Valverde Wins Third Fleche Wallonne
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has joined Marcel Kint, Eddy Merckx, Moreno Argentin, and Davide Rebellin as a three-time winner of La Fleche Wallonne. The Spaniard charged up the Mur de Huy ahead of the field to win the rugged, 205.5-km classic in 5:08:22. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step) finished second, and Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) finished third.
At eight km, the break of the day formed. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Jerome Baugnies (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Reinier Honig (Team Roompot), Daniele Ratto (United Healthcare), and Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport Vlaanderen) sallied off of the front. At 13 km, Mike Teunissen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) joined the quintet. At the summit of the day’s first climb (22 km), the Cote des 36 Tournants, the break led the bunch by eight minutes.
Katusha and Movistar paced the peloton. The bunch cut the escapees’ advantage to 7:05 at the top of the Cote de Bellaire (92 km), the day’s second ascent, and 6:40 at the top of the Cote de Bohissau (100 km).
Just before the first ascent of the Mur de Huy, a crash took down Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin protected by POC), a prerace favorite. The Irishman needed several km to rejoin the peloton, which the break led by 5:50 at the summit (119.5 km). Ultimately, Martin abandoned. As the field approached the Cote de Bellaire for the second ascent, the peloton accelerated and the gap narrowed quickly. On the ascent, Teunissen and Honig were dropped, and the remaining break members led the field by 3:05 at the summit. Philippe Gilbert (Team BMC Racing) crashed, and although the 2011 Fleche Wallonne winner remounted his bike, he soon abandoned.
On the second ascent of the Mur de Huy, Baugnies attacked his companions and De Gendt followed. Ratto, Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) bridged up to the leaders. With 25 km remaining, the five riders led the Etixx-Quick Step-paced peloton by 0:25. Eventually Visconti and Sanchez dropped their fellow escapees. A crash took down Chris Froome (Sky), who like a number of Tour de France favorites, rode the race to reconnoiter the course, much of which will be part of Stage 3 of this year’s Tour.
On the day’s next-to-last climb, the Cote de Cherave, a group led by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) reeled in Visconti and Sanchez. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) countered. The Belgian led the peloton by 0:13 at the base of the Mur de Huy, but the bunch engulfed him on the climb. With 200 m to go, Valverde made his move, and no one could get to grips with him.
Valverde said that the Mur de Huy is a climb that is tailor-made for him and that he was able to prevail despite the crashes because of good team support. "At the end of the day, Huy is a climb that suits me perfectly well and I can only come for the win here,” the Movistar man said. “I'm super happy this happened again today. It was an extremely hard day, with a lot of nerves out there, loads of crashes...It has been some time since I've raced on such a tense field as today's. There were crashes already with 130km to go, some of them happening within the first 30 places of the bunch...just dangerous.
"I felt really willing to fight for it, the team is doing splendid these days and we could only do our best to win. It was always under control today--ever since we started controlling the pace into the bunch, then with Giovanni Visconti into the break. With the climb of Cherave, everyone was more tired at the foot of the Mur and that really had an impact. I came into the final climb in a great position and decided to lead the pace so I didn't get boxed in. I could also control all moves from the front and still save some energy for the finish. With 200 m to go, It already seemed clear to me I could win this one, because I was keeping the position and had the legs to push and contest the sprint with everything until the finish line.”
On Sunday, many of today’s riders will cross swords in the last of the Ardennes classics, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Who will prevail? Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step)? Martin? Valverde? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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