Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of the 2016 La Fleche Wallonne.
As we kick off our live coverage from the Belgian Ardennes, the riders are about to roll out of Marche-en-Famenne for the start of the 196km WorldTour race.
There are both men's and women's races today and we will keep you up to date on both races.
The women are already in action, while the men are about to begin their race.
A total of 199 riders have started the race. The only non-starter is Sergio Henao of Team Sky.
The Colombian has been pulled from racing by Team Sky after the UCI-CADF officially opened an investigation into variations in his Biological Passport blood values.
Click here to read more about that breaking news.
After a short 3.5km neutralised sector, the flag has been dropped and the race is underway!
It's a warm sunny day in Belgium, with the riders enjoying blue skies and warm temperatures.
In the men's race, the first climb or cote of the day is the Côte de Bellaire after 67km.
The women started racing at 11:20 local time and have already hit the first climb of the day after 11.5km.
The women face 11 cotes during their137km race, including twice up the Mur de Huy -which hosts the finish of both aces and always produces a dramatic finale.
After 12km we have had several attacks, with a group of 20 riders on the move.
Dimension Data rider Janse van Rensburg sparked the move, which now includes 24 riders.
The attacks leads by 20 seconds.
The peloton is chasing the attack because it is considered too big and too dangerous.
@Lotto_Soudal Wed, 20th Apr 2016 10:13:14
As expected the peloton has caught the attackers.
@TeamDiData Wed, 20th Apr 2016 10:20:54
We have another attack, with nine riders going clear this time.
Teams are trying to place riders in the break to avoid having the responsibility of the chase.
The riders have already covered 30km in just 40 minutes of racing.
@katushacycling Wed, 20th Apr 2016 10:26:40
A large group has crossed to Polish champion Marczynski but the peloton is chasing them.
@Etixx_QuickStep Wed, 20th Apr 2016 10:31:48
The peloton has closed down the attack again and so the men's race is all together.
In the women's race there are seven riders on the attack, with the peloton at 3:00.
The women's race is due to climb the Mur de Huy for the first time in 30 minutes.
The men hit the Mur de Huy a little later, after 100km of racing.
Cyclingnews will have full race reports, photo galleries and news from the finish of Fleche Wallonne.
We've also produced some pre-race content that is perfect to get ready for the finale of the races.
Read the race preview by clicking here to know all about the hilly route packed with cotes and the expected favourites.
Thomas Koep (Stölting Service Group) is the first rider to quit the race today. That leaves 198 riders in the peloton.
The men are still heading north towards the Huy area of Belgium for the hillier circuits on the Ardennes cotes.
The men face 12 cotes, including the Mur de Hey that is climbed three times.
After an hour of fast racing, the peloton has covered 45km. the break of the day has still to form.
In the women's race, the seven attackers are Albrecht, Allen, Fahlin, Duyck, Johnsen and Ragusa. Their leads remains close to 3:00.
Marianne Vos is back in action in the women's race as she rides her first WorldTour race of her comeback season.
Click here to read our special article on the expected clash with world champion Lizzie Armitstead.
There are 65km left in the women's race as they are about to hit the Mur de Hey.
Attack! Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) makes a move.
@RichardPlugge Wed, 20th Apr 2016 11:04:05
Cummings has a 25 second lead. He is part of a trio of leaders for Dimension Data, along with Igor Anton and Serge Pauwels.
Here is some background info on Fleche Wallonne:
Marche-en-Famenne is the 13th town or village to host either the start or finish of Fleche Wallonne. Charleroi has had the most (30 starts and six finishes), followed by Huy (with 1 start and 33 finishes). After Charleroi in 2012, Binche in 2013, Bastogne in 2014 and Waremme in 2015, Marche-en-Famenne is the fifth different start in as many years for Fleche.
Cyclingnews spoke to Alejandro Valverde briefly before the start:
“It’s a very important race, but what matters is that I’m in good shape and so is the team. It’ll be very tough to get that fourth victory, but that’s what we’re here for. I’m looking towards the Giro d’Italia, and my condition is very good, but it’s very difficult to win.”
Back in the race, Cummings has been joined by Bouwman, Dillier, Laengen, Reijnen, Bono, Van der Sande, Helven and Pacher to create a break of 9 riders.
The peloton finally seems to have eased, the break has a gap of 1:10.
@katushacycling Wed, 20th Apr 2016 11:10:07
Mads Petersen (Stölting Service Group) is chasing to go to the break but is 25 seconds behind.
The riders have just come over the first climb of the day, the Côte de Bellaire. It's only 1km long with an average gradient of 6.3%, but it's the first of 12 climbs on today's menu. The leading group come over with a lead of around 1:30.
Pedersen makes the bridge. We now have 10 riders out front, and their lead is growing - now 2:30.
