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Rui Costa and Lampre-Merida teammate Damiano Cungeo
Cunego, Costa and Ulissi all caught up in crash with 3km to go
Lampre-Merida looked all set to let off several fireworks on the third and final ascent of the Mur de Huy during La Flèche Wallonne but with 3km to go, disaster struck and the team was powerless to stop Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) from claiming the win.
In the lead up to the decisive 1.3km climb, Lampre were present at the front of the race with three riders capable of taking the win.
World Champion Rui Costa was forced to deviate significantly after Damiano Cunego, who was well covered sitting on his rear wheel, fell, hitting the rear wheel of the World Champion. While behind his two teammates, Deigo Ulissi was held up the crash, losing his position in the peloton.
Cunego had to abandon all hope of catching the group which was speeding off into the distance, while Costa was forced to put his foot on the ground to avoid crashing, slowing him down also and ending his hopes of a good result.
"Today, there is no use beating around the bush. I have to say that I was really good, I think it is also seen on TV that we rode well and were always in the lead up to those damned 3km from the end," Cunego explained who has several abrasions on his hips, back and elbow as evidence of the fall.
"I was obliged by the fall at the head of the group to dodge Rui Costa, who I was really close to to avoid losing positions. I could not help but hit his wheel and fall to the ground. We are sorry because he, myself and Ulissi, behind me, could really have done well in the final."
Luckily, Ulissi escaped from the scene of the crash largely unimpended but then had to dig deep to get back to the front of the race. Evidence of how he could have threatened for the victory was his 17th place, having had to give everything to get back the front goup while still managint to finish in 17th place, 28 seconds off Valverde.
"I'm confident after today anyway, because my legs were decent or else I would not be able to overtake all of these opponents on the wall of the Huy and finish 17th," Ulissi said.
For Lampre's director sportif on the day, Joxean Matxin, he could not fault the efforts of the team and expects them to bounce back quickly.
"Today, unfortunately, we have not seen our real potential, we had three men in the end, who I'm sure they could have had their say. We just have to wait for the next race [were we will be] even more hungry," Matxin said.
For Costa, who is yet to win a race in the rainbow stripes, he echoed the sentiments of Matxin stating that on Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège he will be raring and ready to go the for 100th edition of La Doyenne.
"I'm really sorry for the end of the race, we had given it our all all-day. We were all together to stay in the top positions of the group and then with less than 3km from the finish line, a crash penalised us all." Costa said.
"This episode should give us even more competitive nastiness for Sunday."