Fleche Wallone – Third Victory for Valverde


Valverde – “Huy is a climb that suits me perfectly and I can only come for the win here” – three times a winner of Fleche Wallone

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Fleche Wallone – Third Victory for Valverde

Despite the appearance of a new climb in the closing kilometres of Fleche Wallonne, the race was won in the last 200 metres of the race and there wasn’t much anyone could do against flying Alejandro Valverde.

The new course however proved to make the Grande Finale extremely lively with several attacks occurring including that of rising star Tim Wellens. Calm and composed, Valverde finally made the best of his experience to claim the race for the second consecutive time, adding a third win in Huy to his record. The soon to be 35-year-old beat promising young Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (only 22) and Switzerland’s Michael Albasini (former Tour of Britain winner). Is is the fourth year, a Spaniard wins the Fleche Wallonne.

“At the end of the day, Huy is a climb that suits me perfectly well and I can only come for the win here” said Valverde afterwards. “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 is some time since I’ve raced in 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 in 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 meters 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”.

“Winning here three times is something I’m really happy about, and even more being so regular: second in Amstel the other day, now winning Flèche… we’ll see what happens in Liège on Sunday. It’s a really beautiful race, maybe the one I like the most and the one that suits me best, and I dream of being again in the mix there. We’re in high morale but also really calm: having won this one and always staying on the podium, we are confident we can fight again on Sunday.”

Under beautiful sunny conditions, 199 riders (Westra, non starter) took off from the city of Waremme for the 79th edition of the Fleche Wallonne. After a fairly fast start, five men eventually managed to pull away from the pack at km 8: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Pieter Van Speybrouck (Topsport), Jerome Baugnies (Wanty), Reinier Honig (Roompot) and Daniele Ratto (UHC). Five kilometres later, they were joined by two other riders: Mike Teunissen (Lotto Jumbo) and Brice Feillu (Bretagne).

While the peloton wasn’t too concerned by the escapees, the gap reached 8′ at the top of the first climb of the day, the Côte des 36 Tournants with Reinier Honig leading the front group. The escapees seemed under the control of a pack led by teams Katusha and Movistar as they reached the top of the second climb, the Côte de Bellaire with a 7’05. That gap had dropped to 6’40 at the summit of the Côte de Bohissau (km 100).

Just before the first climb up the Mur, as the peloton was going through the city of Huy, a crash occurred sending the likes of Daniel Martin (Cannondale Garmin) to the ground. A first blow for the Irishman who had finished second in the 2015 edition. While the front seven still enjoyed a 5’50 lead at the top of the Mur, it took Martin several kilometres before he finally moved back into the peloton.


Gilbert, down and out
As the leaders move closer to the Côte de Bellaire, the peloton really started chasing and the gap dropped rapidly. On the climb, five men remained in the lead as Theunissen and Honig were dropped. The leaders reached the top with a 3’05 advantage. Real drama struck several kilometres later when local hero and 2011 champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was caught in a crash. Despite getting back on his bike, the Belgian rapidly decided to quit the race.

Home soil wasn’t the place to be on this 79th edition of the Fleche as Jelle Vanendert was the next man to be caught up in a vicious crash. On the second climb up the Mur de Huy, Jerome Baugnies powered away reaching the top with a slim 10” advantage over De Gendt. Both men bunched together again shortly after, soon to be caught by three other riders: Ratto, Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Luis-Leon Sanchez (Astana). With 25 kilometres to go, the front men had a 20” lead over a peloton led by team Etixx-Quickstep of World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski looking to shine again three days after his Amstel Gold Race triumph.

Crash for Froome
Eventually all the former escapees were to be dropped leaving in the front of the race two men with 15kms to go: Visconti and LL Sanchez. As the peloton continued chasing, yet another crash happened sending 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome (SKY) and Samuel Sanhez (BMC) to the ground.

Out front, Tim Wellens went clear on the penultimate climb and it was edge of the seat stuff as to whether he would stay clear and he did until the final kilometre where the slopes of the Mur de Huy took his legs from under him and the sprint for the line began with Valverde the strongest.

1. Alejandro Valverde, Movistar Team 5:08:22
2. Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx – Quick-Step
3. Michael Albasini, Orica GreenEdge
4. Joaquim Rodriguez,Team Katusha
5. Daniel Moreno Fernandez, Team Katusha
6. Alexis Vuillermoz, AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:04
7. Sergio Luis Henao, Team Sky
8. Jakob Fuglsang, Astana Pro Team
9 Tom Jelte Slagter, Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team
10. Wilco Kelderman, Team LottoNL-Jumbo

20. Vincenzo Nibali, Astana Pro Team
33. Michal Kwiatkowski, Etixx – Quick-Step 0:00:38
62. Simon Yates, Orica GreenEdge 2.05
72. Stephen Cummings, MTN – Qhubeka 0:02:27
76. Nairo Quintana, Movistar Team
107. Matthieu Boulo, Bretagne-Séché Environnement
123. Christopher Froome, Team Sky 0:12:19

DNF Daniel Martin, Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team
DNF Philippe Gilbert,BMC Racing Team
DNF Peter Kennaugh, Team Sky

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