Valverde wins his record fifth Fleche Wallonne

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.

Revivez le dernier kilomètre ! / Relive the last kilometer! #FlecheWallonne pic.twitter.com/QsyCEophRt

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team5:15:37
2Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors0:00:01
3Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing TeamRow 2 - Cell 2
4Sergio Henao (Col) Team SkyRow 3 - Cell 2
5Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-ScottRow 4 - Cell 2
6Warren Barguil (Fra) Team SunwebRow 5 - Cell 2
7Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team SkyRow 6 - Cell 2
8Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJRow 7 - Cell 2
9David Gaudu (Fra) FDJRow 8 - Cell 2
10Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team EmiratesRow 9 - Cell 2
11Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-DrapacRow 10 - Cell 2
12Jon Izaguirre (Spa) Bahrain-MeridaRow 11 - Cell 2
13Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:00:08
14Pierre Roger Latour (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 13 - Cell 2
15Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 14 - Cell 2
16Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-HansgroheRow 15 - Cell 2
17Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:00:13
18Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 17 - Cell 2
19Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-HansgroheRow 18 - Cell 2
20Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Direct Energie0:00:16
21Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Cannondale-DrapacRow 20 - Cell 2
22Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro TeamRow 21 - Cell 2
23Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac0:00:21
24Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Fortuneo - Vital ConceptRow 23 - Cell 2
25Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Katusha-Alpecin0:00:24
26Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 25 - Cell 2
27Mathias Frank (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale0:00:29
28Igor Anton (Spa) Dimension DataRow 27 - Cell 2
29Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe0:00:35
30Diego Rosa (Ita) Team SkyRow 29 - Cell 2
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) FDJRow 33 - Cell 2
35Elie Gesbert (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:00:45
36Nathan Haas (Aus) Dimension DataRow 35 - Cell 2
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 - BaloiseRow 40 - Cell 2
42Thomas Degand (Bel) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 41 - Cell 2
43Rúben Guerreiro (Por) Trek-SegafredoRow 42 - Cell 2
44Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 43 - Cell 2
45Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team EmiratesRow 44 - Cell 2
46Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing Team0:01:01
47Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing TeamRow 46 - Cell 2
48Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 47 - Cell 2
49Daniel Moreno (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 48 - Cell 2
50Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty - Groupe GobertRow 49 - Cell 2
51Laurens De Plus (Bel) Quick-Step FloorsRow 50 - Cell 2
52Cyril Gautier (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 51 - Cell 2
53Simone Petilli (Ita) UAE Team EmiratesRow 52 - Cell 2
54Eliot Lietaer (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 53 - Cell 2
55Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo0:01:13
56Maxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua ProtectRow 55 - Cell 2
57Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana Pro TeamRow 56 - Cell 2
58Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Dimension Data0:01:17
59Floris De Tier (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo0:01:21
60Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension DataRow 59 - Cell 2
61Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 60 - Cell 2
62Silvan Dillier (Swi) BMC Racing TeamRow 61 - Cell 2
63Armindo Fonseca (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:01:26
64Sebastian Henao (Col) Team SkyRow 63 - Cell 2
65Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:01:34
66Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team SunwebRow 65 - Cell 2
67Michael Matthews (Aus) Team SunwebRow 66 - Cell 2
68Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 67 - Cell 2
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 DataRow 72 - Cell 2
74André Cardoso (Por) Trek-SegafredoRow 73 - Cell 2
75Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar TeamRow 74 - Cell 2
76Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Trek-SegafredoRow 75 - Cell 2
77Luis Angel Mate (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 76 - Cell 2
78Stéphane Rossetto (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:02:13
