Rodriguez wins La Flèche Wallonne

Spaniard rockets up the Huy

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) stormed up the Mur de Huy to claim the victory at the 76th La Flèche Wallonne, overcoming wet and windy conditions to prevail in the middle race of the three Ardennes Classics.

Rodriguez, who had finished second in the previous two years, was part of a large chasing group that engulfed breakaway leaders Lars Petter Nordhaug (Team Sky) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) on the final gruelling climb, and the Spaniard held off the challenge of Michael Albasini (GreenEdge) and defending champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) for what was in the end a commanding victory.

Rodriguez was overcome with emotion after crossing the winning line, having erased the pain of 2010 and 2011 by finally getting his hands on the prize. He becomes the third Spaniard to win the race in the last ten years, following wins by Igor Astarloa (2003) and Alejandro Valverde (2006).

“It’s the best and most incredible victory of my whole career,” Rodriguez said. “Today is definitely one of the best days of my life. I’ve always been in love with these Classic races, and a victory in these competitions has always been one of my main goals: finally, after many good results, I managed to win.

"Obviously I have to thank my teammates: all of them did a great job from the beginning to the end. It’s true that Mur de Huy was a more suitable final part to my characteristics than Cauberg, but I have to admit it was really hard: it looked like an easy victory, but I did a strong effort in order to defeat my rivals.

"Now I can get ready for Liege-Bastogne-Liege with high motivations. I don’t think this victory will change anything, I’m not the only forerunner, there are many strong riders with chances to win. Everything changed from the Amstel Gold Race to Fleche Wallonne and everything can change on Sunday too. So we have to pay a lot of attention and work at our best if we want to take this legendary double”.

It never looked like the fanatical home fans were going to celebrating a local winner, though the supporters in the Ardennes will have been encouraged by Gilbert’s performance. He has failed to fully live up to expectations in the colours of his new team so far this season, but a sixth place in the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday followed by his podium finish here suggests that he is slowly edging towards his best form.

"I've come from a long way down, so I am satisfied to be back at this level," Gilbert said. "Being on the podium is nice, but most important is a victory. Today, Rodriguez was the deserving winner."

Wild weather in Wallonie

Wind and rain greeted the riders at the start of the 194km race in Charleroi, further dampening the spirits of the supporters who were disappointed by the withdrawals of 2010 winner Cadel Evans (BMC), Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). But with the race underway the Belgians’ indomitable passion for professional road cycling took over, the atmosphere building with each passing kilometre.

An early breakaway saw Daniele Ratto (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Mads Christiensen (Saxo Bank) take 12 seconds out of the field, before a crash split the chasing peloton into two groups. The first group of chasers, led by Katusha, caught up and it was left to Dirk Bellemakers (Landbouwkrediet) to make the next significant move, 55km into the race.

Bellemakers was soon joined by Anthony Roux (FDJ-Big Mat) and the two men worked tirelessly to build up a yawning gap of 2:25 from Sjef De Wilde (Accent.Jobs-Willems Verandas) as they passed over the Mur de Huy for the first time in worsening rain. The first main chasing pack, led by Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), were roughly a further minute behind as the riders hurtled towards the halfway point.

With De Wilde unable to maintain his solo chase, the gap between the two leaders and the initial pack stretched to just under eight minutes at its peak, before Katusha and Lotto-Belisol traded turns on the front end to begin reducing the deficit. Sander Armee’s brave bid to bridge the gap on his own eventually ended in a stalemate, with the Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator rider unable to get any nearer that 2:40 down as Bellemakers and Roux closed in on the final crucial 50km.

With 40km to go Andy Schleck launched an attack from the main chasing pack, as the riders approached the Mur for the second time. The deficit between the leaders and the chasing pack was halved on the Mur second time round, offering further evidence of that its final ascent in the finale would probably prove decisive. With 30km left the pack caught the breakaway and the final phase of the race was set to play itself out.

Just as Robinson Chalapud (Colombia-Coldportes) suffered a horrific-looking crash, landing face-down on the tarmac, Tom Slagter (Rabobank) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) broke clear, building up a 14-second advantage. The closer the riders got to the final climb of the Mur, the heavier the rain came down, and as Frank Schleck suffered a puncture at a critical stage, Hesjedal and Nordhaug made their move, attacking with 7.5km to go.

