World Champion Cadel Evans has come second on the Mur de Huy in the past, but this year he timed his effort perfectly to overtake Alberto Contador (Astana) and hold of a surging Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) to take his first Flèche Wallonne victory.
The BMC rider waited while Contador launched his move behind Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Igor Anton, using his previous experiences on the brutal final climb to judge his effort precisely, saving just enough to surge to the win in the final hundred metres.
Contador faded to third behind Rodriguez, while Anton held on for fourth ahead of Damiano Cunego (Lampre).
"I've finished second, fifth, ninth - I've finished in every position but first in Flèche Wallonne, so to win is fantastic," said Evans. "It's the first time I've come here while preparing for the Giro d'Italia and so my periodization and training is in a bit of a different order.
"It seems I came here with good legs and it's certainly my best result. I was second a few years ago but I'm very, very happy to have won. It's a good morale booster for the team. We've been close to victory but this is a good way to do it. Better late than never."
Rodriguez was disappointed to miss out on victory after his team road aggressively all race long. “Our team still rode a very good race, we have a strong team with good relationships between us. It’s a pity that I was not able to win. I think I was missing a little bit of confidence in myself after having stomach problem in the Amstel Gold Race. I thought I was weaker than the normal, but it was a mistake because I was good. Anyway many compliments to Cadel," said the Spaniard.
Contador was happy to show himself in the finale, but felt the final climb would have had to have been a bit longer for his qualities. "I am not a specialist in Classics, because the best quality I have is recovery, but despite that I'm happy with what I achieved today. After the circumstances of the journey to come here, it’s not bad, but it is also true that when you're so close it is not a relief to be third," said the Astana rider.
He was happy to gain some more experience in the race, and now is looking forward to Sunday's Liège - Bastogne - Liège. "I will try to recover and I would do well, but am aware that it is a different race. In Fleche we passed several times through the finish and it is not the same in Liege. I do not know how I will respond there."
The final climb
The race was decided – as it so often is – on the closing climb up the much-feared Mur de Huy, the third trip up the 1.3km long beast with gradients over 20%. As in past years, all breakaways were nullified before the climb approached and one rider hit at the base of the climb with an ill-fated attack.
This year it was RadioShack's Andreas Klöden who was the first to go, but his early move was doomed to failure as the seriously steep pitch brought him to a near stand-still. Anton then took over at the mid-way point, with Contador right behind him.
But the Mur de Huy wasn't quite finished with the feisty Spaniard, and as Contador sprinted past Anton, the climb bit down hard and even the best climber in the world could not withstand the punishing pitch.
As the final metres approached, Evans, who showed no signs of suffering the legendary "curse of the rainbow bands", showed he had learned a few things about patience in his previous lost battles with the Mur, and moved easily around the struggling Spaniard to take his first ever Classic win, with Rodriguez surging past the Tour de France winner at the line to claim second.
Experience certainly counted for Evans, who was competing in his seventh Fleche. While Contador's move was powerful, the Australian knew that the Spaniard had gone too soon.
"Contador was good and certainly had the legs. With about 500 metre I thought he had it, but it’s not the first time I've done this race and I used that to my advantage today."
Evans credited a pre-race reconnaissance at the insistence of BMC team director John Lelangue with his improved tactics.
"I realized I had always raced it with the wrong tactic. Today I had good position right from the start, but waited until the last 100 meters. That was the way to do it.."
The world of cycling has already seen one World Champion double up in the Classics season, with time trial title holder Fabian Cancellara doing the Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double. Does Evans fancy his chances for another win in Liège - Bastogne - Liège on Sunday?
"Sometimes when you win one of these, it means everyone is watching you for Liège, and that doesn't help. We'll see on Sunday," he concluded.
An early start, a break and a big crash
The day got off to an early start for at least two teams. Rabobank and Saxo Bank were awakened by doping controllers at 6:45 a.m., and the Danish team had to wait an hour until it was their turn for testing.
On a cool and overcast day in the French-speaking part of Belgium, 182 riders got underway from the town of Charleroi.
Davide Palumbo was the first serious aggressor at 44 km, and was soon joined by David Loosli (Lampre), Dimitri Champion (AG2R) Benjamin Gourgue (Landbouwkrediet) and Stephane Auge (Cofidis).
By the time the peloton crested the Mur de Huy the first time the quintet had amassed a lead of 8:25.
Caisse d'Epargne and Katusha moved to the head of the bunch to dig into the chase work, and the gap started dropping. With about 80km remaining the leaders still had more than five minutes advantage, but seven riders thought it was a good time to counter-attack over the Côte de Haut-Bois.
Laurent Didier and Jens Voigt (both Saxo Bank), Daniele Righi (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Thomas De Gendt (Topsport Vlaanderen), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Christophe Moreau (Caisse d'Epargne), and Chris Froome (Sky) started to eat into the leaders' advantage quickly but the effort also inspired the peloton to up its game.
