Valverde wins his record fifth Fleche Wallonne

Defending champion times his effort perfectly on Mur de Huy, topping Martin, Teuns

La Flèche Wallonne is a simple race. The peloton races for 204.5 kilometres over three ascents of the Mur de Huy, and in the end, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) wins. For the fourth year in succession and the fifth time in total, Valverde triumphed atop the Mur de Huy, and, once again, it all looked so disarmingly easy for the veteran.

From the moment Valverde launched his decisive acceleration inside the final 200 metres, the result was never remotely in doubt, and the riders lined up on his wheel seemed almost resigned to the inevitable. Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) produced his by-now traditional late charge to place second, while Dylan Teuns (BMC) held off Sergio Henao (Sky) for third, but Valverde was already sitting up to celebrate his victory as they fought over the scraps.

A week shy of 37th birthday, Valverde is enjoying arguably the most remarkable sequence of a contentious career, which was interrupted by the belated ban he served in 2010 and 2011 following his implication in the Operacion Puerto blood-doping inquiry. Already the winner of the Ruta del Sol, Volta a Catalunya and Tour of the Basque Country this spring, he now eyes a fourth Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory on Sunday.

As he waited to mount the podium, Valverde was asked the secret of his success. "Confidence and strength," Valverde said, before paying tribute to the efforts of his Movistar team. "They worked a lot for me from kilometre zero. It was hard but we had the confidence that we could win. This race is made for me."

Movistar's task was arguably facilitated by the preference of so many other teams to take their chances on the Mur de Huy rather than attempt to pry the race open before the final climb, with Sky and Orica-Scott among the teams to help clip back the solo effort of Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) in the finale.

Jungels led at the base of the Mur de Huy, but with a lead of just a handful of seconds, his was always likely to be a forlorn effort. Diego Rosa set the tempo on the lower slopes of the Mur, with Michal Kwiatkowski on his wheel, but the expected acceleration from the former world champion never materialised and riders fanned across the road as they emerged from the famous S-bend midway up the climb.

Valverde was guided at this point by Dani Moreno, and he maintained a watching brief as Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) and David Gaudu (FDJ) moved alongside him to the front row of the leading group.

The deadlock was eventually broken with 250 metres to go when the highly-rated Gaudu – still only 20 years old and in his first season as a professional – launched a fine acceleration. Valverde was live to the threat and quickly tracked the Frenchman, before launching a stinging attack of his own.

Dylan Teuns was tucked onto Valverde's rear wheel when he attacked and could not have been better positioned, but the Belgian was simply unable to match the ferocity of the acceleration. Henao tried to get on terms, but he, too, was powerless.

"I was a bit boxed-in by Kwiatkowski and Henao at one point but with a top favourite like Valverde, it's just waiting until he goes," Teuns said. "I tried to follow but he quickly was a bike-length away."

Dan Martin was three rows back coming out of the S-bend, and the Irishman left himself with too much ground to make up in the final 200 metres, though he has made a habit of late surges over the years on the Mur de Huy. After a second place in 2014 and third a year ago, Martin had to settle for another podium finish here, and a grim realisation about his prospects in this race.

"Maybe I've got to wait until Alejandro retires to win Flèche Wallonne…" Martin said. "Obviously I hope I can beat him one day. It was a strange race today, with a strong headwind. I stayed calm, I knew it was possible to come back with the headwind but I couldn't take Alejandro's wheel. He has this explosiveness that is difficult to match."

How it unfolded

After a flurry attack and counter-attack on leaving the start in Binche, a group of six riders eventually established itself as the morning break, as early escapees Yoann Bagot (Cofidis), Nils Politt (Katusha Alpecin) and Olivier Pardini (WB Veranclassic Protect) were joined by Fabien Doubey (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Romain Guillemois (Direct Energie) and Daniel Pearson (Aqua Blue Sport).

This sextet established a maximum lead of six minutes over the peloton before Movistar set to work paring down their advantage. Come the first of three ascents of the Mur de Huy, which came with 60 kilometres to race, their lead was down to just 1:35, and shortly afterwards, only Pardini, Guillemois and Doubey remained in front.

Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) went on the offensive on the Côte d'Ereffe, and though he was brought to heel by Carlos Betancur (Movistar), the attack had the end result of lifting the intensity in the peloton still further. Pardini was the last survivor from the break, but he was caught on the Cote de Cherave with 34 kilometres remaining, where De Marchi launched another attack, this time forging clear alone.

De Marchi had a margin of 20 seconds as he led over the second ascent of the Mur de Huy, and he was joined over the top by Jungels, who impressed in bridging across after the descent. Together, they maintained a lead of 30 seconds over the peloton, before Jungels opted to try his luck alone with 12 kilometres remaining, quickly stretching his lead out to 50 seconds.

Not since Igor Astarloa's 2003 triumph has the winning move at Flèche Wallonne gone clear before the final haul up the Mur de Huy, and the penultimate ascent, the Cote de Cherave, confirmed that the sequence would not end now. An acceleration from Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), allied to the forcing of Team Sky, cut Jungels' advantage back down to within 30 seconds. Although Jungels managed to dangle out in front until the lower slopes of the Mur de Huy, he was swept up as Rosa set the tempo on the climb.