A reminder of the make-up of today's breakaway:
Steve Cummings (Dimension Data), Koen Bouwman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Silvan Dillier (BMC), Vegard Stake Laengen (IAM), Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo), Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida), Tosh Van Der Sande (Lotto Soudal), Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Mads Pedersen (Stolting Service Group), Quentin Pacher (Delko Marseille Provence KTM).
The riders now come over the Côte de Bohissau, 1.3 kilometres-long at 7.6%. The gap isn't too big, but it's staying steady for now.
We spoke to Philippe Gilbert at the start today. The Belgian won Flèche in 2011 but his chances this year have been hampered by a broken finger sustained in an altercation with a driver on a training ride.
“It’s not the best thing to start a race with a broken finger, but I will try and do my best. It’s hard to say. It’s a very difficult race, it’s one where you have to wait and wait and be in the good position in the right moment for a short, intense effort which is somehitng I can normally do, so I hope to be there. I don’t know the first part of the course, but I know it’s on big roads, which is good. Plus it’s not raining, which is a real advantage too. The finger’s feeling ok, then we’ll see what happens at the end."
The riders make their way up the Côte de Solières, the last in the trio of climbs on this loop. It's the longest of the race, at 4.3km, but the gradient is a fairly modest 4%. After going up the Mur de Huy and crossing the line for the first time, the riders will come back and take on this trio of climbs once more.
Women's race: Under 50km to go now and the RaboLiv team take control on the front of the bunch, bringing the gap to the 7 leaders down to 2:30.
Sergio Henao was set to be Team Sky's key rider for today, but the Colombian was pulled from the race after the UCI opened a biological passport case against him. This morning at the start of the race we spoke to Sky DS Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Henao's cousin and teammate, Sebastian Henao, to get their reaction. You can read the story by clicking here.
You can find our original story on the Henao case here: UCI opens biological passport case against Sergio Henao
96km remaining from 196km
We've reached the half-way stage in the race as the riders reach the 100km mark. They'll soon be heading up the Mur de Huy for the first time.
Onto the Mur for the breakaway with a lead of 3:30
Quentin Pacher leads up the climb, with ramps of well over 20%.
Koen Bouwman opens up a clear gap as he is the first rider to the finish line at the top.
Women's race: The breakaway, which had been dwindling, has now been caught by the peloton. All together, with 30km left to race and plenty of climbs still to tackle.
All calm as the bunch comes up the Mur de Huy, three minutes behind the escapees.
We spoke to Orica-GreenEdge rider Adam Yates this morning, and the young Brit explained that his role today will be to tee up Michael Albasini for victory.
“Michael Albasini has shown on many occasions in the past that he’s a man for this race; he’s been on the podium twice and always does well. So we’ll work for him today, and hopefully it’ll work for him. The finish, that last climb, is good for me, but the rest of the race is not so good for me so today I’m here to work for Albasini 100 per cent. Then it’ll be on to Liège where we’ll have Gerrans, so support him. But in any case, Valverde is the reference point, he’s the man to beat.”
Over in Italy, Mikel Landa has just emerged victorious on the first summit finish of the Giro del Trentino and the Spaniard has taken the overall lead to boot.
Read our brief report here: Giro del Trentino: Landa wins stage 2
We're hearing over race radio that Dario Cataldo has abandoned the race. That's a blow for Astana - we'll bring you details shortly.
Alejandro Valverde was well positioned towards the front of the bunch up the Mur de Huy, as seen in this image from the race organisers.
The riders have come over the Côte d'Ereffe and the breakaway still have 3 minutes on a peloton that is now being driven by Movistar.
Women's race: After things came back together, there have been splits in the peloton and a leading group now has an advantage of over a minute with under 20km to go and just two climbs left. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio is one of the riders who have been dropped.
The UCI has issued a statement in response to the news about the investigation into Sergio Henao's biological passport data.
“As per the applicable regulations, when the independent experts in charge of reviewing biological passport profiles require further information from the athlete, this stage is confidential. However, given that this is already in the public domain, the UCI and CADF confirm that Sergio Henao has been asked to provide explanations for his ABP values. As per WADA’s ABP process, once provided, his explanations will be sent back to the same experts for review and assessment. In the meantime, the UCI and CADF cannot comment further.”
Women's race: Lizzie Armitstead, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Elisa Longo Borghini, and Emma Johannson are all in the front group as Carmen Small attacks solo and opens up a small advantage.
Back in the men's race the riders are on the Côte de Bellaire once again. The breakaway riders are still all together but the gap is coming down steadily now, down towards the two-minute mark.
Women's race: The race has split on the Côte de Cherave, the all-important prelude to the Mur de Huy finale. We're hearing that Van der Breggen, Niewiadoma, Guarnier, Stevens, Longo Borghini are the ones out front.