A big crash about 20km later took down a number of riders, including RadioShack's Yaroslav Popovych, said to have suffered a knee injury. The wreck split the field, which just inspired more teams to step up the pace, and the peloton soon caught the chase group.
Palumbo, who started the early attack, was the first to fall out of the group, and he was followed by Gourgue and Auge. Close behind them were Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Biel Kadri (Ag2R-La Mondiale), while Bram Tankink of Rabobank was the last to succumb.
The lead group fell apart on the second climb of the Mur van Huy, with Tankink maintaining a few second's lead at the top ahead of the field.
Andy Schleck led the peloton up the Mur van Huy for the second time, passing those who had dropped out of the lead group. Not far behind him were brother Fränk, Alberto Contador (Astana), and Damiano Cunego (Lampre), who were on the lookout for counter-attacks given the new placement of the Mur de Huy's second trip just 30km from the finish.
Yet it wasn't on the climb that the action heated up, but on the descent when Fränk Schleck, Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) and Davide Loosli (Lampre) got away, soon to be joined by Tankink who had held his position at the front of the group.
The field was strung out single file as more riders gave chase, with Astana doing the bulk of the work for their man Contador.
Sensing danger, Garmin-Transition's Ryder Hesjedal rocketed out of the bunch in pursuit, and was joined by Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma Lotto), Lars Peter Nordhaug (Sky), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha) and Benoit Vaugrenard (Francaise des Jeux), but the five men couldn't get a rhythm going before the peloton was back in contact..
Katusha then sent Alexandr Kolobnev on the attack, with the Russian gaining a dozen seconds before he too was reeled in.
As the Côte d'Ereffe approached, the BMC team moved Evans into position behind the Astana train, which was keeping the lead group of Schleck, Kreuziger, Loosli and Tankink at a steady 20 seconds.
Katusha was on the attack again over the top of the climb, this time with Serguei Ivanov, winner of last year's Amstel Gold Race, putting in a serious bid.
Once again, it was Hesjedal who tried to jump across, this time joined by a Lampre rider, but the move only served to bring along the entire peloton to the Russian champion.
Kolobnev went on the counter-attack, in what was clearly a bid to soften the legs of the favourites for their man Joaquim Rodriguez. He pulled away Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and a Francaise des Jeux rider, but once again the Astana-led bunch nailed them back.
The attack served to close the gap to the four men out front, and with 5km to go, the field was all back together.
The Caisse d'Epargne team launched Luis Leon Sanchez and Alejandro Valverde off the front as the final climb neared, but with three kilometres to the line it was far too soon and coming into the base of the climb the bunch was once more intact.
Klöden launched his ill-fated move at the base, only to be nailed back by Contador's surge while the crafty and patient World Champion loomed in the shadows, biding his time until just the right moment to make his final attack. That came with 100m to go, and after six tries Evans finally bagged his first Classic at La Flèche Wallonne.
|1||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||4:39:24|
|2||Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha|
|3||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana|
|4||Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||0:00:06|
|5||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:00:09|
|6||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:00:11|
|7||Christopher Horner (USA) Team Radioshack|
|8||Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne|
|9||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank|
|10||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions|
|11||Michael Albasini (Swi) Team HTC - Columbia|
|12||Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|13||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo|
|14||Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|15||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank||0:00:19|
|16||Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|17||Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team|
|18||Daniel Martin (Can) Garmin - Transitions|
|19||Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne||0:00:24|
|20||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|21||Jérémy Roy (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|22||Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne|
|23||Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling Team||0:00:27|
|24||Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team Radioshack|
|25||Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa) Team Radioshack|
|26||Dario Cataldo (Ita) Quick Step||0:00:32|
|27||Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom|
|28||Marco Pinotti (Ita) Team HTC - Columbia|
|29||Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|30||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale|
|31||Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha||0:00:36|
|32||Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC - Columbia|
|33||Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|34||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Team HTC - Columbia||0:00:39|
|35||Cyril Gautier (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||0:00:41|
|36||Sander Armee (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator||0:00:42|
|37||Yury Trofimov (Rus) Bbox Bouygues Telecom|
|38||Andrea Masciarelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone||0:00:45|
|39||Rémi Cusin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|40||Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|41||Kristijan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Doimo||0:00:47|
|42||Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank|
|43||Johan Coenen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|44||Ben Hermans (Bel) Team Radioshack|
|45||John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|46||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram|
|47||Marcel Wyss (Swi) Cervelo Test Team||0:00:53|
|48||Peter Stetina (USA) Garmin - Transitions||0:00:56|
|49||Dirk Bellemakers (Ned) Landbouwkrediet|
|50||Geert Verheyen (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|51||Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Milram|
|52||Tony Martin (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia|
|53||Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|54||Juan Jose Oroz (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|55||Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne|
|56||Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|57||Xavier Tondo Volpini (Spa) Cervelo Test Team|
|58||Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank|
|59||Daniele Pietropolli (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:01:03|
|60||Francesco Failli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|61||Sandy Casar (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|62||Pierre Rolland (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||0:01:06|
|63||Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||0:01:07|
