Valverde wins Fleche Wallone
Alejandro Valverde won the Ardennes classic La Flèche Wallone for the second consecutive time, beating Etixx-Quickstep’s Julian Alaphilippe and Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Albasini in a sprint finish atop the Mur de Huy.
This marks Valverde’s third win at La Flèche, with victories in 2006 and 2014 along with this one, making him the fifth rider to win the race three times. This is the 2014 Velo d’Or’s second race win of the year after winning the Vuelta a Mallorca and finishing second in the Amstel Gold race.
The 79th edition of La Flèche Wallone started with a breakaway getting clear in the first 10km and building a steady lead of more than 8′. The riders in the break were Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Mike Teunissen (Team LottoNL-Jumbo), Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Jérôme Baugnies (Wanty – Groupe Gobert), Reinier Honig (Team Roompot), Daniele Ratto (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling), and Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport).
Katusha and Movistar took resopnsibility for marshaling the peloton for most of the day, keeping the break in check and doing the majority of the work on the front. A touch of wheels with Katusha’s Tiago Machado saw Dan Martin come down and have to work to get back to the bunch; whilst team Sky made an appearance at the front of the race and British Champion Pete Kennaugh set a pace on the front that brought the gap down to a more reasonable 5′.
The breakaway started to fracture with Honig and Teunissen being dropped as another crash in the bunch saw 2011 winner Philippe Gilbert crash and have to abandon the race. The crash occurred as the peloton bunched together to avoid some parked cars and included Sky’s Lars Peter Nordhaug and Wouter Poels, Cannondale-Garmin’s Ben King and FDJ’s Anthony Roux and BMC’s Amael Moinard.
The five riders left in the breakaway approached the second ascent of the Mur de Huy with 50″ of their lead still in tact, but by the top of the climb the only two left out front were De Gendt and Baugnies. An attack from Astana’s Luis Leon Sanchez and Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti created another group of four that managed to gain some time back on the descent, leaving Katusha and Etixx-Quickstep to take responsibility for chasing them down.
As the race neared the new climb at the Côte de Cherave BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen attacked but couldn’t get a big enough gap and was swallowed by the bunch pretty soon after launching his effort. The attacks came thick and fast with De Gendt and Baugnies being absorbed into the bunch as Visconti and Sanchez approached the final ascent of the Mur de Huy with a handful of seconds.
Tour de France Champion Vincenzo Nibali attacked to try and bridge up to his teammate Sanchez but only succeeded in dragging the peloton closer to the two escapees. Lotto Soudal’s Tim Wellens picked his moment and launched his attack, successfully creating a gap into the foot of the Mur after Sanchez and Visconti came back to the bunch.
Wellens had a lead of 15″ and managed to stay ahead until the final 500m but with Katusha and Movistar charged up the Mur behind him any hope of victory was quickly dashed.
As Wellens was caught Valverde counter-attacked and took the race lead with Katusha’s Dani Morena and GC rival Joaquim Rodriguez trying to follow but unable to keep up with the Movistar rider. Albasini was no match for Alaphilippe who was really the only rider who looked able to challenge Valverde, but the Spaniard was too strong and had time to savour his victory as he crested the climb to take the race win.
Chris Froome was caught in a crash around 10km from the finish, with the cameras missing the incident, focused on the action at the front of the race. Froome rode La Flèche Wallone to gain experience on the Mur de Huy and according to Team Sky he wasn’t badly injured in the incident, just losing some skin on the top of his legs and ruining another pair of bib shorts.