Let’s start off by saying Alaphilippe’s relegation to the back of the ‘bunch’ in Liège on Sunday was the correct decision. There was a clear look to the left and, on seeing Hirschi looming large, a very obvious deviation in his line to close off the Swiss rider’s route to the line, though for the record he has apologised and stated it was not a deliberate move. Despite the fact I was shouting for this decision as the sprint unfolded, it doesn’t half muddy the waters for this novice blogger’s attempts to plaster some narrative all over the top of events.
Always ready to force the issue, Alaphilippe is a wonderfully disruptive rider. He seemed to spend the entire last week of the 2020 Tour de France attacking whatever break he happened to find himself in, and perhaps my favourite moment of the whole three weeks was his attack at the foot of the Col de Peyresourde on stage eight, where he blew the peloton to pieces for what seemed no reason other than because he could.
A fabulous bike handler, he can ratchet up the pressure on descents by pulling out a few seconds on rivals. He’s also a great man to have on your side as a spoiler in the last few kilometres of a sprint stage. All twitching elbows and knees, he placed himself on Sam Bennett’s wheel on more than one occasion in France this year and in the process made the green jersey an impossible wheel to get on in the gallop for the line. Marc Hirschi even said as much after the race:
For sure he took my wheel, but the way Alaphilippe sprints [sic] I was really close on his back wheel and it can happen.Marc Hirschi, Liège, 4 October 2020
This time he appears to have disrupted the racetime continuum itself, with all sorts of possible parallel permutations coming out of the finish at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Hirschi wins monument!
I think this was the most likely outcome. Hirschi was coming up fast on Alaphilippe’s shoulder having had the advantage of the Frenchman leading out the sprint. True, Pogačar was also in the mix, but watching the sprint again in slow motion it seems clear to me that Pogačar resumed a full-on sprint a few seconds before Hirschi, and the Swiss was still able to finish comfortably ahead.
Pogačar wins monument!
Less likely, for the reasons above, but still possible. I say it’s still possible, because until the incident, Pogačar was still getting a bit of a draft from Alaphilippe and Hirschi and clearly had the legs to get up there in the sprint. He also won from a small group on stage nine of the tour, beating Hirschi and Roglič that day.
Alaphilippe wins monument!
Bear with me here, but I think he would have sensed the commotion behind and ‘felt’ the gap he had on his main rivals. Did this contribute to his early celebration? He probably didn’t even consider Roglič a rival in a four up sprint (and rightly so given where he was in proceedings before it all went down towards the line). In this alternative reality, Alaphiippe just mills himself in a straight line all the way to the finish and begins his reign as World Champion in style.
Roglič wins monument!
Wait… this one happened. In all of the scenarios above, I think the Slovenian comes in fourth and yet he wakes up this morning a monument winner. I’m absolutely delighted, even though it rubbishes previously moronic cod-psychology aspersions I’ve made in the past. I think the last week has well and truly put that stuff to bed. Roglič put himself up there at the World Championships at Imola, and may have even had the Tour de France winner make a softening up break on his behalf. Yesterday, he had Tom Dumoulin on the front thinning things out for him and in the end showed the importance of racing all the way.
Never stop believing. It’s a few centimetres, it’s incredible that I managed to win. In the end I managed to win something, no?Primož Roglič, Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner 4 October 2020.
Last word on Alaphilippe. He’ll be gutted this morning as the chance of a monument doesn’t come around very often, especially not when you’re in the rainbow jersey. I was thinking all week that he still looks invincible on these types of finishes, with a short punchy climb followed by a mad dash to the line., but will he keep having it all his own way? Hirschi is coming.