Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) made history by becoming the first rider to win Fleche Wallonne four times when he rode to another dominant victory on the steep Mur de Huy. Having attentively responded to all attacks on the final climb, he made his acceleration inside the final 200m and managed to distance the Etixx-QuickStep pair of Julian Alaphilippe and Daniel Martin to make it three in a row in the Belgian classic.
We have gathered several reactions.
Alejandro Valverde: I knew that I was better than last year
The second race of the Ardennes trio has an only king as of today: Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard came to the Belgian event with a chance to claim his fourth career victory, third on a row (2006, 2014, 2015), and he delivered. The success, three days after his two stage wins and the GC in the Vuelta a Castilla y León, makes him become the most successful rider on the Mur de Huy. A poker of success in the start of a season which seemingly focused on stage races – starting with next month's Giro d'Italia – yet showing how consistent, polivalent the 35-year-old from Murcia has always fared during his 14-season career.
Almost from the very beginning of the 196km trek between Marche-en-Famenne and Huy, the squad directed by José Luis Arrieta played their cards with brilliance, a masterclass of cycling strategy. Dani Moreno, Carlos Betancur and Imanol Erviti supported Valverde all the way through the climbs, while Rubén Fernández, Giovanni Visconti and Rory Sutherland kept all attacks under control in the finale, ultimately chasing dangerous, late solo attacker Stephen Cummings (DDD). Another crucial piece of the show was Ion Izagirre, at his absolute best when he followed the wheel of Jungels (EQS) without losing sight of all other major moves.
It was the usual development of things, differently to Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège - as the Flèche was bound to be decided on the 1.3km, 9.6% average gradient Mur de Huy (204m). Visconti's perfect final relay took Valverde to the very front of the group, as attacks from Joaquim Rodríguez (KAT) and Daniel Martin (EQS) were unable to take him out of calmness. Intelligence to follow his plan and pure power in the closing 200 meters granted him another magnificent victory in front of Etixx duo Julian Alaphilippe and Daniel Martin.
The Movistar Team's next battle in the Ardennes, the last classic of the cycling spring, will be Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. There, Valverde will also look for his fourth victory.
“The team was immense,” he said. “An absolute marvel, the whole squad was amazing, in perfect harmony - since this very morning. We were able to do the race we wanted to - and crown it in the best possible way. Imanol, Rubén, Betancur, Rory, Dani, Visco… all of them pushed like hell and paid attention to every single split in the bunch, keeping me calm at the front.
"Before the last Mur de Huy there was a lot of fighting, swerving and also mind games. I wanted to get to the front before the real climbing started to avoid any surprises. Purito attacked first, Daniel Martin followed shortly after. In that moment, I saw my feelings were so incredibly great that I couldn't do any other thing than going after them. This victory, as well as the ones in Castilla y León, keeps me much calm. Also: before heading to the start, I was nervous because I felt my conditions were better than in previous years. I wanted to keep everything under control and eventually, it turned out well.
“The truth is that it’s incredible. To be in the history books of Fleche Wallonne is a real honour. I knew that I felt good beforehand, but in a race circumstances can change very fast, so I’m very pleased.
“The key thing was for me not to get blocked before the Mur, so I told the team to go flat out to the bottom of the climb and Visconti guided me up there. I was right at the front because that way you can pick out the path on the climb that you want to take, which is really important, and on that ’S’ bend I took the right handline, where it’s not quite so steep.
“Purito went for it right after that, and I knew I had to follow, and then I saw Dan Martin and Julien Alaphilippe trying to get away. I followed Dan up the climb and then with 100 metres to go, I knew that if I accelerated away, then I had the legs to stay away all to the finish.
"I'm really happy, as much as willing to go for next Sunday. We've fulfilled our 'internal' goal, which was winning Flèche - now it's time to rest up and thing about Liège. We don't know if it will rain, maybe the forecast can change, and if he does, we can stay happy: cold without rain is easier to combat. I'm really happy to enter history with this fourth Flèche Wallonne.
"A fourth victory is pretty incredible. This is historic for me and for the team. And this is not a game. Flèche Wallonne is a very important race and I am pleased to mark the history of cycling.
“Of course I am proud of it. This is a classic and I'm now in the history books as the only four-time winner. Of course it matters, such palmares, making others remember you. Whether you may call it the wall of Alejandro? Ah, this is a race that suits me is excellently. I've won four times and do not forget that I was three times on the podium. I found all my four victories beautiful.
"I was still rather nervous at the start. I knew I could make history. On the other hand I had confidence thanks to my victories last weekend. I knew I was in good shape and could win. "
“This is historic for me. I find it important to leave a trace in the history of such a race. And also to leave a trace in the history of cycling. This race is not the least important of the calendar. I'll still be here next year. I have a contract until 2017 with Movistar. As long as I am pro, I will attend Flèche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It's a certainty.
“The sensations were excellent throughout the day. From the beginning, I felt fine. It is proof that my preparation was good by focusing on training in Tenerife rather than tough races like the Tour of Catalonia or the Basque Country. The objective was to arrive fresh at the Tour of Italy while already being in condition for the Ardennes.
"Conventional preparation was changed by doing less tough races. I have not done the Tours of the Basque Country or Catalonia and I spent 10 days in Tenerife but not on Mount Teide. It worked well, I came here with ambitions but keeping the Giro at the back of my mind. I know I can aim or the classics and the Grand Tours and I will go to the Giro to win, and at worst tofinish on the podium. I'll have to fight against Nibali or Landa, who know the Giro but I have guarantees. I know my level.”
