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La Fleche Wallonne 2018


La Flèche Wallonne is a simple race; 175 cyclists race for 200 kilometres, and at the end, Alejandro Valverde always win on the Mur de Huy. The Spaniard is seeking his fifth consecutive Flèche victory this afternoon, and his sixth in total. He is, unsurprisingly, the overwhelming favourite to continue that sequence, though his rivals might be less minded to settle the race on the Mur de Huy than they have been in recent years.

The roll out in Seraing is at 11.15 local time, with the bunch set to reach kilometre zero at 11.25. There are 11 climbs on the agenda, including the novelty of the Cote de la Redoute after 82 kilometres. There are three ascents of the Mur de Huy, after 140km, 169km and at the finish, though perhaps this year, the preceding Cote d'Ereffe and Cote de Cherave might - might - be the site of greater of activity from the challengers to Vaverde.


The peloton is rolling through the neutralised zone in the streets of Seraing and making its way towards kilometre zero. The temperature is a pleasant 18 degrees and the sun is shining over Wallonia. 


198km remaining from 198km

The peloton reaches kilometre zero and the 2018 edition of La Fleche Wallonne is formally underway. 


There has been a flurry of accelerations off the front of the peloton in these opening kilometres, but as yet no breakaway attempt has gained any traction.


How do you solve a problem like Alejandro Valverde? By not building your whole race around him for starters, reckons Dan Martin, who spoke to Cyclingnews about his Fleche Wallonne prospects. The Irishman has been on the podium three times in the race, thanks to his by now trademark late surge on the very final ramps of the Mur de Huy, a climb that seems to be his very own white whale. "The danger is that I concentrate too much on him and someone else slips away," Martin said of the Valverde conundrum. "Although he’s the outstanding favourite, I also need to watch other riders and see how the race opens up. I’m expecting it to be a much more aggressive race and it could be a much smaller group at the bottom.”


192km remaining from 198km

Five riders have opened a small gap over the peloton. Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Romain Combaud (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Samsic), Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ) and Patrick Muller (Vital Concept) have established a lead and this might well be our early break.

190km remaining from 198km

Anthony Perez (Cofidis) is also in this move, making it a six-man group off the front of the race. Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Antoine Warnier (VB Aqua Protect Veranclassic) are desperately trying to bridge across, but they may have missed the bus...


186km remaining from 198km

Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Romain Combaud (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Samsic), Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ), Patrick Muller (Vital Concept) have a lead of some 2:20 over the peloton. Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Antoine Warnier (VB Aqua Protect Veranclassic), meanwhile, are in no man's land, a minute behind the break.


Warnier and Van Melsen are sticking to their task, and the Belgian pairing look set to bridge across to the six leaders. 


177km remaining from 198km

Van Melsen and Warnier have reached the leaders to make it an eight-man break off the front of the race. They have 3:45 in hand on a peloton that seems quite content to grant them some leeway. Valverde has some Movistar teammates on the front, and they seem to happy with the current state of affairs.


Valverde's first Fleche victory came in 2006, the same year he claimed Liege-Bastogne-Liege for the first time, though it was only in his 30s and after his lengthy suspension for his implication in the Operacion Puerto blood doping inquiry that the Spaniard began to dominate on the Mur de Huy. As Alasdair Fotheringham points out here, if Valverde wins today, he will become the first rider to win the same one-day Classic more than four years in a row. Despite his flurry of Ardennes success, Valverde still saw fit to perform a recon of the parcours on Tuesday, having already travelled north last week to look at the routes of Amstel and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Of course, in February, Valverde even went to Abu Dhabi a couple of days early to ride the decisive climb of Jebel Hafeet on no fewer than five occasions


169km remaining from 198km

The break's lead has steadied at around 3:40, with Movistar patrolling affairs at the head of the peloton.


Valverde has, understandably, dominated the build-up to Fleche Wallonne, but what of his rivals? Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) showed signs of form but also some impatience at Amstel Gold Race, but the Frenchman is well-suited to the Mur de Huy, and is perhaps the man most likely to deny Valverde this afternoon. Dan Martin has been subdued (partly by ill fortune) since signing for UAE-Team Emirates, and it's unclear what he can achieve this afternoon. Team Sky's Sergio Henao and Wout Poels have both performed strongly here in the past, while Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) is a past winner, though has rarely shone on the Mur de Huy since. 


Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott) was second back in 2012 and is a perennial top 10 finisher on the Mur de Huy. Local favourite Dylan Teuns (BMC) was third last year, while former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) was on the podium back in 2014. Michael Woods (EF-Drapac) has the aptitude for the climb of the Mur de Huy, but has been penalised by his positioning on the run-in in his two attempts to date. The Canadian will hope to fare better today, but beating Valverde will be a big ask for all and sundry.


162km remaining from 198km

The pace relaxes a little further in the main peloton, and our eight leaders have extended their advantage out towards five minutes.


Away from the Ardennes, Miguel Angel Lopez won stage 2 of the Tour of the Alps yesterday, while 20-year-old Ivan Sosa moved into the overall lead. Stephen Farrand got the lowdown on Sosa from Androni Giocattoli manager Gianni Savio, who confirmed that the Colombian will not ride the forthcoming Giro d'Italia. "Putting Sosa into the Giro would be like throwing him into the lion’s den. It’d be risky for him physically and psychologically. He’d no doubt give his all but he’d go too deep and so affect his future development," said Savio. You can read the full story here.


149km remaining from 198km

After an hour of racing, the eight escapees have a lead of 5:15 over a peloton that is being led by Movistar. 


Fleche Brabançonne winner Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) got some of the biggest cheers on Wednesday’s start in Seraing and his recent victory in the Belgian Classic has given his team a big morale boost. “For Flèche Wallonne [to win] you have to go early,” Wellens told La Derniere Heure on Wednesday. “That’ll make life difficult for Alejandro Valverde. Virtually no riders can compete against him on the climb itself. I will decide my own strategy depending on how the race works out.” But, as he pointed out at the start, “the addition of the earlier climbs like La Redoute could make it a lot harder to control.”


138km remaining from 198km

The eight leaders are approaching the day's first climb, the Côte de La Vecquée, with a lead of 4:50 over the peloton.


Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step Floors) has two runners-up spots from his two participations in La Flèche Wallonne, in 2015 and 2016. He missed last year's race through injury, but is the man most likely to challenge Valverde here. The Frenchman was 7th at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, but believes the two Ardennes Classics suit him better. "Flèche and Liège are two very different races to Amstel Gold, which has a lot more variables,” Alaphilippe told the newspaper Sudpresse on Wednesday. “No disrespect to [Amstel Gold Race winner Michael] Valgren, but it will be a very different race on the Mur de Huy. Regardless of whether I am marked closely by Valverde, what matters in the end are your legs."


133km remaining from 198km

The escapees are tackling the Côte de la Vecquée, and their advantage over the bunch has been pared back slightly to 4:25.


Dan Martin's UAE-Team Emirates squad have joined Movistar in setting the tempo at the head of the peloton. Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi are also part of a strong line-up, though neither have quite the same pedigree as Martin in this race.


Michel Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) pulled no punches about his chances in this year’s Flèche Wallonne, saying, “The only guy who can be feeling confident today is Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).” 31st in Amstel Gold on Sunday, the Polish rider has a solid track record in Flèche Wallonnne, with seventh last year, third in 2014 and fifth in 2013. Only a 33rd place in 2015 was a below-par result. “But for sure we will try to do our best to open our race beforehand and isolate him, because everybody knows that if Valverde is there 200 metres before the finish, he’s going to win. Let’s be confident about our possibilities to try to win it in a different way. My form could be better, it always could be, but there’s nothing to be afraid of. In Amstel I was feeling good, but it wasn’t my day, so I came away with nothing. Let’s hope that today is a different story and above all, it’s a different story on Sunday in Liège."


125km remaining from 198km

The break and the bunch are both over the other side of the Vecquée, and the gap is holding firm at 4 minutes. The next climb on the agenda is La Redoute.


In the women's race, meanwhile, the front group has crested the Mur de Huy for the first time, with Amanda Spratt leading Megan Guarnier and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot over the summit. The favourite, as Kirsten Frattini explains in this preview of La Fleche Wallonne Feminine, is Anna van der Breggen.


120km remaining from 198km

Our man in Belgium Alasdair Fotheringham caught up with Simon Gerrans (BMC) before the start in Seraing. “This in an objective in its own right, it’s not just about Sunday,” Gerrans said. “ Dylan [Teuns] got third last year, we’ve surely got some options. The team’s got a great goal there. I’ve not had the best spring so far, but I’m doing a support role here. Compared with last year I’d say I’m a little bit ahead, but my role’s a bit different with BMC, it’s more about passing on experience and helping out where I can.”


