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Live coverage of Flèche Wallonne, 199 kilometres from Bastogne to the Mur de Huy.
It was a case of déjà vu all over again at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, as Philippe Gilbert claimed his third victory in the Dutch classic and his fourth major victory forged on the slopes of the Cauberg. After two listless seasons, the Belgian has seemed reanimated in recent weeks and lines up as the favourite to continue his winning run at Flèche Wallonne. The final haul up the Mur de Huy is notoriously difficult to judge, however, and doesn’t necessarily smile on the strongest man, but rather the one who measures his effort the best. And before that explosive finale, of course, there is the small matter of 199 kilometres and ten categorised climbs...
The start of Flèche Wallonne is something of a moveable feast, and this year the peloton gathers in Bastogne for what used to be the first instalment of the Weekend Ardennais. Nowadays, of course, Amstel Gold Race is very much grouped with Flèche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as a triptych of Ardennes classics.
The peloton has just rolled out of Bastogne for the neutralised start, with the flag set to drop on proceedings at 11am local time.
The opening kilometres of the course, through the Belgian province of Luxembourg (which, rather confusingly, borders Luxembourg the country) are rolling but without any undue difficulties. Indeed, the first categorised climb does not arrive until kilometre 84, shortly before the race enters the province of Liège. The Côte de Bellaire (1km at an average gradient of 6.8%) is the first of eleven categorised climbs on the course, including three ascents of the mighty Mur de Huy (1.3km at 9.3%).
The day's climbs are as follows:
84km – Côte de Bellaire – 1km at 6.8%
101km – Côte d'Ahin – 2.1km at 5.9%
111.5km – Mur de Huy (1st passage) – 1.3km at 9.3%
124.5km – Côte d'Ereffe – 2.2km at 5.9%
143.5km – Côte de Bellaire – 1km at 6.8%
151km – Côte de Bohisseau – 1.3km at 7.6%
154km – Côte de Bousalle – 1.7km at 4.9%
165km – Côte d'Ahin – 2.1km at 5.9%
175.5km – Mur de Huy (2nd passage) – 1.3km at 9.3%
188.5km – Côte d'Ereffe – 2.2km at 5.9%
199km – Mur de Huy – 1.3km at 9.3%
The first break of the day has yet to form, but shortly after the official start we have the first crash of the race. It seems to have been without consequence, however, as the fallers quickly remount and rejoin the peloton.
Speaking before the start, Philippe Gilbert suggested that we will have the same top 10 at Fleche as at Amstel Gold Race, just with different positions. There is a definite logic to the Belgian's words, although there are a couple of riders who didn't figure in the finale on Sunday but will expect to go much better here. The top 10 from Amstel, incidentally, was as follows:
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team 6:25:57
2 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol 0:00:05
3 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica Greenedge 0:00:06
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
5 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team
6 Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano 0:00:10
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
8 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana Pro Team
9 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha
10 Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Team Europcar 0:00:12
World champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) are among those who will have designs on improving on their Amstel showing here. Martin abandoned due to a troublesome knee on Sunday, but insisted that it was a precaution in order to be ready for Fleche and the defence of his title at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Betancur, meanwhile, was never in the reckoning on Sunday, but given that he won the Tour du Haut Var and Paris-Nice while carrying a few extra kilos earlier this season, the Colombian is capable of just about anything.
Last year's winner Dani Moreno was among the riders caught up in that crash after 6 kilometres, but the Katusha man is safely back in the main peloton. Moreno looks set to be Katusha's leader this afternoon following Joaquim Rodriguez's crash at Amstel Gold Race. Although Rodriguez is in the race today, he acknowledged that his "ambitions have been lowered a bit" and said that his main aim was to help Moreno and build towards Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where he finished second last year.
And, lest we forget, Rodriguez and Moreno aresharing the so-called "lucky room"
at BMC directeur sportif Valerio Piva's hotel near Liege... Piva did point out, however, that he's had the room redecorated over the winter and perhaps some of the magic has been scrubbed off.
The average speed through the first 20 kilometres has been a very brisk 46kph, and it's been difficult for any breakaway attempts to stick. The first men to gain any traction are Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Jonathan Clarke (UnitedHealthcare). They have a lead of 20 seconds over the peloton.
Preben Van Hecke was also part of the early break at Amstel and was one of the last two survivors of that move, along with Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale). Van Hecke was finally caught with less than 15 kilometres to go, an impressive show of defiance from the Belgian.
