Probably the least expected part of La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday came when Carlos Alberto Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) launched an all-out attack at the foot of the Mur de Huy. Certainly to judge by the lack of reaction in the peloton, nobody had been expecting such a move, and the Colombians' tearing up of the script worked so well that Betancur - second in a recent ultra-steep finish behind Sergio Henao (Sky) in the Tour of the Basque Country - stayed ahead for far longer than expected.
Indeed, there were even gasps of "he's won, he's won" from the Flèche Wallonne press room as Betancur failed to crack on the ever steepening slopes of the Mur. It was only at the last moment, with less than 150 metros to go, that the Colombian climber cracked slightly, dropping to third.
"I saw how [Joaquim] Rodríguez won last year and I wanted to imitate it," was how Betancur described his attack, although in fact he may have not watched 'Purito' in last year's Flèche, given the Spaniard attacked with about 300 metres to go.
"I thought I was going to win, it was only about 100 metres from the finish when they finally got past me," he said. "This kind of result is very important for me and for Colombia."
Betancur said that the 2013 boom in Colombian cycling, rising from sixth to second overall in the nations classification in the UCI WorldTour ranking, was due to the "biological passport. [Anti-doping] controls are far tighter nowadays and riders like us who live at altitude have more of an advantage."
Seventh in the Tour of the Basque Country this April, Betancur says that he's convinced that he's made the right move out of Italy and into Ag2R this season, despite the lack of any tradition of South American racers in the team. "They've given me a great chance and now I'm able to take part in some top WorldTour races. It's a big step forward."
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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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