Huy - For the second year in a row and third in total, Spaniard Alejandro
Valverde has 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.
could overhaul the winner of five Ardennes Classics titles as Frenchman
Julian Alaphilippe took second ahead of Switzerland's Michael Albasini.
Valverde joined four other riders, including Belgian legend Eddy Merckx, in having won the race a record three times.
"It's a huge joy to have this third victory and equal number of Eddy Merckx," said Valverde, who turns 35 on Saturday.
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."
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, could only manage 33rd at 38sec.
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 Movistar and Katusha 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, although he would later
throw in the towel.
Likewise, 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 favourites, 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
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.
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
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.
Leading results from the Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday, a 205.5km ride from Bastogne and Huy:
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.
14. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) 13, 20. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) 19, 33. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/ETI) 38, 76. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 2:43, 123. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 12:19