The peloton seems satisfied with the make-up of this breakaway, and it seems that they have been given their bon de sortie. Navardauskas, Van Hecke and Clarke now have a lead of 1:10 over the bunch.
There is a temporary détente in the peloton as the pace drops considerably and the three escapees are starting to pad out their advantage. Their lead is now up to 2:20.
This penultimate climb of the Mur de Huy has shifted slightly closer to the finish this year, and BMC manager Allan Peiper believes that could make for a less controlled approach to the final haul to the line. "It's a different race and the final has changed with two climbs of the Mur in the final 23 kilometres. It's going to really shake up the race," he told Cyclingnews in an interview where he also did his level best to downplay expectations that Philippe Gilbert will repeat his hat-trick of Ardennes victories of 2011.
It remains to be seen if that slight alteration to the finale will do much to change the character of Flèche Wallonne, where the opening 198 kilometres are so often reduced to a lengthy preamble before all the decisive action is crammed into the high-octane final 1,300 metres up the Mur de Huy. It is now 11 years since the winning move was launched before the final haul up the Mur, when Igor Astarloa and Aitor Osa reached the foot of the climb together and stayed out in front. Astarloa won out on that occasion, and also went on to claim the world title 2003, before later earning the dubious, er, distinction of being one of the first riders to fall foul of the biological passport system, in 2009.
Navardauskas, Van Hecke and Clarke are continuing to build up their lead over the peloton. As they pass through Hotton, their margin rises to 6:30.
The finish of Flèche Wallonne was moved to the top of the Mur de Huy in 1983, allegedly to improve the chances of local favourite Claude Criquielion, such a noted non-sprinter that he contrived to finish third in a two-up sprint at the 1987 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, when Moreno Argentin stole past him and Stephen Roche for the win. Criquielion would never win La Doyenne - the switch to the uphill finish at Ans came too late for him - but he did conquer the Mur de Huy in 1985 and 1989.
It's been an eye-wateringly fast opening hour of racing. The three escapees have covered some 49.4 kilometres in that time, and their lead has now yawned out to 8:40 over the peloton.
Away from Flèche Wallonne, the UCI has just announced that Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) will not be suspended for his positive test for clenbuterol at the Japan Cup last year. Although the Australian has been stripped of that victory, he will not serve a ban as the UCI “found that that there was a significant probability that the presence of clenbuterol may have resulted from the consumption of contaminated meat from China – where he had taken part in a race before travelling to Japan.” The full story will follow on Cyclingnews shortly.
The Katusha team has grown concerned about the break's advantage and they have begun to chase on the front of the peloton. The gap has since dropped slightly and now stands at 7:40.
BMC have also joined in the chase effort at the head of the peloton, and the gap appears to have settled at the 7:30 mark as the break approaches the day's first climb, the Côte de Bellaire.
At the start in Bastogne this morning, Katusha's two Spanish leaders were coy about who will hold the reins on the final haul up the Mur de Huy. Ostensibly, Dani Moreno should be the leader today and Rodriguez on Sunday, but last year's winner said it would only be decided for certain in the finale. “My condition’s as good as it was last year. It’s not decided who will be the leader, maybe me, maybe Joaquim. We’ll take a call on that in the last part of the race," Moreno said.
Navardauskas, Van Hecke and Clarke are on the day's first climb, the Côte de Bellaire, and they begin the ascent with a lead of 6:40 on the peloton. After tackling the Bellaire (relatively) fresh here, they will do it all over again in 60 kilometres' time.
The UCI's full rationale behind not suspending Michael Rogers is now onlinehere
. Tinkoff-Saxo have yet to issue a statement on the case, but it seems likely that the Australian will still have a place on the squad considering owner Oleg Tinkov's initial backing for him when news of the positive first broke.
Carlos Betancur failed to make an impact at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, but the Colombian explained at the start that he was laid low by illness recently and is unsure of his condition. Twelve months ago, of course, Betancur launched a ferocious attack on the Mur de Huy, but mistimed that impressive effort and faded to third. With that in mind, perhaps, he seems unconvinved by the importance of positioning at the base of the Mur de Huy - it's all about having the legs, he said.
“I was sick a while back and I don’t really know what my condition is like yet, whether I’m in good enough shape to really have an impact like last year," Betancur said. "A lot of people say the key is positioning on the Mur de Huy but to be honest it’s not: it’s whether you have the legs or not. You can be tenth at the foot of the Mur and the last man at the top if you’re not strong.”