|64||Kristof Vandewalle (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|65||Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|66||Davy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|67||Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|68||Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana|
|69||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step|
|70||Sébastien Delfosse (Bel) Landbouwkrediet||0:01:14|
|71||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank|
|72||Romain Zingle (Bel) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne||0:01:19|
|73||Francis Mourey (Fra) Française Des Jeux||0:01:24|
|74||Steven Cummings (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|75||Dominique Nerz (Ger) Team Milram||0:01:29|
|76||Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha|
|77||Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|78||Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|79||Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step|
|80||Alessandro Spezialetti (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:01:36|
|81||Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|82||Ivan Santaromita (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo|
|83||Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|84||Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank|
|85||Michel Kreder (Ned) Garmin - Transitions|
|86||Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|87||Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne|
|88||Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|89||Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank|
|90||David Loosli (Swi) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:01:44|
|91||Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||0:02:05|
|92||Matteo Bono (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:02:23|
|93||Benoït Vaugrenard (Fra) Française Des Jeux||0:02:30|
|94||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo||0:02:39|
|95||David Lopez Garcia (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||0:03:02|
|96||Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:04:23|
|97||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana||0:05:23|
|98||Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Astana|
|99||André Steensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|100||Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank|
|101||Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Team Katusha|
|102||Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Cervelo Test Team|
|103||Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Quick Step|
|104||Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|105||Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank|
|106||Bart Dockx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|107||Stéphane Auge (Fra) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne||0:05:28|
|108||Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|109||Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Astana||0:05:31|
|110||Sylvain Calzati (Fra) Sky Professional Cycling Team||0:07:51|
|111||Vasil Kiryienka (Blr) Caisse d'Epargne|
|112||Mickaël Buffaz (Fra) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne||0:08:10|
|113||Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step|
|114||Anthony Roux (Fra) Française Des Jeux||0:08:15|
|115||Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank||0:08:21|
|116||Blel Kadri (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:10:55|
|117||Laurent Didier (Lux) Team Saxo Bank|
|118||Grischa Niermann (Ger) Rabobank||0:11:00|
|119||Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|120||Martin Velits (Svk) Team HTC - Columbia|
|121||Craig Lewis (USA) Team HTC - Columbia|
|122||Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Française Des Jeux|
|123||Christian Meier (Can) Garmin - Transitions||0:11:42|
|124||Serguei Klimov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|125||Laurent Lefevre (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom|
|126||Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne|
|127||Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|128||Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|129||Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne|
|130||Rubens Bertogliati (Swi) Androni Giocattoli|
|131||Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|132||Paolo Ciavatta (Ita) Acqua e Sapone||0:11:48|
|133||Nico Sijmens (Bel) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne||0:11:51|
|134||Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator||0:11:54|
|135||Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator||0:11:56|
|136||Francis De Greef (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|137||Peter Wrolich (Aut) Team Milram|
|138||Davide Appollonio (Ita) Cervelo TestTeam|
|139||Matthieu Sprick (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom|
|140||Reinier Honig (Ned) Acqua & Sapone|
|141||Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:12:00|
|142||Benjamin Gourgue (Bel) Landbouwkrediet||0:12:12|
|DNF||Fabrice Piemontesi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|DNF||Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Team Milram|
|DNF||Gianni Meersman (Bel) Française Des Jeux|
|DNF||Steven Cozza (USA) Garmin - Transitions|
|DNF||Trent Lowe (Aus) Garmin - Transitions|
|DNF||Danny Pate (USA) Garmin - Transitions|
|DNF||Gorazd Stangelj (Slo) Astana|
|DNF||Thomas Bertolini (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|DNF||Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Androni Giocattoli|
|DNF||Artur Gajek (Ger) Team Milram|
|DNF||Luca Solari (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|DNF||Anthony Charteau (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom|
|DNF||Francesco Bellotti (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo|
|DNF||Mauro Finetto (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo|
|DNF||Frederik Willems (Bel) Liquigas-Doimo|
|DNF||Tristan Valentin (Fra) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne|
|DNF||Alessandro Donati (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|DNF||Alessandro Fantini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|DNF||Damiano Margutti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|DNF||Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Katusha|
|DNF||Giuseppe Palumbo (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|DNF||Jonas Jorgensen (Den) Saxo Bank|
|DNF||Aitor Galdos Alonso (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|DNF||Jackson Stewart (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Simon Zahner (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Mario Aerts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|DNF||Christophe Brandt (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|DNF||José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne|
|DNF||Paul Voss (Ger) Team Milram|
|DNF||Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Dominik Roels (Ger) Team Milram|
|DNF||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Team Katusha|
|DNF||Jérôme Baugnies (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|DNF||Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|DNF||Addy Engels (Ned) Quick Step|
|DNF||Francesco Reda (Ita) Quick Step|
|DNF||Kevin Seeldrayers (Bel) Quick Step|
|DNF||Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Team Radioshack|
|DNF||Ivan Rovny (Rus) Team Radioshack|
|DNF||Kjell Carlström (Fin) Sky Professional Cycling Team|