“Cold, rain or snow, like they’re forecasting, will be difficult for everybody, not just me, and I’ve got this win in the bag so let’s see what happens If it’s really bad, I’ll see what I have to sacrifice, I won’t want to take a chance on the Giro. But if it’s cold and not raining, that’s not a problem.
"The Olympic Games are important and I know that the course is perfect for me. After the Giro, I'll have six days off, then I will contest the Tour de France to help Nairo Quintana and without thinking about the GC overall. I'll stay quiet the first week, and don’t care if I lose time. I can participate in the Tour differently, being free, obtaining a result if it is possible but I have to be there: the Tour is the best preparation for the Olympics!
“Then I’ll head onto the Games, where the route suits me very well. The Games will be the big objective, even if with just five riders in a team, it’s always a bit of a lottery.”
Julian Alaphilippe: I know I can win this race in the future
A great ride of the team saw Etixx – Quick-Step place two riders inside the top three of the prestigious Belgian Classic.
On the final hill of the day – 1300 meters, 9.6% average gradient – the Etixx – Quick-Step duo of Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe made its way to the front and played the old 1-2, gunning for the win in the race which this year was celebrating its 80th edition.
The Irishman launched his attack and forced the others to chase, before Alaphilippe – who was second last season at Flèche Wallonne – came to the forefront and accelerated as a response to the attack of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Despite putting in a brave and solid effort, Alaphilippe finished runner-up once again, just ahead of his teammate, making Etixx – Quick-Step the first team in 13 years to place two riders on the podium of the Belgian one-day race.
"I felt good throughout the day, rode with confidence and stayed close to Dan during the race. Our tactic was to have Dan start his effort early, because he has the stamina for such an attack, while I waited behind Valverde. Dan was really incredible and did a fantastic job on the climb. My legs were in pain after a really hard race, always up and down, without any time of respite. Of course, I am disappointed not to take the victory, but I'm also satisfied to come again on the podium at my second participation and especially to see how the team made the race on the Mur de Huy", said Julian Alaphilippe, who notched his best result of the season.
“Yes, I was disappointed at the finish and it’s not easy to control your emotions at that point. Just after the line, my first feeling was one of disappointment at being so close at Flèche Wallonne. Afterwards, I started to say to myself that was my second participation and my second podium finish, and I’ve realised that this is a race I can win in the future.”
“I try not to think about it [my illness] now, I’ve put it behind me. I started feeling very tired at the end of last season, I wasn’t recovering from efforts. After the Worlds, I went and did some tests and I found that I had mononucleosis. It was a blessing in disguise, as I was able to recover over the winter, though I was inactive for three months and that was hard psychologically.
“I’m very happy to have regained my condition after my illness. I started training late, I started racing late and I had to work very hard to get to the Ardennes classics in top form."
"I started feeling better at the Volta a Catalunya, and after Brabantse Pijl, I knew I could be competitive. Amstel was the confirmation. Today I was strong but Valverde was just stronger than me. Dan felt good, he needed to make a longer effort than me. We can have no regrets, Alejandro was stronger than us.”
“Really, it’s good to have Dan on the team, I’m glad to have him here. He’s got a lot of experience in these races and we talked a lot at the training camp. It’s a very good thing and I’m happy to keep progressing with a rider like Dan at my side.
“I am pleased that Dan and I have taken our responsibilities. Before the Mur, he told me he felt good but needed a longer effort. He went early and I have no regrets.
“They are two very different races and very different efforts. Liege has more kilometres, different climbs and the weather will be more complicated. All of that will make the race different but it will be decided by your legs.
“Bad weather is the same for everybody. It’s an added difficulty to the race but you have to take it on board and adapt. I’m not thinking of it now, though. I’ll take a look at the weather on the eve of the race.”
“Fleche Wallonne is a somewhat boring race because we know the scenario but in the end it's an intense effort that I like. Liège-Bastogne-Liège, has different climbs, it's longer, more strategic. And besides, complicated weather is announced. In Liège you have to save energy.
“I was set to do the Vuelta last year but my health did not allow me to go. The team protected me, I struggled to finish the season. This year, I still have much to learn and progress but I would like to discover the Tour de France after having recovered from the classics. And to be of service to Marcel Kittel.
”I spoke with Romain Bardet who said it is difficult to make a harder course than the one for the Olympics. It's in the back of my head, like the Tour. I make it a priority and I am in touch with the national coach.”
Dan Martin: I never been so good on the Mur de Huy before
For the second time in the top three of Flèche Wallonne, Daniel Martin talked about the team's strategy on Wednesday and tried to see the bright side of things:
"We wanted to go for the victory, but second and third on the podium is still a great result for the team. We knew that we can't beat Alejandro on the last 100 meters, so we tried to anticipate with 300 meters to go. We rode aggressively and the tactic was for Julian to stay in the wheel of Valverde, while I tried to go a little bit from afar. I have a very good relationship with Julian and we work very well together. We have to be happy, but we're also a bit sad, because we came here to get the win."
“I knew that if I wanted to win I needed to go from 250 metres. I think this year I rode a lot better climb than I’ve ever done before. Other years I’ve always been coming from too far behind. This year I really rode aggressively at the bottom of the climb and that’s maybe why I lacked a bit of legs in the last 100 metres.
“But I tried to win and I went into the race only thinking about that. I went into the bottom of the climb believing I could win.
