Five days after taking a spectacular, record-breaking fourth victory in La Fleche Wallonne, top Liège-Bastogne-Liège favourite Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) trailed into the finish in 16th place having failed to take what would have been his eighth Ardennes Classics win, and third Ardennes double.
Belgian TV commentators made much of the moment when Valverde removed his rain jacket some 25 kilometres from the finish, reading it as a surefire omen that the Spanish veteran would be in the thick of the action in the race’s last four climbs. Valverde had said prior to the race he feared the weather the most, but despite the cold and snow, it appeared the three-time Liège winner was in the right condition to battle for a fourth.
Movistar certainly had played a masterly tactical game up until that point, controlling the breaks, keeping the pace high and not letting any dangerous moves go on the race’s first crunch moment, the Cote de la Redoute. They then continued to wear out the opposition by firing Carlos Alberto Betancur up the road at the top of the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons, forcing the rival teams to work as hard as possible, and on the Cote de San Nicolas, Betancur repeated the move.
On the Cote de la Rue Naniot, however, Valverde miscalculated. As he said in a press release on his team website, “I thought the pavé was not going to be decisive”- which it was, given the winning break of four formed there - “and then I couldn’t get into that last sprint.”
Finally 16th, his worst result since 2012, Valverde recognised that his team had done sterling work beforehand, “and even more so with the rough conditions we had to face today. There was hail, snow, then rain and it was below freezing, too, it was really tough.
“At the end of the day, it’s an odd sensation, but a good one, too, because I think my overall condition for the Giro d’Italia is really good.”