He did it again. Not satisfied enough with his breakaway on the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, Bruno Armirail went for it again on Sunday on the most prestigious of the Ardennes Classics: Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The French rider rode away after just a few kilometres and then proved to be the last breakaway’s survivor. He was caught by the winner Remco Evenepoel twenty kilometres from the finish, and was close to hold on to the other favourites in Roche-aux-Faucons. He even was the first rider from the Groupama-FDJ cycling team on the line, as he secured a brave sixteenth position to finish off his fine day up front. Rudy Molard (18th) and Quentin Pacher (20th) also entered the top-20.

On Sunday, the 2022 spring Classics campaign was set to come to an end. As usual, the “Doyenne” and its atrocious climbs between Liège and Bastogne made up this last big battle. At the start of the fourth Monument of the season, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team had certain ambitions, in particular that to add an eleventh top-10 in a row in the WorldTour Classics. They, however, had to do it without David Gaudu, third last year. Rudy Molard, Quentin Pacher, and Valentin Madouas all had their card to play in the final, but beforehand, Bruno Armirail also had the opportunity to take part in an aggressive race. He did not hesitate. After only five kilometres, the time trial specialist took a gap with four other competitors. “We had planned to anticipate the fight by going in the breakaway, and I managed to take it, like I did on the Flèche Wallonne”, said Bruno. “I also felt better than I did on Wednesday”. After an hour of fierce racing, six more men eventually joined the leading group to bring the breakaway to eleven riders. Their lead reached the six minute-bar in the first half of the course. On the way back to Liège, and particularly entering the sequence of climbs with 90 kilometres to go, the bunch however came back just 3’30 away from the Frenchman and his break’s partners.

“I would probably have been happy with that this morning”, Bruno Armirail

Throughout the climbs, riders started to be distanced in the peloton, but it also occurred up front quite naturally. The Groupama-FDJ rider therefore had only five riders left with him after the côte de la Haute-Levée. Together, they kept their cooperation going and approached the climb of Desnié, forty-two kilometres from the finish, with a 2’30-gap. In the bunch, the first attacks occurred, but Philippe Mauduit and Marc Madiot’s men were always quick to respond. This also resulted with the gap reducing by one minute before the well-anticipated Côte de la Redoute. Right from the first slopes, Bruno Armirail then stood up on the pedals and almost instantly got away solo. “I was happy with my feelings, but I knew that I had to manage my energy as well as possible”, he said. “I had planned to attack in La Redoute in order to go as far as possible. I accelerated almost at the bottom, and I had to. I saw that they were all kind of tired, and I couldn’t waste too much time staying with them. I needed to go at that time. I felt good, so that’s what I did.” With thirty kilometres to go, he therefore went away solo, and his main chaser quickly became Remco Evenepoel. A few minutes later, the young Belgian indeed broke away from the bunch at the top of La Redoute and gradually closed the gap with the Frenchman.

Evenepoel eventually bridged across with twenty-one kilometres to go, and Bruno Armirail had then no choice but to try to follow the wheel. “It was hard,” he smiled. “When I heard he was close, I sat up a bit and waited for him. Unfortunately, he’s very aerodynamic and I am a little too tall, so it was not easy to hold on to his wheel. I tried to follow as much as I could, but he went fast right from the bottom of the Roche-aux-Faucons climb, and considering my day up front, I couldn’t keep up”. The duo tackled the final hill of the day with a lead of about thirty seconds over the group of favourites, where the team still had its three cards. However, when things got more serious, Valentin Madouas, Quentin Pacher and Rudy Molard had to let go one after the other. As for Bruno Armirail, he was caught by “big guys” at the top of the hill. He fought hard to hold on to the group, but the ascent towards Boncelles right after proved fatal to him. “I dropped in the second part of the climb, it’s a shame, but I was at the limit,” he said. In the lead, Remco Evenepoel managed to secure victory after his superb ride, while the Frenchman eventually arrived in a third group and took 16th on the day. “If I had been told this morning that I was going to be sixteenth after being in the breakaway all day, I would probably have been happy”, concluded Bruno. “It’s a good day. There was a great atmosphere in la Redoute. It’s awesome to climb it alone and in the lead. I had goosebumps, although the goal was to attack to get a result”.

“A great Classics campaign”, Philippe Mauduit

“Bruno did a solid race, so hats off to him,” said Philippe Mauduit. “He put in a very good performance. Behind him, we were close to having a rider in the group that arrived for second place. The guys were in the mix up until La Redoute but they all struggled a bit in the Roche-aux-Faucons. It came down to small things. Rudy and Quentin were just 50 metres behind at the top, but 50 metres is too far on a race like this. It was a difficult Liège-Bastogne-Liège, as usual”. With Rudy Molard (18th) and Quentin Pacher (20th), the team put three riders into the top-20 of the Belgian Monument. “Overall, it’s still a great Classics campaign”, added Philippe. “With the exception of today, we achieved top-10 finishes in all the races. This Sunday, we had a great team once again. At each start, everyone was motivated and wanted to give everything for the best possible result. At the end of the day, that’s what’s important.”

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