“Even though we both have the ability to win this race, we have to win it differently. It depends on how the climb is ridden. That’s why we made the tactic that Julian would stay on Alejandro’s wheel and try to beat him on the line, while I would go from a little bit further. But obviously, Alejandro knows the climb and he almost read our tactics perfectly. It’s really difficult to beat him.
“I think he was just stronger. I think that’s what’s beautiful about this race but also what the fans find frustrating a little bit because maybe it’s a little bit boring because it’s basically a sprint on the final climb.”
“Julian and I race really well together. We have a very good relationship off the bike too and Liège is a race where team tactics are a lot more important, so hopefully we can play off one another and bring the victory back to Etixx-QuickStep.
“I think normally we’d be very happy but there’s that ambition in the team and we want to win.”
Wout Poels after fourth place: I wanted to prove that I can do the Olympics
Wout Poels produced a fantastic late effort up the famed Mur de Huy to claim fourth place at Flèche Wallonne.
The 196-kilometre race came down to the final iconic climb and the Dutchman stayed at the front of the pack until the last 200 metres, when Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Julian Alaphilippe and Dan Martin (both Etixx - Quick-Step) forged a small gap on what was left of the peloton.
Valverde went on to claim a record fourth win with Alaphilippe second and Martin third, while Poels battled hard to secure fourth, finishing four seconds down.
Bob Jungels (Etixx - Quick -Step), Jon Izagirre (Movistar) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) had formed a dangerous breakaway inside the final 10km but they were hauled back by the reduced bunch at the foot of the Mur de Huy as the riders went under the flamme rouge.
Few took the risk of attacking on the brutal ascent until the closing stages when Martin sprung off the front, but Valverde covered the move before overhauling the Irishman to take his third consecutive Flèche win.
Speaking to TeamSky.com back on the bus, Poels said he was delighted to claim a top-five finish and prove his credentials in one-day races.
"It was a really good day. The team did a really good job for me and actually from the start my legs felt really good. I did an interview with Dutch television before the race and said I wanted to get a top-five finish because I really want to go to the Olympics with the Netherlands. I have to show that I can perform in one-day races so it's quite cool that I can say I came fourth today."
Looking back on the final climb of the Mur de Huy, he added:
"It's a really long, steep and difficult climb and you need a lot of patience to wait. The last 200m was full gas and my legs were so painful then, I just had to keep going to the finish and see what I could do! I think I did a good climb and the three other guys were just a little too strong. It bodes well for the next few years though.”
“At the bottom I was on Valverde’s wheel. He’s won already a few times so I knew he was going to be really, really strong here. I think I was in a perfect position. I did everything I could. In the end I came fourth – not too bad,” he told Cyclingnews.
“I was thinking about winning near the summit but it’s always really hard. But I’m already happy that I could go top five here today. A nice result and a nice day.”
“Normally I would have been a protected rider anyway but it might have been a little different. Sergio [Henao] might have needed me to take him to the front in the final.
Sport Director Kurt Arvesen was quick to heap praise on his performance and he admitted he was proud of the team's efforts.
He said: "We're very happy with that. The team did a great job again. Danny [van Poppel] did a super job in the beginning looking after Wout and then we took it on to make sure we were up there and in a good position.
"We were organised and rode well together, and then one by one the guys slipped away once their job was done. We ended up with Wout there on his own in that last group which was a little bit of a shame, but he took the race in his own hands. He went on a small attack just before the final climb but didn't waste too much energy and he was ready for the climb. He was just beaten by really strong riders. I'm really proud of the way the team rode today."
Impressive Gasporotto in the top 5 in the classic that suits him the least
Wanty-Groupe Gobert rode the Fleche Wallonne with its mythical climb of the Mur de Huy. The winner of the Amstel Gold Race Enrico Gasparotto once again fought with the best riders and took the fifth place.
"This is my best result in the Flèche Wallonne. I'm obviously satisfied. This is the Ardennes classic that suits me the least," Enrico Gasparotto said.
"I am pleased to say the least,” he told Rai. “For me it is the best result of life on the Mur de Huy. It was not easy with the many emotions of the last days, being able to find the motivation and desire to suffer . However, not to be trivial, when I see my team mates work with heart and determination, I cannot give up, even if I cough or have sore legs ".
To support Enrico Gasparotto, the rest of the team lined up with Jérôme Baugnies, William Martin, Frederik Veuchelen, Gaëtan Bille, Marco Minnaard, Mark McNally and Björn Thurau.
Not present in the breakaway of ten riders, the riders protected team captain Enrico Gasparotto.
"Just like in the Amstel Gold Race, the team worked really well for me", Enrico Gasparotto continues.
In the penultimate climb of the Mur de Huy, the rider Björn Thurau tried to attack with three other riders. He did it already in the Amstel Gold Race.
"I tried to make the race harder. I wanted to have 3-4 strong guys and to create a gap. It didn't work, but I showed that I'm in good shape", Björn Thurau said.
The team Movistar controlled everything. The peloton was all together at two kilometers from the finish. The decision was made, as every year, on the last climb of the Mur de Huy. Always careful in the first 10-15 places of the bunch, Enrico Gasparotto avoided any trouble during the race and began the Mur de Huy in the best conditions. Enrico Gasparotto gave everything to fight with specialists but couldn't do anything against Alejandro Valverde. Finally, the Italian took the fifth place of the race.
