How can anybody stop Alejandro Valverde in Fléche Wallonne? The Spaniard took his fifth win in the Belgian classic atop Mur de Huy, ahead of Daniel Martin of Quick-Step Floors who placed on the podium for the third time in four years; with Dylan Teuns of BMC Racing taking third place.
The 2017 Fléche Wallonne took the field 200.5km from Binche to Huy. The event is famous for its finish up Mur de Huy, the 1.3km finishing climb that averages 9.6% in gradient but reaches 15-17% in gradient. That climb would be tackled three times in all with six other climbs in all. The Côte de Cherave and Cöte d’Ereffe would be the other climbs to be navigated twice each. None of the categorised climbs would kick in until the 127.5km point with the roads prior rolling their way to that point before kicking into gear.
New Zealand’s Sam Bewley of Orica-SCOTT, Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Tom Scully of Cannondale-Drapac and Aaron Gate of Aqua Blue Sport all lined up for Fléche Wallonne this year. Gate arrived at the one-day race on the back of a silver medal in the omnium at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships.
Sam Bewley puts in big shift on the front
A breakaway of three riders – Olivier Pardini of WB Veranclassic, Yoann Bagot of Cofidis and Nils Politt of Katusha Alpecin – broke clear and were joined by Daniel Pearson of Aqua Blue Sport, Romain Guillermois of Direct Energie and Fabien Doubey of Wanty-Groupe Gobert to form the break of the day. The six riders gained a maximum lead of over 6 minutes as behind them Movistar predictably set the pace at the head of the race, with Alejandro Valverde looking at further improving his record number of wins.
Gradually the time gap was cut to the leaders, with Orica-SCOTT’s Sam Bewley hitting the front with some 100km of racing still to go. Bewley stayed at the head of the race for several kilometres, giving solo support to Movistar with his Orica-SCOTT squad placed a short way behind them. Bahrain-Merida plaid close attention to the front of the race but the pace in the pack was expected to ramp up sharply as the climbs kicked off.
On the open climb of the day – the Côte d’Amay – the breakaway group lost its first rider in Daniel Pearson as he dropped back. With 72.5km to go the gap was now at 3.30mins. Bewley led the peloton onto the Côte d’Amay with Lotto Soudal riders present on his left. Bewley kept the pace up though, although around him the first signs that riders were beginning to position themselves were beginning to show. Bewley and co crested the summit of the climb with the gap down to 3.13mins.
The gap proceeded to drop from there although a nasty crash brought down Michael Valgren of Astana. From here Movistar and Trek-Segafredo took over the pace-setting that Bewley had maintained until now. The gap had dropped a little more to 2.42mins with 66km to go with the breakaway group of five now back up to six riders with Daniel Pearson back on board.
Skirmishes try and go clear
By the time the riders reached the Mur de Huy for the first time the breakaway’s lead had been cut to just short of two minutes. Movistar were still very much in control at the front of the race and closed the gap to the leaders reasonably significantly at the front to 1.35mins with 56km to go. Also significantly was the loss in the breakaway of Pearson again and Nils Politt who both dropped back on the slopes of the Mur.
In between climbs a number of attacks were attempted from the peloton, with a few skirmishes going clear. Also Lotto Soudal began to make their presence felt on the front of the peloton in a big way. Their presence was swamped by Movistar and Orica-SCOTT who had Sam Bewley once again at the forefront of matters. Bewley had dropped back a fair way in the bunch heading up the Mur de Huy, but he worked his way forward to be back on the front with 50km to go. Bewley had teammate Michael Albasini in his squad; with the 36 year old Swiss rider having already taken third place in Amstel Gold just three days before.
The advantage for the break, with 48km to go, had gone under a minute but the group were still working well as they hit the Côte d’Ereffe. Behind them Alessandro De Marchi attacked for BMC Racing, along with Christopher Juul Jensen of Orica-SCOTT, Carlos Betancur of Movistar, Grega Bole of Bahrain-Merida who were joined by a few more riders in the process including Roman Kreuziger of Orica-SCOTT, Wilco Kelderman and Gregor Mühlberger of Bora-Hansgrohe. Their attack took a further chunk of time out of the break, with the gap just 16 seconds in hand with 42km to go.
De Marchi and Jungles go clear
Nothing would ultimately gain any traction though, and the gap continued to drop until finally with around 35km to go everything was all together again. Alessando De Marchi wasn’t content to just sit back though and he launched a solo move as behind him a change over in the peloton saw Katusha-Alpecin move to the fore. But there was no shortage of riders trying to assert control on the head of the race and in the end it was Quick-Step Floors leading the charge as they closed the small gap to De Marchi. The Italian led though as he hit the bell lap with some 29km of racing remaining.
Out of the peloton an attack went clear courtesy of Bob Jungels of Quick-Step Floors, who was pursued by riders including Sebastian Henao of Team Sky and Carlos Betancur of Movistar, Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie and Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb. Up ahead Bob Jungels managed to make contact with De Marchi and the pair held a 31 second lead with 24.5km remaining; while the rest of the attackers were brought back.