From there, the script reverted to the familiar. Eleven years after his first triumph, Valverde had his fifth Flèche Wallonne. "I'll definitely be back next year," he said.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team5:15:37 
2Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors0:00:01 
3Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
4Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky  
5Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-Scott  
6Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb  
7Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky  
8Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ  
9David Gaudu (Fra) FDJ  
10Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
11Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac  
12Jon Izaguirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida  
13Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:00:08 
14Pierre Roger Latour (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
15Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
16Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe  
17Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:00:13 
18Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
19Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe  
20Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Direct Energie0:00:16 
21Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Cannondale-Drapac  
22Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team  
23Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac0:00:21 
24Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Fortuneo - Vital Concept  
25Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Katusha-Alpecin0:00:24 
26Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
27Mathias Frank (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale0:00:29 
28Igor Anton (Spa) Dimension Data  
29Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe0:00:35 
30Diego Rosa (Ita) Team Sky  
31Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates0:00:37 
32Georg Preidler (Aut) Team Sunweb0:00:39 
33Pavel Kochetkov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin0:00:42 
34Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ  
35Elie Gesbert (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:00:45 
36Nathan Haas (Aus) Dimension Data  
37Jarlinson Pantano (Col) Trek-Segafredo0:00:48 
38Paul Martens (Ger) Team LottoNl-Jumbo0:00:50 
39Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors0:00:53 
40Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert0:00:54 
41Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
42Thomas Degand (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
43Rúben Guerreiro (Por) Trek-Segafredo  
44Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
45Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates  
46Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing Team0:01:01 
47Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
48Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
49Daniel Moreno (Spa) Movistar Team  
50Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
51Laurens De Plus (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
52Cyril Gautier (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
53Simone Petilli (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
54Eliot Lietaer (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
55Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo0:01:13 
56Maxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
57Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana Pro Team  
58Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Dimension Data0:01:17 
59Floris De Tier (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo0:01:21 
60Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data  
61Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct Energie  
62Silvan Dillier (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
63Armindo Fonseca (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:01:26 
64Sebastian Henao (Col) Team Sky  
65Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:01:34 
66Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb  
67Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb  
68Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
69Jose Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team0:01:38 
70Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty - Groupe Gobert0:01:44 
71Juan Jose Lobato (Spa) Team LottoNl-Jumbo0:01:52 
72Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Orica-Scott0:02:09 
73Merhawi Kudus (Eri) Dimension Data  
74André Cardoso (Por) Trek-Segafredo  
75Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team  
76Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Trek-Segafredo  
77Luis Angel Mate (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
78Stéphane Rossetto (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:02:13 
79Jesus Herrada (Spa) Movistar Team  
80Ben O'Connor (Aus) Dimension Data  
81Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
82Dimitri Peyskens (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
83Alex Howes (USA) Cannondale-Drapac  
84Simon Clarke (Aus) Cannondale-Drapac  
85Brendan Canty (Aus) Cannondale-Drapac  
86Maxime Bouet (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept  
87Brice Feillu (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:02:20 
88Alexey Vermeulen (USA) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
89Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert0:02:23 
90Perrig Quemeneur (Fra) Direct Energie  
91Romain Sicard (Fra) Direct Energie0:02:27 
92Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
93Nikita Stalnov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team0:02:31 
94Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida  
95Antoine Warnier (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
96Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
97Bryan Nauleau (Fra) Direct Energie  
98Amael Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team  
99Sébastien Delfosse (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect0:02:41 
100Christophe Masson (Fra) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
101Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick-Step Floors0:02:46 
102Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Bahrain-Merida  
103Manuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team Emirates0:02:56 
104Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky  
105Michel Kreder (Ned) Aqua Blue Sport  
106Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:03:00 
107Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:03:04 
108Lennard Hofstede (Ned) Team Sunweb  
109Ángel Vicioso (Spa) Katusha-Alpecin0:03:11 
110Fabien Grellier (Fra) Direct Energie0:03:14 
111Kevin Reza (Fra) FDJ0:03:19 
112Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Team Sky0:03:22 
113Franck Bonnamour (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:03:30 
114Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe0:03:32 
115Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors  
116Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin0:03:55 
117Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
118Marco Minnaard (Ned) Wanty - Groupe Gobert0:04:20 
119Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal0:04:36 
120Mark Christian (GBr) Aqua Blue Sport  
121Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe  
122Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Quick-Step Floors0:05:51 
123Michal Golas (Pol) Team Sky  
124Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe  
125Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-Scott  
126Petr Vakoc (Cze) Quick-Step Floors0:05:54 
127Matej Mohoric (Slo) UAE Team Emirates  
128Matteo Bono (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
129Jaco Venter (RSA) Dimension Data  
130Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Orica-Scott0:06:09 
131Tsgabu Grmay (Eth) Bahrain-Merida0:06:16 
132Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team0:06:42 
133Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-Scott0:07:04 
134Toms Skujins (Lat) Cannondale-Drapac  
135Rory Sutherland (Aus) Movistar Team  
136Andrey Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team0:07:14 
137Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-Scott0:07:16 
138Bert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo0:07:46 
139Cedric Pineau (Fra) FDJ0:08:56 
140Quentin Jauregui (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
141Axel Domont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:08:59 
142Paul Ourselin (Fra) Direct Energie  
143Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe  
144Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
145Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team  
146Floris Gerts (Ned) BMC Racing Team  
147Grega Bole (Slo) Bahrain-Merida0:09:05 
148Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Sunweb  
149Sindre Skjøstad Lunke (Nor) Team Sunweb  
150Gregory Habeaux (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
151Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin  
152Gregory Daniel (USA) Trek-Segafredo0:12:40 
153Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Trek-Segafredo  
154Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Sunweb  
155Jesus Hernandez (Spa) Trek-Segafredo  
156Jens Wallays (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise0:12:50 
157Romain Guillemois (Fra) Direct Energie0:12:52 
158Antonio Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:12:55 
159Johann Van Zyl (RSA) Dimension Data  
160Justin Jules (Fra) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
161Thomas Scully (NZl) Cannondale-Drapac0:13:00 
162Arnaud Courteille (Fra) FDJ  
163Koen Bouwman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
164Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team0:13:15 
165Jerome Cousin (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:13:41 
166Yoann Bagot (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  

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