"We wanted the best possible result today. The podium was too strong on the climb. Enrico Gasparotto showed he had recovered well and it promises for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which suits him better", Hilaire Van der Schueren concludes.
Wanty-Groupe Gobert will participate on Sunday in the last battle of the Ardennes week with the Doyenne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The line-up will be unveiled soon.
Strong Samuel Sanchez takes over from Gilbert on the Mur de Huy
Samuel Sánchez crossed the line in sixth place at a tough edition of La Flèche Wallonne, which saw Silvan Dillier make the breakaway in his first time at the race.
“For the team and for me the objective was to have someone in the top ten, and hopefully more in the top three,” Sanchez said.” But in a race like this it’s difficult when there are such good riders. The tempo was high from the beginning but the guys in the team worked really well. We had Silvan in the breakaway and Dylan [Teuns] to support me in the final. On the last climb I stayed in a good position and then in the last 150m I went full gas and passed a lot of riders. Sixth place is a good result.
“Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a completely different race and the forecast isn’t good. It’s six or six and a half hours on the bike so it will be all about surviving.”
Silvan Dillier added:
“I’m happy with my performance and being in the breakaway. My race today was definitely better than Amstel Gold Race last Sunday so I’m happy about this, but I’m not so happy that I couldn’t stay with Steve Cummings (Dimension Data). He was just one level above, but then compared to the others in the breakaway I was able to stay the longest with him. In the end I don’t think it would have made much of a difference because then caught him too, not too much later.
“When we went up Mur de Huy the second time I felt really good and we had a one-minute advantage at the bottom of the climb. I said to myself that I would go at my own pace and see what happens at the top, whether or not there would be any moves from the bunch. But all of a sudden I was alone on the Mur and Steve bridged to me and we went the too of us. But I was surprised there wasn’t more attacks from the bunch. To be in the breakaway was really nice but it’s not the way you’re going to win a race like La Flèche Wallonne.”
Valerio Piva, Sports Director, said:
“I am happy with today’s race because the objective was to be in the top ten. I think if Samuel was a little bit better placed he may have been able to finish fifth. But when you see the names in front of him it is clear that Samuel is in good form. It was the maximum result that we could have. With our young guys they can have a good result one day and then not so good the next. They have ambition and they want to be there but they have Amstel Gold Race in the legs already.”
Philippe Gilbert: This what not what I wanted
“I was feeling quite good at the start of the race but eventually started to feel fatigued and the side effects of my fractured finger and the different position that I have on the bike because of this. It was quite hard.
“It was a hard and fast race from the start and that didn’t stop all race. It was a big edition of La Flèche Wallonne. Now we’ll see what happens on Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège”.
"In the end I felt fatigued. It was not like I wanted. That was no different here. I felt pretty good, it was good, but in the end I just felt the fatigue due to an accumulation of minor inconveniences due to the new position other cycling position. So it's not easy to ride. Just about everything hurts a little. At this level, especially a a Fleche Wallonne at such a fast pace, you pay for it
"I don’t think about Sunday yet. Liege is still far away. If you are not there physically, you are also less good mentally. On the other hand you have to remember that it's just sport. There are worse things in life. It is always better if you win, but if it does not go as you want, it does not make sense to be depressed. There are beautiful things in life. The season is still long. You have to believe that bad luck will cease and the odds will turn back to my advantage. "
Consistent Michael Albasini again the top 10 on the Mur de Huy
Swiss strong man Michael Albasini continued his record of top results for Orica-GreenEDGE at Flèche-Wallonne today finishing in seventh place after an epic battle unfolded over the final kilometres on the Mur de Huy.
Albasini rode an excellent race surrounded by his Orica-GreenEDGE teammates until the finale before breaking clear in a chasing group behind two leaders with under ten kilometres to go. The race came back together for the climb up to the finish in Huy, Albasini used all of his strength and experience to hold onto position as the final selection was made. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took the win from the sprint up the Mur as Albasini just lost contact in the final metres.
Sport Director Matt White was full of praise for the team and in particular for the consistency of Albasini.
“The team did a wonderful job of looking after Michael (Albasini) today,” said White. “We kept him in a good position throughout the race until he went for it in the finale.
”It is one of the hardest race finishes in cycling and Michael showed again today just how consistent a performer he is here with another top ten finish. It’s a great result for the team in one of the biggest races in the world.”
“Michael was fourth wheel going onto the Mur de Huy for the final time,” continued White. “He was up there right until the last few seconds where he didn’t quite have the legs to hold onto Valverde, it was a great ride.
”I’m pleased with how we performed as a team today, we rode intelligently all the way through the race with control and confidence.”
Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi make it a great day for Lampre-Merida on the Mur
Once again Matteo Bono was in a breakaway. The rider from LAMPRE-MERIDA, who had led Amstel Gold Race until 14km from the bunch, escaped after 60km. In the end he was caught with 29km to go.
The final part of the race was the battlefield for the duo Rui Costa-Ulissi who both finished in the top 10: Ulissi was 8th, Rui Costa 10th.
There was a very interesting performance by Louis Meintjes who obtained 26th place (+29 seconds) at his debut in Fleche Wallone.
Conti was stopped by a flat tyre in the run-in to the second passage on the Mur of Huy.
Philippe Mauduit, LAMPRE-MERIDA’s sports director, judged the performance of the blue-fuchsia-green team: “We can be satisfied woth having raced once again as an united team, as we had done on Sunday.
This perfect group spirit gave us the opportunity to obtain the result of having two riders in the top ten.
