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Valverde Wins Second Fleche Wallonne

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AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

April 23, 2014 – Spaniard Alejandro Valverde timed his attack to perfection on the gruelling Mur de Huy to win the Fleche Wallonne race for the second time on Wednesday.The 34-year-old Movistar team leader, who also won this race in 2006, passed Ireland’s Daniel Martin and Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland in the final 200 meters of the 199.5km ride to claim his fourth victory in an Ardennes Classics. Garmin’s Martin finished 3sec down with Omega-Pharma’s Kwiatkowski another second further back.

Last year’s winner Dani Moreno could finish only ninth with Amstel Gold Race winner Philippe Gilbert 10th. Valverde had been pushed off the podium at Sunday’s Amstel race as Belgian Gilbert burst clear to win by 5sec from Jelle Vanendert and Simon Gerrans from Australia. But this time, BMC’s Gilbert failed to get himself into one of the leading positions at the foot of the final climb, the imposing Mur de Huy (Wall of Huy). But Valverde insisted there was no sense of gaining revenge on Gilbert for his defeat in the Netherlands.

“More than revenge I simply wanted to win and I tried to win,” said the Spaniard. On Sunday at Amstel I was happy (with fourth) because Gilbert was simply much stronger. But today I had good legs, I went for the win and I got it. I’m delighted for me, for my team, for my teammates, because everyone worked hard together.”

Martin said there was a moment he thought he might win it but Valverde just proved too strong.

“They say that you have to learn how to race this last climb,” said the 27-year-old. “Every year I seem to get a little bit better but again I was a little too far back at the bottom of the climb. With a few hundred meters to go I did think I might have had it but he (Valverde) flew past and left me for dead.”

Frenchman Romain Bardet attacked at the foot of the climb, which averages almost 10 percent and has a steepest section of 26 percent. But Bardet could not make it stick and soon a host of other riders had come to the fore. Kwiatkowski seemed to have edged ahead but Martin, last year’s winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, came storming past with a brutal acceleration. Yet he too slowed down as Valverde, also a twice winner in Liege, made his move and that proved the winning one.

Dutchman Bauke Mollema earnt his best ever finish in a Classics race with fourth while compatriot Tom Jelte Slagter was fifth. Spaniard Moreno’s Katusha team had looked to be controlling the peloton coming up to the final climb but suffered a crucial blow when 2012 champion Joaquim Rodriguez was brought down 3km from home by a crash involving Italian Damiano Cunego. That seemed to affect several riders’ ability to position themselves at the front of the peloton for the crucial final 1.3km Mur.

The day had begun with a three-man breakaway involving Australian Jonathan Clarke, Belgian Preben Van Hecke and Ramunas Navardauskas of Lithuania. Clarke was dropped around 50km from home while the other two battled on until they were reeled in with just over 10km left, having spent around 170km in the lead.

At that point the racing was furious with BMC, Movistar and Katusha sharing pace-making duties to ensure their leaders were in pole position once the crunch Mur de Huy came into view. But Gilbert’s hopes of matching the Ardennes treble he achieved in 2011 went up in smoke as he was caught well back down the field when the climb up the Mur began.