April 24th, ’14. Alejandro Valverde of Movistar has won Fleche Wallonne for the second time in his career. The 33 year old last won the race back in 2006 and since then has come close often but this time he hit the jackpot, timing his effort on the Mur de Huy just right. Close behind him came the Irish prodigy Daniel Martin of Garmin-Sharp, and on his wheel came the Polish talent Michal Kwiatkowski of Omega Pharma-Quick Step. It is Valverde’s seventh win of this season, and a fine progression after placing fourth in the Amstel Gold Race. Sunday’s winner and pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert rounded out the top 10 in an action packed final few kilometres of racing.
Break of the day went to a trio of riders who escaped early in spite of the electric pace set in the early stages of the day. Garmin-Sharp’s Ramunas Navardauskas, Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise’ Preben Van Hecke and UnitedHealthcare’s Jonathan Clarke were the protagonists, and they collaborated well together to build a lead that peaked at around nine minutes. But BMC Racing were keen to keep the race under control and keep Philippe Gilbert safe and out of trouble, so they did a large portion of the day’s chasing in an effort to bring back the trio. That trio eventually found itself reduced to a duo with just under 50km to race as Jonathan Clarke found the going a little too tough. He dropped back, leaving Navardauskas and Van Hecke to soldier on. This they did under the relentless chasing of BMC, who had the company of Katusha at the front. With two climbs of the Mur de Huy done and one remaining all but 1.18mins of the break’s advantage had been swallowed up and a mass assembly at the bottom of the Mur looked increasingly likely.
With 12km left to race the catch was finally made and the wild positioning game began to be played. Katusha and Lotto Belisol drove the pace in these kilometres leading up to the final ascent of the Mur but with 7km remaining a desperate final lone move was made by FDJ.fr’s Jeremy Roy; looking for a long range victory, something that hasn’t happened in many a year. While he went off the front and would be caught just before the gradient started to lift, on the back there was trouble as Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha and Lampre-Merida’s Damiano Cunego both hit the deck ruining all chances of victory. The crash rattled the positions of some of the other pre-race favourites including Philippe Gilbert and Daniel Martin, so that by the time the slopes of the Mur began to bite both of them had a lot of work to do to recover lost ground from far down in the bunch.
The first big attack to go on the Mur was carried out by AG2R La Mondiale’s Colombian climbing sensation; Carlos Betancur. While he went off alone, behind him OPQS’s Michal Kwiatkowski led the chasing pack with Alejandro Valverde paying close order. Quickly it became clear that Gilbert was boxed out and would not be contesting the finish. Bauke Mollema of Belkin Pro Cycling and Tinkoff-Saxo’s Roman Kreuziger marked Valverde well before Kwiatkowski decided it was time to make his move. Despite finding a slight gap it was too much too early for the young Pole, he was overhauled by Daniel Martin who surged forwards and looked to have the legs in the finish. But with just over 100m to go Valverde rocketed past and once he hit the front there was no looking back. Valverde had time to sit up and celebrate as he crossed the line as he takes his place not only as winner for the second time of Fleche Wallonne, but also as hot favourite for glory in the other Ardennes classic he’s won twice; Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Afterwards Valverde said, “I’m really happy: this one’s for me, my family, my team, all my teammates, everyone who supports me.” Like Simon Gerrans, Valverde can relate to the feeling of often coming close but no cigar in the Ardennes classics, “The Ardennes were resisting to me in the last few years,” he said, “Always getting podium places, but no victories. I was coming here a bit furious. I felt strong at the Amstel [Gold Race], but not as strong as today. I had good legs from the beginning; when you feel well, you have to take all chances. It turned out perfectly in the end, but sometimes, you’re doing well but you run out of luck, which I really had today.”
1st: Alejandro Valverde (SPA) Movistar Team
2nd: Daniel Martin (IRE) Garmin-Sharp
3rd: Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
4th: Bauke Mollema (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling
5th: Tom Jelte Slagter (NED) Gamin-Sharp
6th: Jelle Vanendert (BEL) Lotto Belisol
7th: Michael Albasini (SWI) Orica GreenEDGE
8th: Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Tinkoff-Saxo
9th: Daniel Moreno Fernandez (SPA) Katusha
10th: Philippe Gilbert (BEL) BMC Racing
To view the full list of results click here.
By: Ed Wright