Diego and Rui battled on the Mur, they did their best, compliments to the riders who beat them.
”It a shame for Conti to be a victim of a puncture before entering the Mur for the second time.”
Rui Costa explained: “Such steep hills are not the ones I prefer, however today I had good feelings and I’m happy I could be in the top ten. The team was perfect in giving Diego and me the opportunity to approach the climb in perfect positions.
"The Mur de Huy is always a tough test, especially for me: I'm not a ride who makes pure explosiveness my strong point. As a result of these extreme gradients I try to defend myself. Today I rode well and on the Mur I did my best, I was rewarded with 10th place.”
Ulissi pointed out: “I’m succeeding in obtaining constant top results in these Classics, being twice in a row in the top ten is not so simple, especially because the opponents are very strong.”
Bono said: “In the first part of the race, LAMPRE-MERIDA was in each of the many attempts which characterized the early kilometers. I tried several times to join the escapes, I finally got the good one and I was in the front of the race once again“.
Strong Warren Barguil regrets poor position for the Mur de Huy
A group of around thirty riders was left with 12kms to go and despite the very fast pace of the group, three men attacked including Georg Preidler for Giant-Alpecin but he didn’t create a significant gap
From the team, it was a strong performance from Warren Barguil to climb to 9th place.
Warren Barguil said after the race:
“I am really happy with the team performance today who did a great job in protecting me all day. At the bottom of the Mur de Huy, I lost a lot of positions and I started the climb from too far back because I got boxed in. I’m progressing each year on the classics and that keeps me motivated to keep on improving.”
Coach Aike Visbeek said:
”Our aim was to have Warren in a good position into the final 10km so that he could start the Mur de Huy with the first group.
“In the beginning, the team was very attentive and it was good teamwork to be able to stay in control of the race. Especially when Georg followed the attacked of Movistar in the last 10km. On the final climb, Sam [Oomen] and Georg did a great job in positioning Warren but unfortunately, he got boxed in and lost a few positions. In the end, he made up those positions and he climbed to solid 9th place.
“The team has got mixed feelings after this result. On one hand, we are satisfied with a top 10 but it could have been a better result as Warren was feeling very good today. Now we will focus on Sunday and aim for an even better result.”
Tinkoff missed Alberto Contador at Fleche Wallonne
The Ardennes Classics moved from the Netherlands to Belgium, with the Flèche Wallonne marking the second of the climbers’ classics. After racing at a blistering pace, and the twelve infamous climbs sapping the energy of the racers, it all came down to the final climb of the Mur de Huy, where after a spirited and strong ride, which saw Tinkoff controlling the pace for much of the day, Roman Kreuziger crossed the line in eleventh position, just outside of the top ten.
A warm, sunny day greeted riders on the morning of the 80th edition of the Flèche Wallonne at the start in Marche-en-Famenne. A 196km course awaited them for the second of the three Ardennes Classics, taking in twelve climbs, including the fearsome Mur de Huy on three occasions.
After just 12km, the race was going at a blistering pace and several attacks had been made, but due to the numbers involved, the peloton couldn’t allow them to escape and pulled them back in quickly. It wasn’t until after 50km had passed that the first attack to stick came, with a ten-man group quickly building up a gap on the bunch. By the time the escapees climbed the Mur de Huy for the first time at 100km, the breakaway had 3:30on the peloton.
On the speed of the race, Sport Director, Bruno Cenghialta knew only too well how fast the Flèche Wallonne can travel.
“Since I was a young pro this race has always been like that here. The speed in the first hour was 46km/h average so that shows how hard the racing is.”
Roman Kreuziger explained how the first hour panned out from the peloton’s perspective.
“I think it was a very fast race, which was what we were expecting. It’s a big area with very narrow roads. It was a hard start – we had no-one in the break and even if we’d tried, it was really crazy there. In the end we didn’t catch the break so we raced for a whole day on the front.”
As the race neared the finish however, the break started to crumble. After a group of four attacked on the Côte de Bohissau, the remaining breakaway riders knew it wouldn’t be long until the peloton swallowed them up. With 50km remaining, the breakaway had fifty seconds on the chase group, which was only a minute in front of the peloton and fast falling apart.
In the closing kilometres, Tinkoff were driving the pace to close the gap on the two men remaining in the breakaway. With the catch made, the attacks began. While a group of three were launching their bid for the win on the Côte de Cherave, the mood in the peloton, with Tinkoff in control and dragging back the attacks, was clear it was all going to come down to the Mur de Huy.
Calling on his experience of the race as a rider, Cenghialta was confident from the start of how the race would finish.
“The breaks always get caught and the race always gets to the bottom of the Mur de Huy in big group. We could be competitive here with Alberto Contador but this race doesn't suit the riders we have here too much, so we can't expect too much more. The race has always been the same and probably always will be. Breaks always work hard and always come back.“
With the most difficult climb of the race on the horizon, and almost the race’s full 196km in their legs, the race was going to be decided on the Mur de Huy. Roman Kreuziger gave it his all, riding hard and within touching distance, finally crossing the line in eleventh position – just outside the top ten.
“It’s not easy to beat some guys on the Mur de Huy.” said Roman at the finish. “We tried to ride together most of the race, even if it wasn’t easy, because everyone wanted to be at the front on the small roads. I had really good support from Pawel Poljanski, Michael Valgren and Ivan Rovny, who put me in this position. I was in a good position on the last climb but then some riders went stronger, but I’m happy because I start to feel better day by day.”