79Jesus Herrada (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 78 - Cell 2
80Ben O'Connor (Aus) Dimension DataRow 79 - Cell 2
81Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 80 - Cell 2
82Dimitri Peyskens (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua ProtectRow 81 - Cell 2
83Alex Howes (USA) Cannondale-DrapacRow 82 - Cell 2
84Simon Clarke (Aus) Cannondale-DrapacRow 83 - Cell 2
85Brendan Canty (Aus) Cannondale-DrapacRow 84 - Cell 2
86Maxime Bouet (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital ConceptRow 85 - Cell 2
87Brice Feillu (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:02:20
88Alexey Vermeulen (USA) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 87 - Cell 2
89Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert0:02:23
90Perrig Quemeneur (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 89 - Cell 2
91Romain Sicard (Fra) Direct Energie0:02:27
92Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 91 - Cell 2
93Nikita Stalnov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team0:02:31
94Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-MeridaRow 93 - Cell 2
95Antoine Warnier (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua ProtectRow 94 - Cell 2
96Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing TeamRow 95 - Cell 2
97Bryan Nauleau (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 96 - Cell 2
98Amael Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing TeamRow 97 - Cell 2
99Sébastien Delfosse (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect0:02:41
100Christophe Masson (Fra) WB Veranclassic Aqua ProtectRow 99 - Cell 2
101Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick-Step Floors0:02:46
102Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Bahrain-MeridaRow 101 - Cell 2
103Manuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team Emirates0:02:56
104Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team SkyRow 103 - Cell 2
105Michel Kreder (Ned) Aqua Blue SportRow 104 - Cell 2
106Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:03:00
107Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:03:04
108Lennard Hofstede (Ned) Team SunwebRow 107 - Cell 2
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 FloorsRow 114 - Cell 2
116Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin0:03:55
117Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - BaloiseRow 116 - Cell 2
118Marco Minnaard (Ned) Wanty - Groupe Gobert0:04:20
119Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal0:04:36
120Mark Christian (GBr) Aqua Blue SportRow 119 - Cell 2
121Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-HansgroheRow 120 - Cell 2
122Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Quick-Step Floors0:05:51
123Michal Golas (Pol) Team SkyRow 122 - Cell 2
124Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-HansgroheRow 123 - Cell 2
125Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-ScottRow 124 - Cell 2
126Petr Vakoc (Cze) Quick-Step Floors0:05:54
127Matej Mohoric (Slo) UAE Team EmiratesRow 126 - Cell 2
128Matteo Bono (Ita) UAE Team EmiratesRow 127 - Cell 2
129Jaco Venter (RSA) Dimension DataRow 128 - Cell 2
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-DrapacRow 133 - Cell 2
135Rory Sutherland (Aus) Movistar TeamRow 134 - Cell 2
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 MondialeRow 139 - Cell 2
141Axel Domont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:08:59
142Paul Ourselin (Fra) Direct EnergieRow 141 - Cell 2
143Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-HansgroheRow 142 - Cell 2
144Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 143 - Cell 2
145Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing TeamRow 144 - Cell 2
146Floris Gerts (Ned) BMC Racing TeamRow 145 - Cell 2
147Grega Bole (Slo) Bahrain-Merida0:09:05
148Simon Geschke (Ger) Team SunwebRow 147 - Cell 2
149Sindre Skjøstad Lunke (Nor) Team SunwebRow 148 - Cell 2
150Gregory Habeaux (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua ProtectRow 149 - Cell 2
151Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Katusha-AlpecinRow 150 - Cell 2
152Gregory Daniel (USA) Trek-Segafredo0:12:40
153Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Trek-SegafredoRow 152 - Cell 2
154Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team SunwebRow 153 - Cell 2
155Jesus Hernandez (Spa) Trek-SegafredoRow 154 - Cell 2
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 DataRow 158 - Cell 2
160Justin Jules (Fra) WB Veranclassic Aqua ProtectRow 159 - Cell 2
161Thomas Scully (NZl) Cannondale-Drapac0:13:00
162Arnaud Courteille (Fra) FDJRow 161 - Cell 2
163Koen Bouwman (Ned) Team LottoNl-JumboRow 162 - Cell 2
164Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team0:13:15
165Jerome Cousin (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:13:41
166Yoann Bagot (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 165 - Cell 2

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