It took the chasing pack what seemed like an eternity to close them down, but eventually the final 1km climb up the Mur – a gradient of 20-25% in places – drained the strength from the legs of the breakaway duo as the walls caved in around them. Rodriguez pounced, taking 15 metres out of the chasing pack in a show of rare power. His decisive burst left him clear and gave him time to acknowledge the crowd as he crossed the line for a well deserved victory that has been a long time coming.

Full Results
1Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team4:45:41 
2Michael Albasini (Swi) GreenEdge Cycling Team0:00:04 
3Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
4Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team  
5Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team0:00:07 
6Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin - Barracuda0:00:09 
7Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team  
8Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  
9Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - ISD  
10Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team0:00:11 
11Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
12Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale  
13Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana Pro Team  
14Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling  
15Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team  
16Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank Cycling Team  
17Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi  
18Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Movistar Team0:00:18 
19Julien Simon (Fra) Saur - Sojasun  
20Frank Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan  
21Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda  
22Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:00:23 
23Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat  
24Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team0:00:26 
25Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Argos - Shimano  
26Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Garmin - Barracuda  
27Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony0:00:29 
28Brice Feillu (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:00:31 
29Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
30Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan  
31Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Garmin - Barracuda  
32Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes  
33Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank  
34Daniele Pietropolli (Ita) Lampre - ISD  
35Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre - ISD  
36Dries Devenyns (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep  
37Pieter Serry (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator0:00:37 
38Rob Ruijgh (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team  
39Guillaume Levarlet (Fra) Saur - Sojasun  
40Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
41Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:00:43 
42Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack-Nissan  
43Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team Saxo Bank0:00:47 
44Peio Bilbao (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi  
45Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team0:00:51 
46Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team  
47Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team  
48Bruno Pires (Por) Team Saxo Bank  
49Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan  
50Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar Team0:00:58 
51Romain Sicard (Fra) Euskaltel - Euskadi  
52Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat  
53Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Sky Procycling0:01:02 
54Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
55Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team0:01:05 
56Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:01:09 
57Simon Geschke (Ger) Argos - Shimano  
58Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team  
59Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Sky Procycling0:01:13 
60Benoît Vaugrenard (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat0:01:19 
61Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) BMC Racing Team0:01:23 
62Kevin De Weert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:01:24 
63Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:01:27 
64Maciej Paterski (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale0:01:30 
65Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:01:34 
66Anthony Delaplace (Fra) Saur - Sojasun  
67Simone Stortoni (Ita) Lampre - ISD0:01:48 
68Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank  
69Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator  
70Simon Clarke (Aus) GreenEdge Cycling Team0:01:55 
71Thomas Dekker (Ned) Garmin - Barracuda0:01:57 
72Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team  
73Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team  
74Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team  
75Francis De Greef (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team  
76Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) Team Type 1 - Sanofi  
77Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator  
78Dominik Nerz (Ger) Liquigas-Cannondale0:02:10 
79Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi0:02:13 
80Gaetan Bille (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team0:02:20 
81Andy Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan0:02:25 
82Michal Golas (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quickstep  
83Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Katusha Team0:02:28 
84Yury Trofimov (Rus) Katusha Team0:02:35 
85Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Katusha Team0:02:37 
86Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team0:02:39 
87Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team  
88Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha Team  
89Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team  
90Frederik Veuchelen (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team0:03:10 
91Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:03:26 
92Dirk Bellemakers (Ned) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony0:03:28 
93Federico Canuti (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:03:55 
94Moreno Moser (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  
95Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Barracuda0:04:07 
96Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
97Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:04:32 
98Thierry Hupond (Fra) Argos - Shimano  
99Christian Meier (Can) GreenEdge Cycling Team0:04:39 
100Yukihiro Doi (Jpn) Argos - Shimano0:05:04 
101Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Argos - Shimano  
102Jorge Azanza Soto (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi  
103Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:05:20 
104Michel Kreder (Ned) Garmin - Barracuda0:05:39 
105Anthony Roux (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat0:05:49 
106Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team0:07:06 
107Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Team Saxo Bank0:07:50 
108Martin Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep  
109Stefan Denifl (Aut) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team0:08:09 
110Wilson Alexander Marentes Torres (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes0:09:29 
111Gregory Habeaux (Bel) Accent Jobs - Willems Veranda's0:09:31 
112Jeffry Johan Romero Corredor (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes0:09:36 
113Kurt Hovelynck (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony  
114Laurent Didier (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan0:09:39 
115Mads Christensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank0:09:41 
116Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Movistar Team0:09:46 
117Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) GreenEdge Cycling Team0:09:50 
118Xabier Zandio Echaide (Spa) Sky Procycling  
119Klaas Lodewyck (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:09:57 
120Martin Kohler (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
121Georg Preidler (Aut) Team Type 1 - Sanofi  
122David Tanner (Aus) Team Saxo Bank  
123Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Argos - Shimano  
124Sander Armee (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator  
125Travis Meyer (Aus) GreenEdge Cycling Team  
126Alessandro Spezialetti (Ita) Lampre - ISD  
127Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes  
128Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Lampre - ISD  
129Stefano Agostini (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  
130Alex Howes (USA) Garmin - Barracuda  
131Angel Madrazo Ruiz (Spa) Movistar Team  
132Arnoud Van Groen (Ned) Accent Jobs - Willems Veranda's  
133David Lelay (Fra) Saur - Sojasun  
134Rubens Bertogliati (Swi) Team Type 1 - Sanofi  
135Julien Vermote (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep  
136Matthieu Sprick (Fra) Argos - Shimano  
137Reinier Honig (Ned) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony0:10:04 
138Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky Procycling0:10:17 
139Jelle Wallays (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator0:10:24 
140Jérémie Galland (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:11:02 
141Ricardo Garcia Ambroa (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi0:11:10 
142Gilles Devillers (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony0:11:17 
143Arthur Van Overberghe (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator0:12:27 
DNFXavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Katusha Team  
DNFAlberto Losada Alguacil (Spa) Katusha Team  
DNFGorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi  
DNFRuben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi  
DNFMarco Bandiera (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep  
DNFMichal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quickstep  
DNFDamiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  
DNFDaniele Ratto (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  
DNFRigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling  
DNFDavide Appollonio (Ita) Sky Procycling  
DNFThomas Löfkvist (Swe) Sky Procycling  
DNFDaryl Impey (RSA) GreenEdge Cycling Team  
DNFWesley Sulzberger (Aus) GreenEdge Cycling Team  
DNFBen Hermans (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan  
DNFJens Voigt (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan  
DNFMartijn Keizer (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team  
DNFBert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team  
DNFYuriy Krivtsov (Fra) Lampre - ISD  
DNFOleksandr Kvachuk (Ukr) Lampre - ISD  
DNFJulien El Fares (Fra) Team Type 1 - Sanofi  
DNFDaniele Colli (Ita) Team Type 1 - Sanofi  
DNFAlexander Efimkin (Rus) Team Type 1 - Sanofi  
DNFJure Kocjan (Slo) Team Type 1 - Sanofi  
DNFJavier Megias Leal (Spa) Team Type 1 - Sanofi  
DNFFrancesco Gavazzi (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
DNFEvgeny Petrov (Rus) Astana Pro Team  
DNFSimone Ponzi (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
DNFBen Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFSébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFJean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFChristophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFAlbert Timmer (Ned) Argos - Shimano  
DNFTim Declercq (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator  
DNFPreben Van Hecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator  
DNFBrian Bulgac (Ned) Lotto Belisol Team  
DNFBart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team  
DNFJurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team  
DNFDennis Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team  
DNFSandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat  
DNFSteve Chainel (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat  
DNFKenny Elissonde (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat  
DNFCédric Pineau (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat  
DNFDavy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony  
DNFSébastien Delfosse (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony  
DNFEgidijus Juodvalkis (Ltu) Landbouwkrediet-Euphony  
DNFStaf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Accent Jobs - Willems Veranda's  
DNFSteven Caethoven (Bel) Accent Jobs - Willems Veranda's  
DNFOleg Chuzhda (Ukr) Accent Jobs - Willems Veranda's  
DNFSjef De Wilde (Bel) Accent Jobs - Willems Veranda's  
DNFKevin Ista (Bel) Accent Jobs - Willems Veranda's  
DNFJurgen Van Goolen (Bel) Accent Jobs - Willems Veranda's  
DNFTroels Ronning Vinther (Den) Team Saxo Bank  
DNFRobinson Eduardo Chalapud Gomez (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes  
DNFVictor Hugo Pena Grisales (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes  
DNFJuan Pablo Suarez Suarez (Col) Colombia - Coldeportes  


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