Huy - Spain's Alejandro Valverde timed his finish to perfection to claim the Fleche Wallonne for a record fourth time on Wednesday.
The near 200km midweek Ardennes Classic came down to a dramatic
shoot-out up the 1.3km long final ascent of the Mur de Huy, with
Valverde seeing off Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe.
"This is really my race!" the 35-year-old Movistar veteran smiled.
Ireland's Dan Martin, who had led briefly up the imposing hill, finished third with Dutch rider Wout Poels fourth.
Valverde waited until the last 300m before launching his attack.
His compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez had already made an impressive lunge for victory, before he faded and was overtaken by Martin.
But he would also be proven to have jumped the gun as Valverde delivered the coup de grace on the final stretch.
"I was feeling more nervous than normal, I didn't want to miss out. I
worked out the right distance to make my move," Valverde reported.
He went into the race sharing the record of three wins with four other riders including Belgian great Eddy Merckx.
"It's historic for me. I think it's important to leave your mark on the history of such a race," added Valverde.
"But also to leave your mark on the history of cycling. This race is
not the most insignificant on the calendar. I'll still be here next
Valverde, though, said his main aim for the season would come at next month's Giro d'Italia.
"(My aim is) to be on the Giro podium while thinking about stage victories," he added.
"But I'm aware that I'll have some tough competition.
"Before that I'll go to Liege-Bastogne-Liege (on Sunday) with genuine
hopes of winning, although without risking my Giro participation."
His love affair with the Fleche Wallonne began with his first success in 2006.
He then had to wait eight years for his next win in 2014, with the
veteran Spaniard following up last year when Alaphilippe also filled the
"My initial feeling when crossing the line was disappointment at having come close to winning," said Alaphilippe.
"But then I realised it's my second podium finish in two participations. It's a race I can win in the future."
Despite working together, Alaphilippe and his Etixx team-mate Martin could not find a way to defeat Valverde.
"We really wanted to win. We thought that Julian Alaphilippe could go faster than Valverde close to the summit," said Martin.
"I had to try with 300m (left) but Valverde was just the best.
"I love this race because it's so tactical. I probably did my best race ever here, but struggled in the last 100m."
Briton Stephen Cummings had sparked a breakaway after 55km and was the last left of that group with 27km to race.
But he lasted only another 10km before Movistar reeled him in, setting up Valverde for his moment of glory.
Before the race began, one of the favourites, Sergio Henao of
Colombia, was withdrawn by his Sky team due to anomalies in his
Sky have withdrawn Henao for a three months precautionary period and insisted he had not failed a doping test.
Results from Wednesday's 196km Fleche Wallonne Ardennes Classic race:
1. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 4hr 43min 57sec, 2. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/ETI) same time, 3. Daniel Martin (EIR/ETI) s.t., 4. Wout Poels (NED/SKY) at 4sec, 5. Enrico Gasparotto (ITA/WGG) 5, 6. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/BMC) s.t., 7. Michael Albasini (SUI/ORI) s.t., 8. Diego Ulissi (ITA/LAM) s.t., 9. Warren Barguil (FRA/GIA) s.t., 10. Rui Costa (POR/LAM) s.t., 11. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/TIN) s.t., 12. Michael Woods (CAN/CAN) s.t., 13. Wilco Kelderman (NED/LNL) s.t., 14. Julien Simon (FRA/COF) 12, 15. Robert Gesink (NED/LNL) 14, 16. Arnold Jeannesson (FRA/COF) s.t., 17. Rudy Molard (FRA/COF) s.t., 18. Jelle Vanendert (BEL/LOT) 17, 19. Pierre Latour (FRA/ALM) s.t., 20. Diego Rosa (ITA/AST) s.t.
21. Michael Matthews (AUS/ORI) 23, 28. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 32, 91. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/BMC) 3:34, 144. Mathew Hayman (AUS/ORI) 8:10