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Having controlled the pace on the Mur de Huy perfectly, Valverde accelerated clear to take a second consecutive win in Fleche Wallonne; Alaphilippe and Albasini completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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FLECHE WALLONNE

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JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

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MICHAEL ALBASINI

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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22.04.2015 @ 17:28 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) wrote his name into the history books when he became the fifth rider to win Fleche Wallonne three times as he powered clear of a reduced peloton to win the famous uphill sprint on the Mur de Huy. Having controlled the pace for most of the climb, he hit the gas with 200m to go to distance his rivals and make it two in a row in the Belgian classic before Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) and Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) rolled across the line to complete the podium.

 

After stepping down from the podium at the Amstel Gold Race, Alejandro Valverde made it clear that he had never felt stronger for his first important season goals, the Ardennes classics. This made him the obvious favourite for today’s Fleche Wallonne where he lined up as the defending champion.

 

With two wins in the Belgian classic, Valverde had the chance to make history as he could become the fifth rider in the history of the race to win the race three times and he was in a determined mood as he headed out on the 205.5km course with 11 climbs. From the start of the race, his Movistar team controlled the race with Katusha and Etixx-QuickStep and he finished it off for his teammates when he powered clear to take a dominant win in the famous uphill sprint on the Mur de Huy.

 

Before he got there, he had played a smart card by sending Giovanni Visconti off in an attack which took the pressure off Movistar’s shoulders and forced Etixx-QuickStep and Katusha on the defensive. The Italian had been joined by Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) but were brought back as they hit the new Cote de Cherave which summited just 5.5km from the finish.

 

At this point, the number of possible contenders had already been significantly whittled down in what turned out to be a true crash fest. Daniel Martin (Cannondale-Garmin), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) and Chris Froome (Sky) were the four biggest names to hit the deck and none of them got back in contention.

 

On the Cherave, the attacking started when Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) made his expected move. He was joined by Roman Kreuziger (Astana) and Julian Alaphilippe and they flew past Sanchez and Visconti. However, they had the splintering peloton in tow and instead it was Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) who took off.

 

The Belgian was briefly joined by Michele Scarponi (Astana) and Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) but none of them were able to keep up with him and the youngster was the first to crest the summit, with Caruso in lone pursuit. Behind, the peloton had been reduced to just 20 riders and it was Visconti who had started to chase for Movistar.

 

More riders rejoined the peloton which contained around 40 contenders by the time, they brought back Caruso in the flat section leading to the Mur. Sanchez was now working with Visconti before Rafael Valls took over for Lampre-Merida.

 

As they hit the Mur, Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) made the first attack but he was quickly brought back by Valls who set the pace on the lower slopes. Wellens was still dangling a few metres in front of them but as Rui Costa took over, he was brought back.

 

The peloton had now splintered to pieces and it was time for Valverde to move to the front. Riding alongside Michael Albasini and Scarponi, he controlled the pace for most of the climb while the main contenders tried to position themselves.

 

The Katusha pair of Joaquim Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno had caught Valverde’s wheel as he continued his patrolling of the front. With 300m, he upped the pace a further notch and 100m later, he went full gas. He immediately distanced his two compatriots and instead it was Alaphilippe and Albasini who distanced the rest in the wake of the superior Valverde. While Valverde sat up to celebrate a comfortable win, the young Frenchman edged out Albasini to take a breakthrough result in the classics.

 

With the Fleche Wallonne over, only one big classic remains in the sprint. On Sunday, the riders will be back in action at Liege-Bastogne-Liege which will bring the Ardennes classics to an end.

 

A hilly course

The 79th Fleche Wallonne was held on a 205.5km course that brought the riders from Waremme to the traditional finish at the top of the steep Mur de Huy. The riders would tackle a total of 11 climb along the way and apart from an early ascent, they were all located in the second half of the race. The riders would tackle the Mur de Huy three times, with the penultimate passage coming 29km from the finish. Then the riders would go up the Cote d’Ereffe and the new Cote de Cherave whose summit was located just 5.5km from the finish, before they descended to the bottom of the Mur for the final time.

 

Like in the recent classics, the riders took the start under a beautiful sunny sky but one rider never made it to the sign-in in Waremme. Lieuwe Westra (Astana) had fallen ill overnight, meaning that Astana were at the start with only 7 riders.

 

The break gets clear

The race got off to a fast opening phase with several attacks but the break was formed pretty early. After 8km of racing, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport Vlaanderen), Jerome Baugnies (Wanty), Reinier Honig (Roompot) and Daniele Ratto (Unitedhealthcare) got clear and 3km later they had already distanced the peloton by 1.25. At this point, Mike Teunissen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Brice Feillu (Bretagne) had taken off in pursuit and they managed to make the junction at the 13km mark.

 

The peloton was in no hurry and after 15.5km of racing, the gap was already 5.20. When Honig was the first to crest the summit at the 22km mark, it was 8 minutes but now Katusha had hit the front to keep the situation under control.

