Orica-GreenEdge sports director Matt White had not been overly optimistic about Michael Albasini's chances in the revised finale of the Flèche Wallonne, but White was surely a lot happier after Albasini racked up yet another top placing in the mid-week Classic.
White had told Cyclingnews before the race that Albasini's chances of success would have lowered with the introduction of the new late climb, the Cote de Cherave, pointing out that "it won’t help him much, because Albasini is not a climber, he's a hard bastard who can suffer for a couple of minutes on the Mur."
However, Albasini actually ended up claiming third, his best placing since 2012 when he finished second behind Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez. And in the process, the Swiss veteran continued a lengthy tradition of top places in Flèche Walllonne, given he has placed 12th or higher every year since 2008 – with the exception of 2013, when he was 21st.
Clearly firing on all cylinders, Albasini claimed Orica-GreenEdge's second Ardennes podium finish of 2015 following MIchael Matthews third place in Amstel Gold. As he pointed out, Flèche Wallonne is the one race of the three hilly Classics where he is a protected rider, and "instead of being a teammate for Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans, it's up to me to be good today."
Whether the Vuelta a España stage winner could actually hit the bullseye and beat Valverde, he acknowledged, was "a tough question. Today it certainly wasn't, he's one of the strongest guys in those kinds of finishes and even if I got closer than ever today, it was still not possible. I just have to keep trying."
Albasini recognised, in any case, that Flèche Wallonne had been fought out under exceptionally difficult circumstances this year given the high number of crashes. With so many editions of the Classic under his belt, he recognised that if the race route featured a much harder finale, the first part was actually considerably less challenging and therefore, "it was actually a lot tenser."
"These are [narrow] roads, like Amstel Gold Race, but it's 50km shorter and with fewer climbs, too. As a result, you've got a bigger bunch fighting for position. Of course when more guys want to be on the front at crucial points, there's going to be more tension.
"Racing in this part of the world is quite dangerous. It's never going to be a relaxing race here. But maybe as it's less demanding with the new route, that doesn't help."
However, the new route seemed to do no harm to Albasini's chances at all.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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