Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
This time, the Soudal Quick-Step superstar was wearing the rainbow jersey, but he didn’t have to worry about Tadej Pogačar, who crashed out early with a broken hand and wrist that required surgery.
Taking a page from last year’s tactic book, Evenepoel attacked near the top of La Redoute and then gapped his final chaser in the form of Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) to defend his title.
“It was a really hard race today,” Evenepoel said. “The roads were quite slippery today and my wheel was slipping at the top of La Redoute. We kept to our plan and we went hard on the climb after La Redoute, and that’s where I made the difference.
“It was absolutely magnificent,” he said. “It’s a special moment to win this race in this jersey. It was magic. I am so happy to take two-out-two here at Liège, and it’s just amazing with this beautiful jersey.”
Evenepoel soaked up the applause and behind him, the race was on for the podium.
Pidcock out-kicked Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) for the final podium spots, with Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) trailing across for fourth in another superb ride by the rising Irish talent.
The closing 25km turned into an ITT, and the Belgian superstar becomes the first reigning men’s world champion to win Liège in the world champion’s jersey since Moreno Argentin in 1987.
The hype hit the stratosphere before Sunday’s start of La Doyenne, the “old lady of the classics,” but the tension was unexpectedly deflated when pre-race favorite Pogačar crashed out early. His absence left a huge void in the race, and meant there was no way he was going to complete the “Ardennes treble.”
“I had a bad noise behind me, and we knew that somebody had crashed pretty bad,” Evenepoel said. “I want to send my best wishes and hope he’s OK. It’s a shame that happened, but that’s racing. I had moments like that in my career, and I hope he’s OK.”
Without Pogačar, all eyes were on Evenepoel.
Soudal Quick-Step lived up to its end of the bargain and kept the race under control going into the final 50km with everything in play.
La Redoute, the famous climb where Evenepoel attacked last year to motor to victory, once again set the tone.
And once again, Evenepoel delivered.
Results powered by FirstCycling.com
Pogačar crashes out early
The big news even before the TV cameras started rolling was the news that Pogačar crashed out in a pileup at about 85km into the race.
There were no TV images or photographs of the mishap, but media reports from Belgian TV suggested that Mikkel Honoré (EF Education-EasyPost) punctured, and both were tangled up.
UAE Team Emirates later confirmed that Pogačar fractured his wrist, and was taken to a local hospital for exams.
5️⃣🚴🏻♂️ < 🚴🏻♂️< 🚴🏻♂️🚴🏻♂️🚴🏻♂️🚴🏻♂️🚗
Les 5 hommes de tête :
5 riders in the lead:
— Liège-Bastogne-Liège (@LiegeBastogneL) April 23, 2023
His early departure in a rare race exit for the Slovenian opened up the race. The crash took the wind out of the much-hyped face-off with Evenepoel and put an end to Pogačar’s to otherwise spectacular spring campaign that included victories at Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, and Flèche Wallonne.
An early break pulled clear, with 11 riders off the front. By the Stockeu, only six riders dangling off the front with 80km to go.
Soudal Quick-Step steps up
The chatter all spring was how Soudal Quick-Step fell flat in the classics. The team once ruled the northern classics, yet in 2023, the team won only one race with Tim Merlier at Nokere Koerse. The wheels came off the “Wolfpack,” and it was up to Evenepoel to save the day.
Racing in white shorts to go along with his rainbow jersey in his first race on home roads in 2023, Evenepoel was full of confidence.
They are approaching one of the hardest climbs of #LBL: Côte de Stockeu (1km, 12.5%).
— Soudal Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team (@soudalquickstep) April 23, 2023
The team stepped up to fill the void left by Pogačar’s departure, with Alaphilippe and two other teammates leading Evenpeol onto the Stockeu. Healy was well-positioned, and riders such as Neilson Powless and Benoit Cosnefroy struggled to match the pace.
Jan Tratnik (Jumbo-Visma) jumped out of the favorite’s group to open a 30-second gap, with Magnus Sheffield trying in vain to mark his wheel.
The climbs came fast and heavy from there to Liège.
Pressing the front
Tratnik continued to tap away at the front over the Haute-Levée (3km at 6.3%), with riders from Bahrain Victorious, EF, and Trek-Segafredo wanting to step into the Pogačar void.
Alaphilippe, Ilan Van Wilder, and Louis Vervaeke were the last men standing for Evenepoel, and Tratnik linked up with the remains of the early breakaway to set up an interesting dynamic going into the business end of the race.
Rain started to fall going up and over the Col de Rosier, with four major climbs left to go. Only Simone Velasco (Astana Qazaqstan) from the original breakaway could stay on Tratnik’s wheel. The gap shrank to 40 seconds with 50km to go.
All eyes were on the Redoute, the famous climb where Evenepoel jumped in 2022 to open up his solo victory.
Sensing an opening, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) jumped on the Côte de Desnié (1.6km à 7.4%) to isolate Evenepoel with only one teammate with 45km to go.
Ineos Grenadiers drove to the front of the bunch with five riders as the bunch powered to La Redoute.
No doubt on La Redoute
Quick-Step set up Evenepoel, and he jumped with 33.5km to go near the top of the climb. Pidcock managed to limit the damage in what was not a repeat of the impressive long bomb from 2022.
Chasing in their wake were Skjelmose, Ciccone, Tiesj Benoot, Ion Izagirre, and Bardet.
Pidcock did well to stay stuck on his wheel but refused to pull through when Evenepoel asked for a tow.
The world champion opened up one more surge to gap Pidcock on a false flat and rode solo with 30km to go. It was almost a repeat of his victory in 2022, even if Pogačar wasn’t there.
The damage was done and the gap went out to more than one minute. The race was on for the leftovers.
Healy, Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious), and Pidcock linked up after coming over the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons (1.3km à 10.1%) to make a play for the podium spots.