The gap between De Marchi and Jungels vs the rest of the field held at between 20-30 seconds for a good chunk of time; with Orica-SCOTT now leading the charge again. Eventually Bob Jungels dropped De Marchi and the Luxembourg rider headed under 10km to go with a gap increasing to over 40 seconds. At one point Jungels’ lead stretched out to over 50 seconds and gave some of the riders back in the bunch cause for a little concern. Rafal Majka or Bora-Hansgrohe sensed the threat and put in a dig on the front.
Valverde completely unstoppable
With 5.7km to go the gap had gone back down to 30 seconds though as Jungels made his way up the penultimate climb of the day. The gap held with 3km to go as behind him all number of teams were jostling for position, with Team Sky holding the lead for the time being. Movistar had numbers though and were poised to strike. With 2km to go Jungels still had 24 seconds lead, as Cannondale-Drapac now challenged for the front with Orica-SCOTT.
Finally the climb began and Jungels hit for home. Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb was looking strong, but Valverde was sitting at fifth man back and was visibly strong. Jungels was quickly reeled in as Team Sky challenged with Kwiatkowski and Sergio Henao on board.Valverde hit the front with a couple of turns remaining and just sat on board for a little while and with 250m to go it was still all up for grabs until an attack went from FDJ’s David Gaudu the young 20 year old. That triggered a move from Valverde and Dylan Theuns who tried to go across. Daniel Martin found himself a little way back, but he put in a massive surge to power around his rivals; but no one could stop Alejandro Valverde who came home to take his fifth win.
Dion Smith was the first of the Kiwis to cross the line with Tom Scully of Cannondale-Drapac also finishing the race after a tough near 5.30mins in the saddle.
|1||Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE||ESP||MOV||5:15:37|
|4||Sergio Luis HENAO MONTOYA||COL||SKY||+1|
|12||Jon IZAGUIRRE INSAUSTI||ESP||TBM||+1|
|14||Pierre Roger LATOUR||FRA||ALM||+8|
|23||Rigoberto URAN URAN||COL||CDT||+21|
|28||Igor ANTON HERNANDEZ||ESP||DDD||+29|
|31||Rui Alberto FARIA DA COSTA||POR||UAD||+37|
|37||Jarlinson PANTANO GOMEZ||COL||TFS||+48|
|46||Samuel SANCHEZ GONZALEZ||ESP||BMC||+1:01|
|51||Laurens DE PLUS||BEL||QST||+1:01|
|57||Pello BILBAO LOPEZ DE ARMENTIA||ESP||AST||+1:13|
|58||Jacques Willem JANSE VAN RENSBURG||RSA||DDD||+1:17|
|59||Floris DE TIER||BEL||TLJ||+1:21|
|64||SEBASTIAN HENAO GOMEZ||COL||SKY||+1:26|
|65||Bart DE CLERCQ||BEL||LTS||+1:34|
|71||Juan Jose LOBATO DEL VALLE||ESP||TLJ||+1:52|
|73||Merhawi KUDUS GHEBREMEDHIN||ERI||DDD||+2:09|
|75||Carlos Alberto BETANCUR GOMEZ||COL||MOV||+2:09|
|76||Haimar ZUBELDIA AGIRRE||ESP||TFS||+2:09|
|77||Luis Angel MATE MARDONES||ESP||COF||+2:09|
|79||Jesus HERRADA LOPEZ||ESP||MOV||+2:13|
|106||Tosh VAN DER SANDE||BEL||LTS||+3:00|
|109||Ángel VICIOSO ARCOS||ESP||KAT||+3:11|
|112||Tao GEOGHEGAN HART||GBR||SKY||+3:22|
|117||Preben VAN HECKE||BEL||SVB||+3:55|
|130||Christopher JUUL JENSEN||DEN||ORS||+6:09|
|131||Tsgabu Gebremaryam GRMAY||ETH||TBM||+6:16|
|145||Alessandro DE MARCHI||ITA||BMC||+8:59|
|149||Sindre SKJOESTAD LUNKE||NOR||SUN||+9:05|
|155||Jesus HERNANDEZ BLAZQUEZ||ESP||TFS||+12:40|
|159||Johann VAN ZYL||RSA||DDD||+12:55|
|DNF||Lasse Norman HANSEN||DEN||ABS|
|DNF||Lars Petter NORDHAUG||NOR||ABS|
|DNF||Kenneth VAN ROOY||BEL||SVB|
|DNF||Dries VAN GESTEL||BEL||SVB|
|DNF||Mads Würtz SCHMIDT||DEN||KAT|
|DNF||MICHAEL VALGREN ANDERSEN||DEN||AST|
|DNF||Laurens DE VREESE||BEL||AST|
|DNF||Thomas DE GENDT||BEL||LTS|
|DNF||Sean DE BIE||BEL||LTS|
|DNF||Marc SOLER GIMENEZ||ESP||MOV|