Alaphilippe wins Fleche Wallonne race, Canada's Woods just misses out on podium

HUY, Belgium — Canadian cyclist Michael Woods just missed making the podium in the Fleche Wallonne one-day classic, finishing fourth Wednesday.

The 34-year-old from Ottawa was third in last year's race. He also holds a second-place finish at the 2018 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which along with the Fleche Wallonne and Amstel Gold Race make up the three Ardennes classics.

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France's Julian Alaphilippe earned his third victory, overtaking Spanish Vuelta champion Primoz Roglic of Slovenia on the final ascent to the finish line Wednesday.

Roglic, the Tour de France runner-up, attacked up the gruelling Mur de Huy about 350 metres out but couldn't hold off the 28-year-old Frenchman, who also won in 2018 and '19.

The Deceuninck-Quick Step rider finished the 194-kilometre course in four hours 36 minutes 25 seconds. Roglic was credited with the same time and five-time winner Alejandro Valverde of Spain was third, six seconds back.

Woods was another two seconds back.

"I’ve got a real bitter taste in my mouth right now because I felt like I was better than fourth today," said Woods, who felt he missed his shot at the leaders and couldn’t respond when the Roglic and Alaphilippe made their final move.

Woods' cycling resume also includes a victory in the 2019 Milano-Torino one-day race, stage wins at the 2018 and 2020 Spanish Vuelta, and a bronze medal in the road race at the 2018 world championships.

He now sets his sights on Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, seen as one of men's cycling five monument races — prestigious, challenging one-day events that also include Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Giro di Lombardia.

"I’m proud of how my legs were, I am proud of the team and we are all looking forward to Liege-Bastogne-Lieg," Woods said. "LBL is going to be even bigger for us. It’s a monument. No Canadian has ever won a monument and I think that where my legs are it is certainly a possibility for me to do well there."

Alaphilippe, the world champion, wagged his finger and smiled after edging the Slovenian at the finish of the 85th edition of the race. Other three-time winners include Belgian great Eddy Merckx.

"It's the legs that make the difference on this hard climb," said Alaphilippe. "It wasn't easy with Roglic out front and Valverde on my wheel. Both were very strong but I managed to pull it off."

Roglic, making his Fleche Wallonne debut, deflected questions about whether he attacked too early.

"Too early or too late — at the end I was not strong enough. Julian was stronger today," he said. "I did my best. He was strongest and deserves to win."

Valverde, who turns 41 on Sunday, said he was "happy to have finished on the podium."

The peloton swallowed up the last of a breakaway group with only 1.5 kilometres left when French rider Maurits Lammertink was caught at the bottom of the Mur de Huy.

Before the race, Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar and defending champion Marc Hirschi were last-minute withdrawals after their UAE Team Emirates team had two positive coronavirus tests, even though the team was previously vaccinated.

In the women’s race, world champion Anna van der Breggen won for the seventh straight time by outclimbing Kasia Niewiadoma on the final ascent.

"I think it was the most difficult one. I’m really happy to finish it off like that," the 31-year-old Dutch rider said.

Last year's Fleche Wallonne was pushed back to September because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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With files from The Associated Press

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