Women's race: Onto the Mur de Huy! Evelyn Stevens against Anna Van der Breggen at the moment.
Anna Van der Breggen wins the women's Flèche Wallonne.
The RaboLiv rider beats Stevens up the steep final sprint up the Mur de Huy. Report to follow shortly on Cyclingnews.
@UCIWomenCycling Wed, 20th Apr 2016 13:13:32
Back to the men's race now and there has been some action at the head of the race. Cummings went on the attack towards the top of the Côte de Bohissau and Van der Sande, Dilier, and Bono responded. The quartet have forged clear and they have a gap on the six other breakaway riders.
With less than 50km remaining, the four leaders have 50 seconds on their former breakaway companions, and it's not looking good for those left behind. The peloton is not much more than a minute behind them.
The riders are back on the Côte de Solières now, this long but fairly gentle climb. At the front of the bunch it's a lone Katusha rider followed by a string of Movistar men.
There's disorganisation in the group of dropped breakaway riders and it's falling apart. Reijnen, Helven, and Laengen are now the only three leading the chase.
Crash! Pretty sizeable crash in the bunch and it has taken out two Trek riders. Both are sitting up but both seem hurt.
Frank Schleck is the worst affected and he's holding arm - collarbone?
The crash happened in the middle of the bunch and a few riders were forced off down the grassy banking. No others seriously affected, it seems, apart from those from Trek.
@TrekSegafredo Wed, 20th Apr 2016 13:33:42
Mark McNally (Wanty-Groupe Goubert), a team-mate of Amstel Gold Race winner Enrico Gasparotto, spoke to Cyclingnews at the start.
“I’m doing allright, it was a late call up for these races. I did an all right job on Sunday and we’ll look after Gaspa as long as we can and see how it pans out.”
Huge posters both of Daan Myngheer and McNally’s team-mate Antoine Demoitié - to whom Gasparotto dedicated his win in Amstel Gold - were on the signing-on podium in Marche-en-Famenne and the British pro said it had been a difficult last few weeks for himself and the other Wanty-Goubert riders.
“It’s been a strange few weeks, but it’s been a little bit extra motivation, too. Today we’ll try and keep Gaspa up there and just look after him as best he can.”
The breakaway remnants are finally caught by the rapidly advancing peloton. Just the four riders out in the lead, then, with an advantage of 1:30.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Wed, 20th Apr 2016 13:15:24
The pace is really picking up in the bunch now, with Katusha, Orica, Movistar, and Astana all up near the front. There are just over 31km to go and the riders will soon be heading up the Mur de Huy for the penultimate time and positioning will be important. We're entering the crucial phase of the race now.
Over in Croatia, Mark Cavendish has exacted revenge on Giacomo Nizzolo by winning the stage 2 sprint in a reverse of the opening day. We'll have a report, results, and photos on Cyclingnews shortly.
Dilier skips clear on the Mur de Huy and Cummings goes after him.
These two have really put the pressure on here in a short amount of time, Bono and Van der Sande dropped, and they'll soon be caught by the bunch, who are not far behind not his climb.
The bunch come up over the top now and Cummins and Dillier will now have to try desperately to hang on - their lead can't be more than 20-30 seconds.
Two riders clipped off the front of the bunch towards the top of the Mur, so Bjorn Thurau (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) caught Bono and Van der Sande to create a chase group of four, with the peloton easing up slightly behind.
And now Cummings attacks! The British rider has left Dillier for dead and is currently in time trial mode, arms tucked over his bars, and he's stretching out an advantage.
The riders in the bunch take on a bit of sustenance for the final time in the race, but Cummings has no time for that. He's powering on and as a result he has stretched his lead to nearly a minute over the peloton, who have just caught that chasing quartet.
Six Movistar riders on the front of the bunch. Who said Valverde was only focusing on the Giro?
A bit of downhill will come as a great relief to Cummings, who has had his nose in the wind for a good while now. Not that he can relax - in a bid to hold off the chase he's throwing himself into the bends, getting as aero as possible on the bike.
That descent didn't last long. Cummings has hit the Côte d'Ereffe, 2.1km at 5%. It's the third last climb of the day and he has just 30 seconds now - it's coming down.
Some domestiques and former breakaway riders getting shelled out of the bunch on this climb as Movistar force a fierce pace.
Cummings is caught! All together...
The riders pass a huge banner bearing the name of Tim Wellens. We saw the Belgian attack on the Cherave last year - will he do the same again today?
@thijszonneveld Wed, 20th Apr 2016 14:05:34
So, the road goes downhill again with 15km remaining. This is where things really start to get serious. With just over 6km to go comes the Côte de Cherave - the climb introduced last year in a bid to shake up the race, which had gained a reputation as overly predictable. Attacks are likely to come there, but can they stay away onto the Mur de Huy?