As the terrain gradually turned from rolling to rugged in the second hour of racing, the pace dropped off according. Though after 120 minutes of action, the average speed is still a rather brisk 45.25kph.
Michal Kwiatkowski’s impressive start to the season – and, in particular, his emphatic disposal of Peter Sagan in the finale of Strade Bianche – marked him out as a favourite for the Ardennes Classics. He took 5th place at Amstel Gold Race, unable – like everybody else – to match Philippe Gilbert on the Cauberg, but he was optimistic about his prospects for Flèche Wallonne.
“This race isn’t as long as the other two Classics, but it doesn’t matter,” Kwiatkowski said at the start. “It’s all about having good legs at the foot of the Mur. I did a good Pais Vasco and a good Amstel so I’m pretty confident, this is all about being in the front most of the day and in the right place on the Mur. The change in the circuit with a shorter gap between the second and third laps doesn’t make that much a big difference. Yesterday they were forecasting rain for this afternoon, but it’s sunny so I’m pleased about that too.”
The main objective of Kwiatkowski’s week is Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where, by his own admission, he struggled last year. This time around, however, he believes that his programme has been better tailored to peaking in late April. “I didn’t do so well in Liège last year and I’ve got a lot to learn there. Here [at Flèche] I know I can do well,” he said. “I hope I will have the legs, but I’ve changed my race program, not starting the season so early like I did in 2013 - no Tour de San Luis and then in Mallorca - so I hope that will help me get through to the end of Liège in slighter better condition. I know I’m not as tired as I was at this point in 2013. The only other race I have in the first part of the season is the Tour of Romandie and then we’ll see.”
The three escapees are now approaching the Côte d'Ahin (2.1km at 5.9%). They have just passed the midway point of the race and retain a lead of 6:50 over the peloton.
The Côte d'Ahin is another climb that the peloton faces twice this afternoon, with the second ascent coming after 165 kilometres. The last time the climb proved decisive was in 2003, when Igor Astarloa launched the winning move on its slopes, while in 1997, winner Laurent Jalabert and Luc Leblanc rid themselves of their final breakaway companion Enrico Zaina on the climb.
Jalabert, incidentally (seamless/forced link) is on the race today as a commentator for French television, having returned to the post after sitting out last year’s Tour de France due to the impending news from the French Senate Commission that he his urine samples from the 1998 Tour showed traces of EPO. He maintains the changes to the course this year will make the final haul up the Mur de Huy a tougher proposition than before. “The change in the circuit will change things a bit, it’ll be much tougher on the final climb, and there will be a difference there,” he said. “Flèche was a race that suited me. Neither of my wins (1995 and 1997) happened after a ‘usual’ Fleche, either, it was always from breaks. When I won it was from breaks from a long way out, 30 kilometres out or so.”
Preben Van Hecke leads the break over the Ahin, but the peloton is slowly starting to peg them back in. The gap now stands at 6:15.
Next on the agenda for our three leaders is the first ascent of the Mur de Huy, where they will be greeted with a wall of noise to match. 1.3km long at an average gradient of 9.3%, the Mur de Huy's famous, serpentine S-bend seems almost to tempt riders into attacking sooner than they ought to and flounder as the gradient continues to bite. The steepest section comes with 500 metres to go, when the road pitches up to 17%. Typically, this is where the winner rips clear of the rest, but he must dose his effort carefully as the road only levels out by a percentage point or two over the following 400 metres before the brief and rather false flat at the crest of the climb.
Australian Jonathan Clarke sets the tempo in the break on the lower slopes of the Mur de Huy, but Preben Van Hecke takes over nearer the top and crests the summit in front. The peloton is still some 6:15 down.
Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ.fr) was a faller between the Ahin and the Mur de Huy, and although the Frenchman quickly remounted, he has dropped back to see the race doctor.
Dan Martin finished in 4th place last year and arguably deserved far more from his showing on the Mur de Huy. He made up acres of ground on Moreno, Betancur and Sergio Henao in the final 400 metres of the climb and perhaps left his effort a little too late. A nagging knee injury forced him to abandon Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, but he was confident at the start this morning. “I’m good, the knee is fine now and it’s 100 per cent,” he said. “The guys are 100 per cent behind me and although I don’t know where the form is I’ve trained well and we’ll see what happens. Ryder [Hesjedal] comes in today and we’ve got real depth in the team. It’s all about pure horsepower and hopefully I can get onto the podium today. Gilbert is flying at the moment.”