116km remaining from 198km

The escapees have reached Remouchamps and are about to face into the Cote de la Redoute (2.8km at 8.9%) with a lead of 4:15 over the peloton.


113km remaining from 198km

La Redoute fails to break up the leading group of eight, who reach the summit with an advantage of 4:15 on the pack. A reminder of the names in this front group: Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Romain Combaud (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Samsic), Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ), Patrick Muller (Vital Concept), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Antoine Warnier (VB Aqua Protect Veranclassic).


There was a slight injection of intensity in the peloton over La Redoute, and that has continued over the other side on the approach to the Cote de Mont, the day's third climb. The break's lead has dropped close to 3:30.


Amstel Gold Race winner Michael Valgren (Astana Pro Team) told Alasdair Fotherignham at the start that although he will do his best in Fleche Wallonne, he’s looking ahead to Liege-Bastogne-Liege. “It’s all about Sunday,” Valgren said with a smile. "Today is going to be difficult to get a good result with guys like Valverde, Dylan [Teuns] and so on. But we have some good riders here like Tanel [Kangert], who’s just been on a training camp, and Jakob [Fuglsang] too. So we’ll try to stay out of trouble. I’ve had some really bad races here, I’ve done it four times and three times I didn’t finish. Last year I had a bad crash so hopefully I can get a good feeling and see how it goes. But if you want to beat Valverde you have to make your own race. Follow him to the last climb and there’s no one here that can beat him. Hopefully we can kill his team because if it’s all together on the last climb, there’s nothing we can do. So we have to go from distance, but that’s easier said than done.”


100km remaining from 198km

The break's buffer continues to be scrubbed away on the Cote de Mont, where the peloton has closed to within 3:05 of the leading eight riders.


Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) has won the women's Fleche Wallonne. The Dutchwoman claimed the race for the fourth year in a row, beating Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Megan Guarnier to the summit of the Mur de Huy. A full report will follow on Cyclingnews in due course.


87km remaining from 198km

Back in the men's race, the eight leaders have extended their advantage once again to four minutes. They are 15km away from the day's fourth ascent, the Cote d'Amay.


A crash in the main peloton sees Lawson Craddock (EF Education First-Drapac) and Ben King (Dimension Data) hit the ground. 


The report and results of Van der Breggen's Fleche Wallonne Feminine victory will follow here in due course. The Dutchwoman was pushed hard by Moolman-Pasio on the Mur de Huy, but she had just enough to claim a fourth successive victory. 


80km remaining from 198km

Jorge Ivan Alvarez writes to highlight a rider with all the attributes to shine on the Mur de Huy: "What about 'Superman' Lopez as a potential winner in Fleche? Shame he isn't racing this time." Miguel Angel Lopez is, of course, in action at the Tour of the Alps this week, where a very dramatic third stage has just been claimed by Ben O'Connor (Dimension Data). The full details will follow here.


Lawson Craddock, meanwhile, has abandoned La Fleche Wallonne following his crash.


Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar Team were the last to be presented to the crowd and, logically, the centre of the biggest number of media interviews. Fifth in Amstel Gold, Valverde was his usual upbeat self about his chances of a fifth win in La Flèche Wallonne. “My condition is very good, and I’ve got a good chance of winning, but like any race, it’s easier that I lose than I win,” Valverde told reporters. “The build-up over the Liège climbs is harder and we’ll have to be very attentive with the breaks, because the race will be harder to control. It’ll be tough, but we’re relaxed and calm. It’s going to be very tough to win. There’s no secret to this: be in good shape and get lucky.”


73km remaining from 198km

The leaders approach the Cote d'Amay with a gap of 3:30 over the peloton, which is being led by UAE-Team Emirates.