Attacks come now as the road pitches up again between these climbs. Tomasz Marczynski has a small pop and is brought back, but Bob Jungels manages to make something stick. Georg Preidler and Ruben Fernandez follow.
Jungels is driving this as the road heads downhill once more. They have a gap but it's not much.
Correction: The Movistar rider is Ion Izagirre, not Fernandez.
Meanwhile there is a small group that has broken off the bunch and is trying to get across. In there is Michael Albasini, Orica-GreenEdge's leader today.
Joaquim Rodríguez also in that counter attack. An interesting one, this. Also in there are Jurgen Van den Broeck, Woet Poels, Laurens De Plus, Giovanni Visconti, and Cherel.
Tinkoff drag it back. A waste of energy for the favourites who tried that move?
Onto the Côte de Cherave and the leaders have a very slender lead
Preidler is caught, Jungels and Izagirre still out front as attacks go once more in the bunch.
Izaguirre attacks! The Spaniard had been sitting on Jungel's wheel, safe in the knowledge that Movistar's favourite Valverde is behind, but he's having a pop now.
Tim Wellens attacks! Who saw that coming?!
Philippe Gilbert is dropped
Under 5km to go now and Wellens is giving it everything on the descent. He's about 10 seconds behind Izaguirre and Jungels.
3km remaining from 196km
Wellens makes the catch!
Not far from the Mur de Huy now as Etixx take it up on the front. They're chasing down their own rider here.
Jungels drives it now. Can these three hit the Mur in the lead?
2km remaining from 196km
The catch is made - all together as they come into Huy.
LottoNL-Jumbo take it up on the approach.
Flamme rouge, all compact for now.
Movistar lead onto the climb. Here we go!
Valverde, Albasini both up there at the front.
Dan Martin's up there with them on the right. Rodriguez just behind them
Valverde is out of the saddle, in the middle at the front of this group. The spaniard looks cool and composed.
Up the really steep ramps now
Valverde pegs him back and Martin now attacks!
Martin leads, Valverde second
Alaphilippe is third wheel, Albasini just behind
Martin fades, Valverde comes round
Alejandro Valverde wins La Flèche Wallonne
Valverde is lifted into the air by a Movistar soigneur as he celebrates a third successive win here at Flèche Wallonne. The Spaniard simply knows how to race this climb better than anyone else.
Valverde had a few bike lengths on Martin as he crossed the line. Alaphilippe was third.
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step
3 Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx - Quick-Step
4 Wouter Poels (Ned) Team Sky
5 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert
6 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing Team
7 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-GreenEdge
8 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - Merida
9 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin
10 Rui Costa (Por) Lampre - Merida
Movistar post this image of their rider crossing the line for the win
In his post-race interview, Valverde thanks his teammates and explains how he was nervous ahead of the climb because he was aware how good his legs were feeling.
@irishpeloton Wed, 20th Apr 2016 14:40:21
A record-breaking win
Valverde now has four victories to his name at La Flèche Wallonne, and that's a record. The Spaniard has surpassed the four riders who have a hattrick of wins: Moreno Argentin, Eddy Merckx, Marcel Kint and Davide Rebellin.
We have a brief report and results on the site:
La Flèche Wallonne: Valverde wins on the Mur de Huy
The podium (pic from @BiciGoga)
@CafeRoubaix Wed, 20th Apr 2016 14:50:54
Joaquim Rodríguez really blew up after his short attack and finished over half a minute down. There were solid performances from Samuel Sanchez, Michael Albasini, Enrico Gasparotto but the fight for the win was really between Valverde and the two Etixx-QuickStep riders. Martin had to go for it, but Valverde was just too good in the end. Alaphilippe did well to kick and try to follow the Spaniard in the closing metres - another really encouraging ride from the 23-year-old.
Was that race boring?
The Côte de Cherave once again shook things up a little bit, but it didn't stop the peloton reaching the foot of the Mur de Huy en masse. Other races may spread their excitement more evenly, but you can't argue that the finale at Flèche is invariably exhilarating.
Valverde comes off the podium, grabs his phone, and pens a tweet. "Thanks for all the messages of congratulation and thanks to my teammates for their great work," he says. "Another Flèche Wallonne to remember."
All the talk was of the Ardennes being a secondary focus for Valverde with the Giro d'Italia on the horizon, but I guess this win makes him the favourite for Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. The Spaniard's record there is staggering too: 3 wins, 4 podiums.
That's it for our live coverage of Flèche Wallonne. We'll have all the news and reaction from the race so keep an eye on Cyclingnews. Thanks for joining, and don't forget to join us again on Sunday for Liège!
We'll leave you with our full race report and results, along with this shot of Valverde taking his fourth victory.
La Flèche Wallonne: Valverde wins on the Mur de Huy
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