Larry Warbasse (BMC) led the peloton over the Mur de Huy, 5:50 down on the three escapees, with his leader Philippe Gilbert safely tucked into the main body of the bunch. Carlos Betancur, meanwhile, is one of the riders at the very back of the field as its crests the summit.
Rik Verbrugghe, winner of Flèche in 2001 ahead of Ivan Basso and Jörg Jaksche, and now manager of the BMC espoirs team, believes that the altered parcours could see the winning move go clear before the final ascent of the Mur de Huy. “The different finale this year could inspire some riders to go for longer breaks. But it’s the first part of the race that could see things develop really differently, because teams will be operating less on automatic pilot than if it was the usual race course where they have landmarks and terrain as reference points,” Verbrugghe told La Dernière Heure. “When there’s a change of route, even if everybody knows the climbs, there’s always a question mark or two, which can benefit the breakaways if the teams don’t realise they’ve left it too late to catch them... When I won, it was from a break and it came after a change of route in the last part of the course.”
Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Jonathan Clarke (UnitedHealthcare) have stretched out their lead out to 6:20 as they approach the summit of the day's fourth climb, the Côte d'Ereffe (2.2km at 5.9%).
BMC made a canny signing when they picked up Samuel Sanchez following the demise of Euskadi-Euskaltel. The 2008 Olympic champion served up a perfect assist for Philippe Gilbert at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, and as Alasdair Fotheringham reports, he is enjoying his supporting role at his new team. Indeed, after riding as Gilbert's wing man at Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Sanchez is set to ride the Giro d'Italia in the service of Cadel Evans.
Movistar and Lotto-Belisol have both begun to delegate riders to the head of the peloton to help the chase efforts of BMC and Katusha. There are almost 20 kilometres of largely flat roads between the Côte d'Ereffe and the second ascent of the Côte de Bellaire, and this is an opportunity to do a significant chunk of the heavy lifting in regards to cutting the break's lead, which stands at 6:10.
FDJ.fr's Arnold Jeannesson has been forced to abandon the race, with directeur sportif Franck Pineau explaining to letour.fr that he was caught up in not one but two crashes.
There has been a discernible injection of pace in the main peloton, with BMC beginning to string out the peloton and pegging the break's lead back to 5:33.
Interesting to see Lampre-Merida hit the front over the top of the Bellaire, and their forcing has helped to bring the leaders back to within 5 minutes. The Italian squad have two options for the finale this afternoon - world champion Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi, who triumphed in the tough Superga finish of Milan-Turin last year.
The Côte de Bohisseau is next on the agenda, and there is a definite increase in the urgency being shown by the main peloton. A determined delegation from Katusha is now setting a fierce pace on the head of the pack as they barrel towards the foot of the next climb.
The sun is intermittently disappearing behind the clouds, but it seems as though the peloton will be spared the rain showers that were forecast yesterday evening.
Movistar have now taken over at the front of the bunch, and the pace rises up another notch. The peloton is still largely intact, but it will surely start to shed some bodies on the climbs just to come.
Up front on the Côte de Bohisseau, meanwhile, Jonathan Clarke has been dropped by Navardauskas and Van Hecke. The Australian cracked on the way up, and with the peloton closing rapidly, Navardauskas and Van Hecke couldn't afford to wait.
Van Hecke and Navardauskas hurtle down the wooded descent of the Bohisseau, and then they face immediately into the Côte de Bousalle.
Navardauskas and Van Hecke share the workload as they begin the Côte de Bousalle. They're 1:05 clear of Clarke and 3:43 up on the fast-closing peloton.
The peloton is strung out in one long, painful line as BMC and Katusha continue to impose their infernal rhythm. The race is on its fastest schedule and the bunch should be whittled down significantly by the time they hit the second ascent of the Mur de Huy.
Peter Kennaugh (Sky) is dangling off the back of the main peloton, although he seems to be making his way back on. Sergio Henao finished second for them here last year, but the Colombian, of course, is currently being withheld from racing by the team, pending a closer examination of his blood values.
At the Giro del Trentino, meanwhile, Edoardo Zardini (Bardini Valvole-CSF) has won stage two, while Cadel Evans (BMC) has moved into the overall lead.
Pauline Ferrand Prevot has won the women's Fleche Wallone atop the Mur de Huy, ahead of Lizzie Armistead and Elise Longo Borghini. A full report and reaction will follow on Cyclingnews in due course.
