For the second year running, Katusha have come away empty handed from Flèche Wallonne despite having a number advantage at the finish. Daniel Moreno was tucked in the wheel of defending champion Alejandro Valverde, with team leader Joaquim Rodríguez just behind him on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy, but neither could match the Movistar rider when he launched his race winning move. In the end, the Katusha pair had to settle for fourth and fifth.
"Of course they would like to win the race but they did their best and there’s nothing more that we can say," Katusha Directeur Sportif José Azevedo told Cyclingnews. "The team did everything perfectly. When we come to the Huy for the last time we were in the front and everything was under control but there was nothing that we could do."
Katusha had endured a challenging Amstel Gold with Rodríguez getting caught behind two crashes, which left him unable to contest the finale rush to the line, and they were keen to reverse their fortunes. They laid their stall out early, putting almost the entire team out front in the opening kilometres and keeping them there for almost the entire race.
There were some minor problems with Alexei Tsatevich and Tiago Machado crashing heavily, however Machado was able to re-join the peloton and help in reeling the remnants of the break back.
"I don’t think that we were missing anything. It was a really nervous race with a lot of crashes with a lot of riders. All this tension in the peloton made the race faster and faster," said Azevedo. "The team did very well. We had some bad luck with a crash of two riders but we had the race under control. We did the race perfect like we’d spoken about before, but in the last 300 metres Valverde was stronger and we could do nothing but finish fourth and fifth. Other riders were stronger. We need to recognise that and congratulate them."
The team will now have to regroup as they turn their focus to the showpiece of the week, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Rodríguez has never won the monument but has twice come second in the race, most recently in 2013 when he was out-kicked on the final climb by Dan Martin. He failed to finish the race last year after breaking two ribs in a crash at Flèche Wallonne. Despite missing out on the podium at Flèche this year, Azevedo still believes that his team can contend the victory come Sunday.
"I’m confident. We have ambitions but we need to respect the other riders and there will be more strong riders starting Liege with the same ambitions as us," said Azevedo. "I believe in my riders. They showed today that with fourth and fifth they are in good shape, and the rest of the team is also in good condition. We are one of the favourites but not the only favourites. There are a lot of favourites but our ambition is to be on the front and to be in first place at the end."