The dream matchup of the world road race champion against the season’s dominant rider turned into a nightmare for the Slovenian – and a huge disappointment for racing fans – when he fell heavily with 174 km to go in the 258.5-kilometre course, breaking two bones in his wrist. Pogačar had taken 12 victories in 18 days of racing this year, and was going for a rare hattrick of wins in the three-race Ardennes series, after wins in the Amstel Gold Race a week earlier and La Flèche Wallone on Wednesday.
Last year, Pogačar abandoned the race the day before it kicked off because he wanted to be with his fiancée after the death of her mother. Evenepoel went on to win that day as well. This year’s withdrawal was the first time in his career that the UAE Team Emirates leader has quit a race because of a crash. Sporza reported that the reason for the crash was that EF Education-EasyPost’s Mikkel Honoré, who was also forced to drop out, fell after suffering double punctures on a potholed descent and Pogačar was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He underwent surgery in a Genk hospital on Sunday. The latest Instagram post from his team showed a smiling Pogačar with a bandaged left wrist and quoted a statement from the hospital’s medical director: “The surgery on @TamauPogi’s scaphoid was successful, he will travel home [on Monday] for recovery and rehabilitation.”
With Pogačar out, all the attention was focused on Evenepoel, who won last year after a long solo run, and the 23-year-old Belgian did not disappoint. Taking off at virtually the same spot as he did in 2022, halfway up the Côte de la Redoute climb (1.6 km at 8.7%), he was briefly joined by Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), but shook him off with 29 km remaining and was never troubled again, crossing the line waving and smiling after 6 h 15 min and 49 sec of hard racing.
Pidcock finished a courageous second in the final race of the Spring Classics season, 1 min 6 sec adrift, beating Colombia’s Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) in a sprint. “It was a tough race because of the cold and the rain in the last few hours,” Evenepoel told Eurosport after the race. “The roads were very slippery. On La Redoute, my rear wheel even slipped away. After that, I knew I had to grab as much time as possible and I took control of the race.”
He went on to praise his Soudal–Quick Step teammates, saying: “My team did a great job. We controlled the course, despite Jumbo[-Visma’s] attacks.” Speaking of Pogačar’s crash, he said that he heard a “horrible noise” and added, no doubt echoing the feelings of millions of cycling fans: “I hope everything goes well and wish him the best. It’s a pity he couldn’t finish the race.”
The race started under sunny skies but rain began falling at the halfway point and left the pavement treacherous. There was an immediate breakaway that took 15 minutes to form into a group of 11 riders who managed a lead of almost 5 minutes before Soudal–Quick Step began to gradually reel them in. The breakaway and the peloton started losing riders with about 85 km to go, on the ascent of the Côte de Mont-le-Soie (2 km at 5.3%).
That is when the Slovenian Jumbo-Visma rider Jan Tratnik broke away from the peloton and soon caught the breakaway. When he accelerated again, only Simone Velasco (Astana Qazaqstan) could stay with him. They were caught on the La Redoute climb, just before Evenepoel made his winning move and became the first reigning world champion to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège since Moreno Argentin in 1987. That pleased him as much as the fact that he had won the race two years in a row. “It was great to get two out of two,” he said. “I’m so proud to win in the World Champion’s jersey. I really wanted a photo of me doing that and now I have it.”
But racing fans and Pogačar are left to ponder the vexing question, what if he hadn’t crashed? The answer is that we’ll never know. The more important issue is what effect the broken wrist will have on his season. How much training time will he lose? Fortunately, he had been planning to take an extended rest after his spring exertions and the Tour de France is more than two months away.
For cycling fans, it’s finger-crossing time.