The men's race, meanwhile, is approaching its own endgame. The break's lead is hovering about the three-minute mark as they enter the final 40 kilometres. The pace is ratcheting up in the bunch as they bowl towards the second climb of the Côte d'Ahin.
The bunch separates around a traffic island and then merges again immediately afterwards. The scrambling for positions has begun in earnest now, as Movistar, BMC and Katusha all battle for the upper hand at the head of the peloton.
The two leaders are on the Côte d'Ahin with an advantage of just over three minutes, but the peloton is closing fast, with Jesus Herrada (Movistar) dictating the pace on the front, and riders being shelled off the back in ones and twos. This is the first major selection of the race.
Herrada's mammoth effort is wreaking havoc on the peloton and that's before they've even begun the Côte d'Ahin proper. The break's lead, meanwhile, has now been trimmed back to a very manageable 2:10.
Jonathan Clarke (UnitedHealthcare) has been swallowed up by the peloton. Only Navardauskas and Van Hecke remain out in front.
The break's lead drops to inside two minutes for the first time. We're seven kilometres away from the foot of the penultimate ascent of the Mur de Huy, where the peloton will surely break up still further.
An untimely spot of mechanical trouble for Matthias Frank (IAM Cycling), who faces a white knuckle ride through the race convoy if he is to get back on at this rate.
Trek Factory Racing have now begun to contribute to the peloton's efforts, with the Luxembourg champion Bob Jungel's prominent on the front. While the brothers Schleck are ostensibly the team leaders, Colombian Julian Arredondon could well be their best bet on an explosive finish like the Mur de Huy.
This is an impressive stint of pace-making from Bob Jungels, while the rainbow jersey of Rui Costa sits in fourth wheel. Andy Schleck, meanwhile, has just lost contact with the rear of the peloton.
Navardauskas and Van Hecke are on the flat approach to the foot of the Mur de Huy, and their lead continues to drop with each passing kilometres. The gap now stands at 1:36, as Bob Jungels continues his forcing.
Van Hecke leads Navardauskas on the penultimate ascent of the Mur de Huy to rapturous applause from the gathered multitudes.
As the peloton hits the climb, Jesus Herrada returns to the front and sets the tempo, opening a small gap over the rest.
Cyril Gautier (Europcar) follows and then passes Herrada and moves clear alone as he grinds towards the summit of the Mur de Huy.
Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) is among the riders trying to bridge up to Gautier over the top of the climb, while the main contenders were happy to keep their powder dry in the main peloton. Michal Kwiatkowski was prominent near the front and looked comfortable as he climbed in the saddle towards the summit.
Gautier hurls himself into the descent, keen to press on alone, while Herrada and Caruso have desisted and waited for the main peloton, which still appears to contain around 80 riders.
Gautier could probably have done with some reinforcements when he went clear. He's gained 15 seconds on the peloton, but he'll surely struggle to stay clear alone.
Indeed, Gautier is duly snaffled up as soon as the road flattens out after the descent. The break's lead crumbled on that ascent of the Mur de Huy, incidentally, and it now stands at 35 seconds.
Europcar are determined to make an impression on the finale of this Fleche Wallonne. Almost as soon as Gautier is caught, former under-23 world champion Romain Sicard takes a flyer down the left-hand gutter and opens a small lead over the peloton.
Sicard is brought to heel as Katusha look to restore order to the peloton. It's not in their interest to let the race fragment - with Rodriguez and Moreno in their ranks, they'll be happy to take their chances against Gilbert on the final haul up the Mur de Huy.
Navardauskas and Van Hecke are continuing to collaborate on the front, but they know they're fighting a losing battle at this point. Their lead has dropped to 27 seconds, and will continue to crumble inexorably over the coming kilometres.
There are only two climbs remaining. The Côte d'Ereffe with 10.5 kilometres remaining, and then that final haul up the Mur de Huy. The enigmatic Carlos Betancur moves up towards the front of the peloton, protected by a brace of Ag2r teammates.
Joaquim Rodriguez is sitting near the rear of the peloton, while his Katusha teammates ride on the front. Omega Pharma-QuickStep are also trying to muscle their way to the front row in support of Michal Kwiatkowski.
Van Hecke and Navardauskas are now on the penultimate climb, the Côte d'Ereffe (2.2km at 5.9%). The lead is just 23 seconds and will surely fall still further as the gradient begins to bite.