With two of the three Ardennes Classics completed, Cenghialta looked ahead to Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the team’s chances there.
“The team's in good form and Liège on Sunday suits us much better – we’ll aim for a stronger result there and today wasn't too much of a surprise. The best in the world for this race were here today so we can still be quite happy with Roman's 11th place.”
Disappointed Michael Woods: Now I know that I can win Fleche Wallonne
Mike Woods fought hard today against the big guns the last time up the brutal Mur de Huy. He was Cannondaleøs top finisher at 12th.
"Looking back at the day I am pretty disappointed in myself,” he said. “I had really good legs and unbelievable support from the guys on the team, but I just didn't execute from a positioning perspective in the closing kms leading into the Mur de Huy. This was entirely my fault, and it cost me and the team a real result today. Knowing the form that I am on and how good I felt on the final climbs, this was a missed opportunity. However, all this being said, I loved this race and this course. Jonathan Vaughters had me pegged as a guy that could one day win here, and now I believe him.”
Wilco Kelderman and Robert Gesink left disappointed on the Mur
Wilco Kelderman and Robert Gesink placed 13th and 15th in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s front men aimed for a top 10 spot, but fell short of that. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) took home the victory.
“We wanted to see Wilco and Robert approaching the Mur de Huy convincingly to deliver a good result,” Sports Director Merijn Zeeman said. “We’re going home with 13th and 15th, and that’s not what we came for.
“You can see that we’re developing as a team and we’re fulfilling our tasks better and better. Koen Bouwman performed strongly to be in the breakaway. That was noticeable. It wasn’t easy to make that breakaway because it was a 60-kilometre fight beforehand. On the penultimate climb, we were in good position, and Paul Martens worked well there. Enrico Battaglin brought the front men to the foot of the Mur de Huy perfectly afterwards. The team did a good job, so we need to work further with Wilco and Robert now.”
Robert Gesink agreed that his team-mates were strong.
“We saved Enrico for the final kilometres before the Mur de Huy,” he explained. “That went well and the other men were very strong earlier. We did fine as a team, but we missed the result we wanted. I wanted to finish top 10, but I failed. I need to become more explosive or be able to go deeper.”
Wilco Kelderman wasn’t satisfied, either.
“I wanted more than this 13th place,” he said. “When they attacked on the Mur de Huy, a gap opened just in front of me and I wasn’t able to hold on anymore. I exploded in the end and several riders passed me afterwards.”
For Koen Bouwman, Wednesday was a beautiful day. After a long fight, he earned a spot in the breakaway.
“It was my aim to be in the break, but it took quite a long time before we had a gap,” the neo-professional said. “I was there for more time than I imagined I would be. It was a beautiful reward. This was the best possible for me today.”
Tim Wellens: I should never have attacked
Lotto Soudal had Tim Wellens and Tosh van der Sande in the attacks. Jelle Vanendert finished in eighteenth place and was the first Belgian.
"Unfortunately, I'm the man who was attacking," Wellens told Sporza. “I'd rather wait. I had super legs. If people attacks on the final climb and none of the teammates are the, I cannot allow them to go away. But that's unfortunate. The team management said that no one could get away in the finale but they did not clearly say who could wait until the Mur de Huy. We were actually waiting with three, but if I had not attacked, I would have had to explain why I did not.
"I would rather have had a result than attacked. But I still have super legs for Sunday. Hopefully, I'm going to be good enough to be with the good guys. It will be bad weather. It makes little difference if you have good legs, but for me it is always good when it snows and rains.”
Manager Marc Sergeant said:
“Before the race we decided to race aggressively but I think that the Mur de Huy is one of the most specific finishes in the WorldTour. Movistar and Katusha really controlled the race, these are two very good teams so then you know it will be difficult to try something. I would have preferred that the domination would be less today but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
“Tim Wellens tried to get away with a few strong riders although we said to him during the race that he was allowed to wait until the final climb. He decided to attack earlier, so we don’t know yet what he is capable of on that uphill finish. Perhaps we should decide that he needs to wait till the final climb next year. The good news is that Tim again showed that he’s in good shape, but that didn’t get him a top result. Hopefully we can change that in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”
Jelle Vanendert: I was in a bad position
"It was a tough edition of the Flèche Wallonne,” Vanendert said. “"From start to finish it was never quiet. Especially in the last 50 kilometers it went really fast. I think we have an average of 41 or 42 km/h (41.416), which is fast and you feel it at the end .
"I was not well placed at the bottom of the Mur de Huy, a little too far back, and you can almost not make up for that on such a climb. I did not have super legs anymore, so much more was not possible. In Sunday there is a new opportunity. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a different race."
Diego Rosa optimistic for Liege-Bastogne-Liege after Fleche Wallonne debut
“It was my first time at this race and I can say it has been an important experience,” said Diego Rosa after the finish line.
“Actually, during the race I haven’t had very good sensations and at one point I said to my team mates that I could help them. Then I spoke with my Sports Director Stefano Zanini and he said to me not to despair, to remain concentrated and to keep the front positions until the selection before the final climb,” explained Rosa.
“Then, as expected from everyone, we arrived at the bottom of the last climb to Mur de Huy all together, quite selected. My sensations were a little bit better than in the first part of the race but I couldn’t follow the winner and the guys who attacked in the last km. I think it was a good experience and a very good test day, thinking ahead to next Sunday's Liege,” concluded the Italian of the Astana Pro Team.