The top 10 from La Fleche Wallonne Feminine was as follows:


1 Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam 03:10:14
2 Ashliegh Moolman-Pasio 00:00:02
3 Megan Guarnier (USA) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam
4 Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton Scott Women 00:00:06
5 Amanda Spratt (Aus) Mitchelton Scott Women 00:00:17
6 Shara Gillow (Aus) FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope 00:00:19
7 Sabrina Stultiens (Ned) Waowdeals Pro Cycling Team 00:00:22
8 Sofia Bertizzolo (Ita) Astana Women's Team
9 Anastasia Iakovenko 00:00:25
10 Margarita Victoria Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team Women 00:00:28


71km remaining from 198km

The revamped Fleche Wallonne parcours has as yet failed to provoke more aggressive racing than in years past, though it's probably only after the penultimate ascent of the Mur de Huy that we can expect to see some long-range attacks. It's 19 years since Michele Bartoli scored the most dramatic Fleche victory of all after forging clear some 80km from the finish in the company of Oskar Camenzind and Maarten den Bakker. On a day of sleet and snow in the Ardennes, Camenzind was beset by the most literal iteration of the curse of the rainbow jersey - he lost contact with the winning move after struggling with the zip as he attempted to remove his long-sleeved jersey. Bartoli proceeded to drop Den Bakker on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy to claim the spoils. This is how Cyclingnews reported on the race in 1999.


The break and the bunch are safely over the Cote d'Amay and headed towards the first of three ascents of the Mur de Huy. The intensity is rising steadily in the peloton, and the break's lead has dipped accordingly to 2:35.


67km remaining from 198km

Ben King has safely rejoined the bunch after his earlier crash, though some riders are now beginning to feel the pinch and are being jettisoned off the back. 


60km remaining from 198km

The eight leaders reach Huy and swing onto the mighty Mur de Huy for the first time with an advantage of 2:15 over the peloton.

Half way up the Mur on the Claudy Criquielion corner, a gigantic new image of Frank Vandenbroucke’s face has been painted on the climb. Underneath there are the words, in English and French, “Be Frank, be puncheur.” Vandenbroucke died in 2009, and never won Flèche Wallonne, but as the newspaper Sudpresse put it in its Fleche preview, “he remains in our hearts.”


58km remaining from 198km

Movistar, Sky and Mitchelton-Scott are all positioned near the front of the peloton as they begin the first haul up the Mur de Huy. Hardy leads the break over the summit for the first time. Van Melsen was the only man distanced on the climb but he ought to be able to latch back on over the other side.


Robert Power (Mitchelton-Scott) sets the pace on the way up the Mur de Huy and stretches things out at the front of the bunch. Kwiatkowski and Mikel Landa (Movistar) are among those following, and they have opened a small gap over the bunch.


Power, Rui Costa, Kwiatkowski, Landa and Jelle Vanendert crested the summit of the Mur de Huy 1:23 down on the break, but the peloton may well shut this move down over the other side.


Most of the big teams have some representation in this chasing group of 10 or so riders, but AG2R La Mondiale are chasing to peg them back.


Power and Kwiatkowski are the prime movers in this chasing group, but Landa, Jakob Fulgsang and Rui Costa are passengers, and the bunch is about to shut them down.


The Power-Kwiatkowski group is cosed down, and almost immediately Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Sky) attacks and brings Damiano Caruso (BMC) and Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) with him.


54km remaining from 198km

Movistar are reluctant to see the race break up at this early juncture, and they have shut down this speculative move. Still, the touchpaper appears to have been lit, and we can expect more aggression over the Ereffe and Cherave.


53km remaining from 198km

Winner Anacona (Movistar) comes to the front of the peloton to restore some order on behalf of Valverde. 1:05 the gap to the leaders.


The first Cyclingnews documentary film, The Holy Week, is available to rent or buy on Vimeo. Produced by our friends at La Pédale, this is tells the story of the cobbled classics, from the eve of the Tour of Flanders right through until the tense finale on the Roubaix velodrome. Through the eyes of the riders, team staff and the devoted roadside fans, the film goes behind the scenes to capture the essence of the cobbled classics, and the emotions of one of the most compelling campaigns of recent years.


50km remaining from 198km

Tomasz Marczyński (Lotto Soudal) is the latest rider to try to attack from the bunch. UAE-eam Emirates and Quick-Step Floors move to shut it down. The end result of this flurry of aggression is that the break's lead is being slashed with each passing kilometre, and it now stands at 45 seconds.


Michael Gogl (Trek-Segafredo) attacks from the bunch on the lower slopes of the Cote de l'Ereffe, with Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) tracking him. Van Melsen, meanwhile, has been dropped from the early break.