The familiar figure of Chris Anker Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) accelerates off the front of the peloton at the foot of the Côte d'Ereffe, and his dig is going to help reel in the two leaders.
Navardauskas and Van Hecke are caught on the Côte d'Ereffe, and now Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol) takes over on the front of the peloton, with Giampaolo Caruso on his wheel.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r) puts in a speculative effort near the top of the climb. He opens a small gap but it doesn't look as though Katusha are prepared to let anyone go clear at this point.
Bardet is pegged back just over the top of the climb, and the peloton has been whittled down still further. Dan Martin, Joaquim Rodriguez, Warren Barguil, Gilbert, Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali, Valverde and Kwiatkowski are all still in the front group, which contains around 50 riders.
The seemingly indefatigable Jesus Herrada (Movistar) is back on the front of the peloton after the climb of the Côte d'Ereffe, with Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol) also prominent.
An ill-time mechanical problem for Alberto Losada (Katusha) who wheels to a halt with a broken rear mech as the pace continues to surge towards the base of the Mur de Huy.
The uncategorised climb at Marchin causes some ripples in the peloton, but none of the major contenders will budge before the final time up the Mur de Huy.
Jeremy Roy (FDJ.fr) managed to escape the clutches of the peloton on that uncategorised climb and he is putting up fierce resistance, but he'll do well to survive out there to the base of the Mur de Huy.
Katusha continue to force the pace on the front of the peloton, and it seems as though Dani Moreno is their chosen one this afternoon. Interesting to see Ag2r also contribute to the pace-making. Carlos Betancur must have signalled that he is up for this.
Roy is still clinging on to a lead of 5 seconds, but it's only a matter of time before he is caught.
Just as Jeremy Roy is caught, there is a crash in the peloton, with Damiano Cunego (Lampre) among the fallers. His Fleche Wallonne hopes are over. A Katusha rider also went down in that incident.
That crash has disrupted the peloton somewhat, but Katusha are still leading, which suggests that Moreno and Rodriguez are still safely in the race.
The peloton is slightly fragmented as the Mur de Huy begins, with Philippe Gilbert among those riders who appeared to have been caught behind slightly. It also appears that Joaquim Rodriguez was, in fact, the Katusha rider who fell. So much for lucky room 11...
Ben Gastauer (Ag2r) is first to attack but he is quickly brought back as the gradient bites.
Mollema leads into the first part of the s-bend with Arredondo and Valverde on his wheel, before MIchal Kwiatkowski takes over.
Kwiatkowski is forcing and opens a small gap but Dan Martin is closing quickly...
Dan Martin accelerates past Kwiatkowski but Valverde draws level with him on the final steep ramp and then pulls away...
Valverde opens a gap as the road begins to flatten out and he looks to have this in the bag...
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) wins Fleche Wallonne. Dan Martin takes second, while Michal Kwiatkowski hangs on for third.
Dan Martin hit the front with a shade over 150 metres remaining, but Valverde seemingly had an extra gear and shot past the Irishman, immediately opening a lead that he would never surrender.
1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
2 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin Sharp
3 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team
4 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
5 Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Garmin Sharp
6 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol
7 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica Greenedge
8 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff-Saxo
9 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha
10 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
The pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert, meanwhile, seemed to have lost vital positions due to Cunego's crash on the run-in to the Mur and was boxed in at the foot of the climb. He managed to battle his way back up to 10th overall, but could go no further.
For Valverde, it's a second Flèche Wallonne victory following his triumph in 2006. In the intervening period, he served a belated ban for his links to blood doping Eufemiano Fuentes and then returned to the peloton seemingly without skipping a beat in 2012. Valverde turns 34 on Friday, but has now claimed a remarkable eight victories already this season.
For Valverde, it's a second Flèche Wallonne victory following his triumph in 2006. In the intervening period, he served a belated ban for his links to blood doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and then returned to the peloton seemingly without skipping a beat in 2012. Valverde turns 34 on Friday, but has now claimed a remarkable eight victories already this season.
For the second successive year, Dan Martin sparkled on the Mur de Huy. Twelve months ago, he accelerated too late and had to settle for 4th. This time around, it seemed as if he had calculated his effort perfectly, but Valverde had too much in the final 150 metres. Both Martin and the third-placed Kwiatkowski will be encouraged by their showing today ahead of Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Thanks for following our live coverage of Flèche Wallonne today. A full report, results and pictures will follow here and stay with Cyclingnews for all the news and reaction from the Ardennes. We'll be back with more live coverage from Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.