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Apr 22, 2015 – For the second year in a row and third in total, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde triumphed atop the brutal Mur de Huy climb to win Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne race.
The 34-year-old Movistar team leader placed himself at the front of the peloton on the 1.3km climb up the Mur, which has an average gradient of 9.6 percent with one section at 26 percent, and gradually wound up his sprint finish.
“It’s a huge joy to have this third victory and equal number of Eddy Merckx,” said Valverde, who turns 35 on Saturday.
“It gives me a lot of confidence and serenity for the rest of the season. It shows I’m on the right track and still there, even after 35 years.”
No-one could overhaul the winner of five Ardennes Classics titles as Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe took second ahead of of Switzerland’s Michael Albasini. It was the fourth win in a row for a Spanish rider but 2012 champion Joaquim Rodriguez could manage only fourth while his Katusha team-mate Dani Moreno, winner in 2013, was fifth.
World champion Michal Kwiatkowski, who won Sunday’s Amstel Gold race, came home outside the top ten. It was a prestigious field on the start-line in Waremme as Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali, the man he succeeded, Chris Froome and last year’s Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana were all present, and perhaps with reconnaissance in mind — the third stage of the Grand Boucle in July will finish on the Mur de Huy.
Seven riders broke clear around 10km into the race and built up a maximum lead of eight minutes, although Valverde’s Movistar and Rodriguez’s Katusha teams managed the gap. Ahead of the first of three ascensions up the brutal Mur de Huy (wall of Huy) climb with 85km still to ride, last year’s runner-up Dan Martin went down and was forced to chase back on with two teammates.
2011 winner Philippe Gilbert crashed out in an innocuous-looking incident around 50km from home, while several riders later ended up in a ditch by the side of a straight road. And 30km from home one of the favorites, Belgian Jelle Vanendert, second at the Amstel Gold race last year before finishing sixth in Huy, hit the tarmac, ending his race.
Soon after, Luis Leon Sanchez and Giuseppe Visconti attacked off the front of the peloton at the top of the second ascension of the Mur, with the remnants of the breakaway only 40 seconds up the road. The pair quickly overhauled the breakaway riders and left them behind, although their lead over the peloton, led by Katusha and Kwiatkowski’s Etixx-Quick Step outfit, hovered around 20-25sec.
There was still time for another crash with Froome hitting the deck hard and shredding his shorts, although he got back on his bike — battered and bruised, he rolled in to the finish in 123rd place, more than 12 minutes off the pace. Nibali, who would finish 20th, launched hostilities on the penultimate climb, the Cote de Cherave, just 5km before the final ascension of the Mur, stretching out the field.
Belgian Tim Wellens then made a brave break for home with only Italian Gianpaolo Caruso able to react but the latter was hauled back within 3km of the finish, while Wellens hit the Mur with a only handful of seconds advantage. It wasn’t enough as he was quickly passed with the favourites massing at the front and jostling for the final shoot-out. In the end there was no dramatic attack or acceleration as Valverde simply maintained his effort a bit longer than the rest.
Final 10 Kilometers of Fleche Wallonne
Philippe Gilbert involved in a late race crash
Factfile on Alejandro Valverde, who won the 205.5km Fleche Wallonne one-day classic on Wednesday:
Full name: Alejandro Valverde Belmonte
Date of birth: April 25, 1980
Place of birth: Las Lumbreras, Spain
Height: 1.77m (5ft 10in)
Weight: 61kg (9st 6)
Nickname: El Bala (the bullet)
Teams: Kelme-Costa Blanca (2002-2004), Movistar (2005-)
Grand Tours – Vuelta a Espana (winner 2009, points classification winner
2012 & 2013, 8 stages from 2003-2014), Tour de France (4 stage wins, 1 in
2005, 2 in 2008, 1 in 2012)
Stage races – Criterium du Dauphine (2008, 2009), Volta a Catalunya (2009),
Vuelta a Andalucia (2012, 2013, 2014), Vuelta a Burgos (2004, 2009)
One-day races – Liege-Bastogne-Liege (2006, 2008), Fleche Wallonne (2006,
2014, 2015), Clasica de San Sebastian (2008, 2014)
1. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 5hr 08min 22sec
2. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/ETI) same time
3. Michael Albasini (SUI/ORI) s.t.
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) s.t.
5. Dani Moreno (ESP/KAT) s.t.
6. Alexis Vuillermoz (FRA/ALM) at 04sec
7. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) s.t.
8. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) s.t.
9. Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED/CAN) s.t.
10. Wilco Kelderman (NED/LNL) s.t.