because after 250 km it is hard to attack. I had quite the motivation and confidence in myself to be able to sprint. I felt really good and I also had good legs. Alaphilippe was looking strong so I decided to stay on his wheel and wait as long as I could. I knew he wasn’t going to repeat the mistake from last year this year, so I was pretty sure he was the right one to follow. I wasn’t sure I would be able to overtake him but, with strength, good legs and a bit of luck, I managed to do so.“
“I am almost speechless. I really love this race: winning here was a dream of mine and it is incredible to have achieved this goal and finish ahead of these big names. Unbelievable. I’m living a cycling dream at the moment.“