The Astana Pro Team riders did a good race even if the final on the steep slope of the Mur de Huy didn’t suit them very well. On a positive note, Kazakh Alexey Lutsenko who has ridden despite the injury on the left hand suffered during last Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, finished the race and he is confident for the next races.
Excellent Stephen Cummings animates Fleche Wallonne
The mid-week Ardennes Classic had an incredibly fast and hard start with countless attacks being fired from the peloton. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka was always very active with Natnael Berhane and Jacques Janse van Rensburg part of all the early moves. With up to 20 riders at a time getting a gap, it was difficult for the peloton to let such a large group go clear. It took more than 50 kilometers for the break to finally stick and it was Steve Cummings who initiated the move.
Cummings jumped away solo with a little less than 150km to go. 8 other riders would then bridge the gap to the British time trial expert and the lead group then rode away to a 3-minute lead. Movistar and Katusha, with two of the hot race favourites in Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez respectively, took up the chase from the peloton.
Out front Cummings showed he was in pretty fine nick as when the race came to the short steep climbs synonymous with the Ardennes region, he took the lead on the on climbs. Eventually, just 3 other riders remained with Cummings by the time the race reached the penultimate ascent of the Mur de Huy. Over the top, it was Cummings who led the race alone.
Cummings solo effort lasted up until 17km to go before the joint effort of Katusha and Movistar brought the race all back together. Back in the peloton, the African Team weren’t quite able to sit back and take advantage of Cummings’ escape. Punctures at key moments in the race placed some pressure on Serge Pauwels, who was the protected rider for the final.
Pauwels still reached the all-important final right hand corner onto the Mur de Huy in a decent position but the explosive climb was once again the perfect stage for Valverde to show his class. Pauwels dug deep on the 25% gradient slopes yet at the finish, it would be 24th place for the Belgian star.
“It was a super-fast start with one attack after the other. Natanel and Jacques did a super job to be part of the action, covering the moves. Then Steve decided to try something after 50 kilometers and he went solo. 8 riders chased him down, bridging the gap. Movistar took control and they rode until they caught Steve, who was the final rider from the break to be caught. Then it was up to Serge to try and get a result. He came 24th, we had hoped for a better result but not everything went our own way. Jacques was an important rider today and he got 2 flat wheels in the space of 20 kilometers and then he also had to give his wheel to Serge, so basically those 3 mechanicals took him out of the race. Serge is in a good shape though and he is upping the game with each race. We can be happy with Steve today as well, he did a great job,” Jens Zemke, DS of Dimension Data, said.
Bad day for Roompot at Fleche Wallonne
Roompot - Orange Peloton wasnever in the mix. Unlike in all the other classics this spring, the team didn’t play any role. Pieter Weening eventually was the first rider at the finish.
"Unfortunately it was not possible to be in a breakaway when finally a group of ten was given space," commented Erik Breukink. "In the first sixty kilometres, we were in many attempts with almost all riders from the team. Only Pieter and Maurits Lammertink had to save themselves to be good in the finale."
Lammertink had no luck: "After a puncture at a bad time, he was able to get back with help from Johnny Hoogerland and Antwan Tolhoek but it was impossible to get back to the front. “ Lammertink finished 90th.
Pieter Weening was the first rider from the team.
“On the penultimate climb he was still in the top ten but in such a finish, the explosive types are really hard to match," said Breukink. Weening was 27th, Duub Duijs was 33rd.
Katusha: Joaquim Rodriguez missed the power in the finale
With professional cycling still focused on the Ardennes, Wednesday brought the 80th La Flèche Wallonne in Belgium. It’s a race Team Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez won in 2012 and looked to perform well in again. With the team in full support of Rodriguez, maximum effort was made from every team rider, but just a little bit was missing today to find the result hoped for.
“From the beginning we started this race with good motivation. Our goal, of course, was to race to win. Joaquim has won here before and he won here last year in a stage of the Tour de France. It’s really his kind of race. The team was very active early on, controlling the race and the breakaways, along with Movistar. All the riders did a good job. It was not easy to control the final – there were so many attacks. But it came together for the last kilometer and then it became a question of power. ‘Purito’ tried for us at 500 meters, a distance that is familiar to him, but the others were able to pass him there and the power just wasn’t in the legs today. The team did a good race with everyone giving their maximum, so we cannot be discouraged when we see that,” said team director José Azevedo.
The 196 km one day race began in Marche-en-Famenne with 199 riders and featured an active start to the race. Included in the early attempts was Katusha rider Sergei Chernetckii, before a break of nine riders eventually stayed clear. Once the break was established, Team Katusha took an aggressive stance with solid work from both Sven Erik Bystrøm and Alexey Tsatevich as the team did their part to work for ‘Purito’.
Peter Stetina takes over from Frank Schleck at Fleche Wallonne
Trek had Kiel Reijnen in the break.
"It was not a super cohesive breakaway and Movistar did not give us a lot of leash, which was a bummer. As the race got harder I was hoping to feel punchier, but I definitely emptied the tank,” he said.
Peter Stetina was highest placed in 35th.
"It was a ridiculously stressful race; all day on little cow-path farm roads, and it was honestly scary at times because no one would give anyone an inch and everyone was fresh,” he said.
"The whole team tried to fly the flag together with no big favorite, we all tried to pull our weight. Laurent (Didier), myself and Kiel (Reijnen) were all in early breakaways and eventually the one with Kiel stuck.
