There was a brief moment in the final metres of the 2018 Liège-Bastogne-Liège that told a much lengthier tale.
It came after Bob Jungels rounded the final corner on to Rue Jean Jaurès in Ans. A lot happened for Bob in the final 200m of a race 258km in length.
With 150m to go, Bob looked back for a second last time, triple checking, legs hurting, lungs heaving, still pedaling. With about 75m to go, the jersey zip goes up (a true professional). And then with 50m to go, there’s that sublime moment, that final glance back. It’s here that realisation hits him.
It was no more than two seconds. But in that time Bob accepted he was about to cross a finish line into cycling folklore. Accepted that he wasn’t getting caught. Accepted that the race was his and his attack 20km earlier over the crest of the Côte de Roche-aux-Faucons would go the distance.
Bob’s shoulders and head dropped in exhaustion, elation, emotion. His legs stop spinning for half a second and it begins to sink in. Then his head wearily rises again with a smile, the legs start to work again to maintain his exhausted momentum. These were truly a special few moments. A culmination of years of hard work, talk of prodigy and of a weight of expectation.
I first met Bob in the summer of 2013, he was a first-year pro that I had already heard so much about. He came across as mature and possessed a subtle self-assurance. It wasn’t cockiness, simply someone confident in their scope. From that day to now I’ve been his agent and friend. We get on well outside the world of cycling, he’s always been level, gracious and ambitious. And he’s always had the turbine and the pistons to go with that.
On Sunday he freewheeled across the line in Ans into an elite group in our sport – a winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I can almost picture Bob as a junior watching Andy Schleck do it in 2009. The same way I watched Frank Vandenbroucke win it a decade earlier.
Liege will always be a special race for him due to its proximity to Luxembourg. Bob is extremely proud of where he’s from and of the Grand Duchy’s cycling history. His father Henri and mother Ginette would have spent many hours travelling around Europe to watch him race and they were there with open arms in Ans to greet him.
Bob had to grow up fast. People forget he’s just 25. As a game, I used to ask DS’s to guess his age whenever it might come up. Most shoot two or three years older than he is – he’s just been on cycling’s radar that long.
On top of elation and exhaustion, there’s no doubt in my mind that an element of relief slipped into those powerful moments in that final 200m. Relief in taking “La Doyenne” for such a team. Relief in taking a race that Quick Step, in all its variant forms since 2003, had never won before. Relief in being the bookend on a truly incredible Spring Classics campaign for the Wolfpack.
The Thursday before the race I drove to Lanaken from Lewes and sat with Bob at his team hotel. Staff and riders were still on a high after Julian Alaphilippe’s success in Fléche-Wallone. We shot the breeze, and there was a relaxed but noticeable confidence about him. Not an ‘I’m gonna win Sunday’ bravado but more a confidence in his form. There were cards to play and Bob knew he was one of them.
As a rider Bob is a “massive industry” of a cyclist. I remember reading this term in a Sunday Sport section about a Rugby player who was central to everything on the field. Bob is that type of rider, an engine who does it all, who gives 100% in the many roles he performs – be this stringing out a peloton with 3km to go to help a fast finshing neo’s attempt to win their first pro race, or be it his Best Supporting Actor role in a perfectly executed plan to bring his partner in crime to that top podium step at Fléche.
I doubt any rider in the peloton would begrudge Bob a win like this. From speaking to the junior riders most years at the annual UCI Congress to taking time for fans’ selfie requests, he’s a classy cyclist but more importantly a classy human being. He’s been talked about with a degree of expectancy since he won a junior world title in 2010, and that’s not easy to deal with.
Eight years on, it all came together for him in those few moments on Rue Jean Jaurès. We can expect a lot more.
Gary McQuaid is director of Altus Sports Management and keen to point out this is not a sales pitch. Bob Jungels remains contracted to Quick Step until the end of the 2020 season.