Gogl's acceleration has helped to bring an end to the day's early break and is about to force a reorganisation of the race. A sizeable group has come with Gogl and Mas, including Vincenoz Nibali...


46km remaining from 198km

Nibali duly accelerates, and this attack has stretched out this large leading group, which has just absorbed the remnants of the break over the top of the Ereffe.


Over the other side of the Ereffe, we have around 30 riders out in front, among them Vincenzo Nibali, though the Movistar-led main peloton is not far behind and chasing hard.


41km remaining from 198km

Nibali has teammate Ion Izagirre for company in this 25-strong front group, which also contains a delegation from Quick-Step Floors. Landa leads the bunch for Movistar, some 25 seconds behind the Nibali group.


Philippe Gilbert is also in this front group with Nibali. Valverde, Alaphilippe, Dan Martin and Dylan Teuns are all back in the main peloton.


The pace is relentless at the front of the race, where this leading group is breaking up and reforming. Nibali. however, is always well placed near the front, as is currently in a move of 8 or so riders that has drifted off the front.


Back in the main peloton, Kwiatkowski and Omar Fraile are gesticulating furiously at the television motorbike for riding too close to the front and creating a slipstream for Movistar to follow...


36km remaining from 198km

Nibali is in a group of seven on the front at the foot of the Cote de Cherave, with Jack Haig, Kangert, Jack Haig, Max Schachmann, Anthony Roux and Cesare Benedetti. They have 20 seconds in hand on the main peloton, which is in the process of picking up the remnants of the earlier, larger group.


36km remaining from 198km

Nibali is in a group of six on the front at the foot of the Cote de Cherave, with Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott), Tanel Kangert (Astana), Max Schachmann (Quick-Step), Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ) and Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe). They have 20 seconds in hand on the main peloton, which is in the process of picking up the remnants of the earlier, larger group.

Kwiatkowski attacks from the bunch on the Cherave in a bid to forge across to the leading sextet. Valverde's Movistar team are on the front of the peloton, trying forlornly to bring some order to affairs here.


34km remaining from 198km

Nibali, Haig, Benedetti, Roux, Kangert and Schachmann have a lead of 28 seconds over the main peloton as they head towards their second ascent of the Mur de Huy. Kwiatkowski remains on the chase alone ahead of the bunch.


32km remaining from 198km

A heavy crash for Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) brings his race to an end, though the Spaniard is able to sit up as he receives treatment on the roadside.


30km remaining from 198km

Nibali and company hit the lower slopes of the Mur de Huy with a lead of 25 seconds over Kwiatkowski and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), and the bunch just a little further behind.


Haig leads the break up the Mur de Huy, with Nibali pedalling very well indeed just behind him. 


29km remaining from 198km

Haig leads Nibali, Schachmann, Kangert and Roux over the summit. Benedetti was distanced near the top, but not irretrievably.


Kwiatkowski and De Marchi were pegged back on the climb. Landa leads the bunch over the summit some 28 seconds behind the leaders.


Dan Martin is some way back over the top of the Mur de Huy, and appears to have lost contact with the group of favourites. 


28km remaining from 198km

Benedetti has made it back up to the front and is leading the six-man move, which has a buffer of 40 seconds over the Landa-led peloton.


As well as Dan Martin, Wout Poels, Rafal Majka and Ion Izagirre were among those distanced by the reduced peloton on that second ascent of the Mur de Huy.


Dan Martin is attempting to chase back on as part of a group of eight or so riders. The Irishman has some help from a UAE-Team Emirates teammate, but it's difficult to envisage him making it back on, and even harder to imagine him beating Valverde et al after this additional effort.


25km remaining from 198km

The peloton is 37 seconds behind the break, while the Dan Martin group trails by 1:05.


24km remaining from 198km

Landa has put in a mammoth shift on the front on behalf of Valverde, but he is not making any real inroads into the lead of Nibali et al, which stands firm at 40 seconds.


Dimension Data offer a helping hand to Movistar at the head of the peloton as the Nibali group extends its lead to 44 seconds. There are three climbs still to come: the Cote d'Ereffe, the Cote de Cherave and the final kick up the Mur de Huy.


22km remaining from 198km

A reminder of the six riders off the front: Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Maximilian Schachmann (Quick-Step), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott), Tanel Kangert (Astana) and Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ). They have 45 seconds in hand on the bunch.