"Unfortunately, we were missing our big hitters with Bauke (Mollema) not here and Fränk (Schleck) crashing and breaking his collarbone. I could have supported and got them into position ahead of the Mur. I was just the last guy standing and just suffered.
"For me personally, I am 12 months out from my crash and 8 months back riding a bike and so to finally be at the front of a race with the leaders instead of behind getting my head bashed in was a good feeling. Literally every race I am getting stronger and I want to keep the progression going for California and the Tour. The knee is holding up and it is not swelling; it's all moving in the right direction."
Fortuneo Vital Concept to forget Fleche Wallonne and focus on Liege
At the finish of the Fleche Wallonne, there was a bit of disappointment for Fortuneo-Vital Concept. They were disappointed to have missed the right breakaway, though not for lack of trying, and even believed in it when Brice Feillu was in a group of eight riders. The riders then protected co-leaders of the team, Florian Vachon and Chris Anker Sørensen. Both arrived at the bottom of the last climb of the Mur de Huy with the favorites.
Armindo Fonseca said.
"We had some pressure because we all want to do well. After the finish, the nerves gradually fall. We are ends tired. We will put Flèche Wallonne aside to focus on Liège-Bastogne-Liège."
A mixed WorldTour debut for Stölting at Fleche Wallonne
The Flèche Wallonne was the first ever WorldTour race for Team Stölting Service Group. Mads Pedersen also made his WorldTour debut; the talented Dane rode up to the breakaway on his own, bridged to the front after a long chase and showed himself at the front of the race for hours.
The 196 km started in Marche-en-Famenne, and it took a long time for a break to form. Twice, groups of 20-30 riders had opened a gap, but they weren’t to the liking of the favourites’ teams who closed everything down again. Only after 60 km of racing a group of nine was 1:10 minutes ahead. Mads Pedersen had missed the move, but he didn’t give up. Instead Pedersen attacked from the peloton and was able to bridge to the front group after a strong chase.
At the first passage of the finish line atop the Mur de Huy after 101 km the ten escapees were more than three minutes ahead of the peloton. Pedersen cooperated well with the others, but the chase work done in the pack meant that the gap slowly went down. With 56 km to go, Steve Cummings (Team Dimension Data) attacked from the break and got away with Silvan Dillier (BMC Racing Team), Matteo Bono (Lampre – Merida), and Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal). The group with Pedersen was caught with 39 km to go, the young Dane having presented himself very well in the hours before.
Fabian Wegmann was taken down by a crash with 45 km to go. He could continue quickly thanks to the help of Lasse Norman Hansen who handed over his front wheel, but Wegmann had to expend valuable energy to make it back to the field.
After his chase back on, Wegmann had to let go of the field on the Côte de Cherave. He couldn’t close the gap again and therefore wasn’t able to contest the final, eventually finishing in 54th place, 1:54 minutes behind Valverde.
Mads Pedersen is happy with how his WorldTour debut went:
“The start of the race was very fast and we missed the break of nine, so I attacked behind,” he said. “It took me around 25 km to close the gap, but I managed to get across and we were working well together. Closer to the final, when the guy from Lotto attacked, I was nearly riding flat-out already, so I kept my own speed and worked with the others. I’m tired now, but I’m really happy for this spring and how the season has gone so far.”
Fabian Wegmann’s chances of a top result were ruined by the crash:
“It took me a while to come back after the crash,” the German explained. “I managed to come back just before the second time up the Mur de Huy and I had invested a lot of energy to get back there. In the final I tried to recover as well as I could. Christian Mager and Michael Reihs did a great job to put me in position. On the last climb before Huy I was dropped over the top. I chased with a few others, but we couldn’t close the gap. Without the crash I could have managed to be there in the final. I felt good, had some good speed in my legs, but when the crash happened I was well-placed in 20th position – normally you don’t expect a crash there.”
Sports Director André Steensen said:
“Early on, Michael Reihs was very active trying to go for the break, but it took some time for the break to form. Mads did a big ride getting across, and having a rider up there as it was a strong group. We had bad luck with Fabian’s crash; at this level you can’t have any bad luck because the race is so hard. He tried hard to get back to the front, Reihs and Mager also worked hard to bring him back, but in the end he was lacking those extra percentages to make the difference. Nevertheless, we’re happy that Mads and the team performed so well at our first WorldTour race.”
Illness takes Arthur Vichot out of contention in Fleche Wallonne
Each year, the Ardennes classics are a highlight in the season of Arthur Vichot but this year he has not had results. Last year, he had been a victim of the virus that ruined his season. This year he is suffering from a sore throat.
"During the night, explained Vichotl, "I did not feel well and I have a sore throat. I got to these classics being in good condition. I am really disappointed."
"Sincerely," says his manager Franck Pineau, "Arthur had not told us this morning that he had been a little sick during the night.Hhe had not slept well. He said nothing. He was dropped in the penultimate climb of the course but the work required by his teammates was done. Well done. There is absolutely nothing to regret, I am very satisfied with the guys, even the little boy Christian Eiking who learned his trade. At the finish, Arthur congratulated and thanked his teammates, telling them they were great! "
In the finale at the bottom of the Mur de Huy, Jérémy Roy was still there in the restricted group of survivors of the first eleven climb and this is proof that he is in very good shape.
"Overall, Arthur simply did not have the legs. We wonder if we will get there one day. Tomorrow is rest for everyone and we will try to improve our morale."
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