 

Movistar and Katusha in control

Movistar joined forces with the Russian and those two teams worked together to keep the gap between the 7- and 8-minute mark for most of the first part of the race. At the 68km mark, it was briefly down to 6.45 as BMC had now also moved to the front end of the peloton but as the peloton was still not in chase mode, it went back up to more than 7 minutes. When Baugnies crested the summit of the Cote de Bellaire at the 92km mark as the first rider, it was 7.05.

 

Vanspeybrouck was the first rider at the top of the Cote de Bohisseau while Dmitry Kozontchuk (Katusha) and Imanol Erviti (Movistar) set the pace in the peloton. As they approached the Mur for the first time, the fight for position intensified and the gap now started to come down.

 

Martin hits the deck

A small crash brought down Wellens, Ben King (Cannondale) and Arthur Vanoverberghe (Topsport) but it was the next accident that got all the attention. Dan Martin hit the deck hard and even though he managed to rejoin the peloton, he would later be distanced and never played a role in the race.

 

De Gendt set the pace all the way up the climb and initially only Ratto and Vanspeybrouck could keep up with him. As they crested the summit, only Teunissen was still not back but he managed to rejoin the group on the descent.

 

Etixx-QuickStep start to chase

In the peloton, Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep) and Danilo Wyss (BMC) set a pretty steady pace on the climb and it was a largely intact group that crested the summit with a deficit of 5.50. Erviti and Kozontchuk went back to work and they made sure to keep the gap at around 5.45 for a long time.

 

The gap was not really coming down and so Etixx-QuickStep started to chase, with Serry trading pulls with Erviti and Kozontchuk. This had a clear effect and with 60km to go, the gap was down to 5.05.

 

Sky take control

At this point, De Gendt decided to attack and again only Vanspeybrouck and Ratto could stay with him. Later Baugnies bridged the gap and finally the group came back together.

 

The riders were about to hit a narrow road and this created a huge fight for position in the peloton. Peter Kennaugh and Philip Deignan strung things out for Sky which brought the gap down to 4.20 by the time the peloton sprinted onto the Cote de Bellaire with 58km to go.

 

The break splits up

De Gendt again set a brutal pace which was too much for Teunissen who dropped off. Later Honig also got distanced and the pair found together in a quest to get back. They cooperated well for a long time but never made it back.

 

In the peloton, Kennaugh set a fierce pace on the climb before Serry took over and riders were now getting distanced. At the top, the gap was only 3.20 and as they hit the Cote de Bohisseau, it was 3 minutes.

 

Gilbert goes down

At this point, another big crash brought down Gilbert, Chris Jones (Unitedhealthcare), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) and the Trek pair of Bob Jungels and Julian Arredondo. Most of them were in a lot of pain and only Nordhaug managed to continue.

 

Serry was now working with Jose Herrada (Movistar) and they made the gap melt away. As Tiago Machado (Katusha) also hit the front, the gap was down to 2 minutes with 43km to go.

 

Vanendert hits the deck

Another crash brought down several riders, including Wout Poels (Sky), Anthony Roux (FDJ) and Nordhaug, with the former two being forced to abandon. Meanwhile, Martin was now dropped from the peloton which was riding full gas.

 

As they approached the Mur for the second time, Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo) hit the front and again a crash happened in the huge fight for position. This time Vanendert, Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha); Kevin Reza (FDJ) and Tom Leezer (LottoNL-Jumbo) were involved and none of them got back on their bikes.

 

Visconti and Sanchez take off

On the Mur, Vanspeybrouck got distanced from the break before Ratto made the first attack. He was passed by Baugnies who was the first at the top, followed by De Gendt and Ratto while Feillu was furher back.

 

In the peloton, Visconti had made an attack and he was joined by Sanchez. While De Gendt made it back to Baugnies, the pair picked up Ratto and Feillu, with the latter getting distanced immediately.

 

The front groups merge

Visconti’s move forced Etixx-QuickStep and Katusha on the defensive, with Serry, Petr Vakov, Maxime Bouet, Sergey Lagutin and Machado working hard.  Meanwhile, the three chasers caught the front duo and the quintet could start the Cote d’Ereffe with an advantage of 30 seconds.

 

As soon as they started to climb, Ratto got distanced before De Gendt also dropped off. Baugnies fought hard for a long time but he had to surrender just before the top.

 

Froome goes down

Tejay van Garderen (BMC) attacked from the peloton and flew past Ratto and De Gendt before he was joined by Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal). The pair picked up Baugnies and worked hard to bridge the gap while Serry, Machado and Michal Golas (Etixx-QucikStep) chased in the peloton.

 

The three chasers were caught with 13km to go but the front duo still had a 25-second advantage. At this point, another crash brought down Wyss, Patrick Schelling, Samuel Sanchez, Jarlinson Pantano, Bryan Coquard, Mike Terpstra and Froome. The latter got back on his bike but was no longer in contention for the win.

 

Boaro led the peloton as they approached the Cote de Cherave before Tony Martin took over. The German set the pace on the lower slopes before Mikael Cherel took over for Ag2r. His pace reduced the gap to just 10 seconds before Nibali and Kreuziger attacked to start the exciting finale.

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