Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) timed his effort to perfection to claim his second Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, although Trek Factory Racing's Julian Arredondo had earlier threatened to steal the win on the slopes of the Mur de Huy.
Arredondo was among the early movers at the foot of the Mur, but he was unable to respond to attacks in the final 300 metres and ended the day in 11th place. Impressive for his first time racing Flèche Wallonne and even more so having only arrived in Belgium the previous day from Colombia.
"I still had heavy legs from flight yesterday," Arredondo said after the crossing the finish line. "I felt pretty good in the race until the end, especially in the final 200 metres where I had nothing left. I am a bit disappointed as this is my dream race and I would have liked to finish better for the team."
Having crested the Mur de Huy for the second time, the ever reducing peloton had just 23km left to race with only the 2.2km Côte d'Ereffe nestled between the penultimate and final ascents of the brutal but short climb.
With riders fighting for position, a crash brought down Lampre-Merida's Damiano Cunego which also ended any chances that Fränk Schleck had for the win with just 3km left. With Andy Schleck abandoning the race due a knee injury he picked up at Amstel Gold, Arredondo was therefore the man for Trek in the finale.
"I felt okay, made it to the first group with Julian on the second to last time up the Mur [de Huy] but I missed the attack over the top," said Fränk Schleck. "I knew if I did not make the attack at this point then all my efforts should go toward Julian as he has a great punch. And then the crash happened with 4k to go - that was just bad luck; that is how it is.
"The whole team showed a huge commitment today," Fränk Schleck said. "All the boys asked me if they could ride from the beginning! It was a really warm feeling to see them committed to the race, and want to have fun – they were willing to die with a knife between the teeth today. We can leave this race with a nice feeling. We have time over the next days to set up a tactic for Sunday. If the team keeps this spirit it will be an exciting race."
Without teammates for the final 1.3km of the race, Arredondo was forced to fight for position against the likes of Valverde, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Mihal Kwiatoskwi (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
"I was so happy to be able to ride Flèche today and even though I was not at my best it gave me confirmation that this is a good race for me," said Arredondo ."I slept all the way here on the plane, but still my legs blew up in the end. The team worked well for me all race, that was so amazing to see; I am very thankful they gave me the opportunity to race today."
Knee trouble for Andy Schleck
Andy Schleck, was in doubt to start Flèche after his Amstel Gold crash, made it over the Mur de Huy twice but his knee pain forced him to abandon the race and is hopeful that he can contest Sunday's La Doyenne, the 100th Liège–Bastogne–Liège and become Andy Schleck again.
"I trained yesterday on the course and I had pain so I knew it would not be perfect today,” said Andy Schleck. "We taped the knee and did laser and I managed pretty well all race. It was fine when I went steady uphill, then I could handle the pain, but when I am not pedaling on a descent and had to start up again with high watts – that is what really hurt.
"I could not stand and had to sit and go my own speed, so they just rode away from me. I could not push more. Tomorrow I go in for an MRI and I will know more. I am hoping for the best, and that I will be back for Liège–Bastogne–Liège and Tour of Romandie."
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