LIEGE, Belgium (AP) — Rising star Remco Evenepoel posted the biggest win of his career on Sunday with a solo victory in cycling’s oldest classic — the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race — as Belgian riders swept the podium places.
A versatile rider widely regarded as one of the most promising talents of his generation, Evenepoel triumphed in “La Doyenne” at his first attempt, aged 22.
Evenepoel, who recovered from a horrific crash at the 2020 Tour of Lombardy, raised his arms and buried his face in his hands as he added his name to a list of winners that includes the likes of cycling greats Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault.
“It's my first Liege and I won, it's a dream come true," said Evenepoel, who rides for the Belgian outfit Quick-Step-Alpha-Vinyl. “Finishing alone, with a lead of almost one minute in my favorite race, it's unbelievable."
Quinten Hermans won the sprint for second place ahead of Wout van Aert in the 257.1-kilometer (159.7-mile) race.
Evenepoel made his move with 29 kilometers left when he attacked on a narrow and steep stretch of road from a chasing group including other pre-race favorites.
Using his strong time-trial skills, Evenepoel produced an impressive solo effort to catch the remaining breakaway riders then reached the finish line alone.
Evenepoel came to prominence during his first pro season with the Deceuninck-Quick Step team in 2019 when he won the prestigious Clasica San Sebastian ahead of Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet. He also secured a silver medal in the time trial at the world championships that year.
His career was put on hold for several months following a crash in Italy that left him with a fractured pelvis and a damaged right lung. Evenepoel crashed inside the last 50 kilometers on a downhill stretch, hitting a bridge wall and going over it into a ravine.
“I’ve been suffering mentally and physically a lot the last year and a half and finally this year, I feel that everything is going well, everything is getting stable and I’m getting to the best Remco again," Evenepoel said. “I think today I’ve been showing the best Remco since turning pro."
Liege-Bastogne-Liege is one of the “monuments” of cycling — the five most prestigious one-day events in the sport — along with the Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Lombardy.
Tadej Pogacar was among the favorites but did not defend his title after withdrawing for personal reasons. World champion Julian Alaphilippe was forced to abandon the race after getting caught in a mass crash with about 60 kilometers left.
His team said Alaphilippe fractured his shoulder blade and has two fractured ribs and a collapsed lung.
“His condition is stable but will need to be hospitalized for observation," Quick-Step Alpha-Vinyl said.
Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands won the women's race for the second time after going solo in the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons. She won ahead of Grace Brown and Demi Vollering.
“It’s like good wine, the strength comes with age,” said the former world champion, who is 39.
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