20km remaining from 198km

Nibali et al are steaming towards the Cote d'Ereffe (2.1km at 5%) still with a lead of 46 seconds over the chasing peloton of around 40 riders. As speculated, this race has proved more selective than in years past, but will the ending be any different?


18km remaining from 198km

Nibali and company hit the Ereffe with 52 seconds in hand on the bunch. The Italian, Haig and Kangert, in particular, are catching the eye in this leading group. Dan Martin, meanwhile, is 1:24 down, and though he isn't throwing in the towel, his race is surely run.


Kangert piles on the pressure in the front group, and their advantage edges up still more, to 55 seconds over a peloton that is still being led by Mikel Landa.


17km remaining from 198km

The gap edges out to 57 seconds, and Kwiatkowski takes this as his cue to begin to ride on the front. Nibali, Haig, Benedetti, Kangert, Roux and Schachmann will be starting to believe in their chances of staying clear.


The annual reminder that the last time the winning move at Fleche Wallonne formed before the final haul up the Mur de Huy was in 2003, when Igor Astarloa emerged victorious. Will that fact survive another year?


15km remaining from 198km

The break are over the Ereffe and still maintain a lead of 47 seconds over the bunch despite the addition of Kwiatkowski's engine to the pursuit.


14km remaining from 198km

The next climb on the agenda is the Cote de Cherave (1.3km at 8.1%). The summit comes just 5.4km from the finish, and a little over 4km from the foot of the Mur de Huy.


13km remaining from 198km

Roux and Benedetti have performed remarkably well to stay with this front group considering their efforts in the early break. 40 seconds the gap as Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) joins the chase effort on behalf of Tim Wellens.


13km remaining from 198km

Landa drops back from the front, but Benoot's added impetus is helping to close the gap to Nibali et al. It's down to just 32 seconds as they hurtle towards the Cote de Cherave.


11km remaining from 198km

Valverde doesn't have much company in this 40-strong peloton, but the efforts of Sky and Lotto might yet bring him back into contention. 33 seconds the deficit to the Nibali group.


10km remaining from 198km

Into the final 10 kilometres for the six leaders. They have 33 seconds in hand on the bunch, which is still being led by Benoot, who is paving the way for the seemingly annual Wellens attack on the run-in to the Mur de Huy.


9km remaining from 198km

The leading sextet are still swapping turns, but Kangert, Haig and Nibali appear the strongest. Schachmann has contributed a notch less, mindful of the presence of Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert in the group behind.


8km remaining from 198km

29 seconds for Nibali and company as they hit the final five miles. They are bearing down on the approach to the Cote de Cherave.


7km remaining from 198km

The Nibali group is still holding firm as they approach the base of the Cherave with a lead of 29 seconds over the speeding peloton. We can expect fireworks in front and behind on this short ascent.


Haig attacks on the Cherave. Schachmann follows immediately, then Nibali and Kangert. Roux and Benedetti are struggling to follow...


6km remaining from 198km

Haig drags Nibali, Kangert and Schachmann away from Roux and Benedetti on the Cherave, but the bunch is now just 22 seconds behind.


Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) accelerates at the head of the peloton, with Pieter Serry (Quick-Step) on his wheel. They have strung out the bunch but Sergio Henao is shutting them down.


5km remaining from 198km

Nibali accelerates viciously near the top of the Cherave. Kangert, Haig and Schachmann follow. They have just 14 seconds in hand on the bunch over the top.


4km remaining from 198km

Haig leads down the descent and opens a small gap before Schachmann, Nibali and Kangert latch back up. They have stretched their lead back out to 20 seconds.


3km remaining from 198km

Benedetti is now back in the peloton and riding on the front on behalf of Buchmann. Up front, meanwhile, Haig and Schachmann have pulled away from Nibali and Kangert after the drop off the Cherave.


3km remaining from 198km

Haig and Schachmann have a few metres in hand on Nibali and Kangert. The bunch is at 20 seconds.


2km remaining from 198km

Haig and Schachmann look to have definitively distanced Nibali and Kangert on the approach to the Mur de Huy. Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) has hit the front of the bunch, where Bora are also chasing hard.


1km remaining from 198km

Schachmann is refusing to help Haig on the approach to the Mur de Huy, but the Australian presses on regardless. Nibali and Kangert have been caught by the bunch...


1km remaining from 198km

Schachmann gives a turn as he and Haig begin the climb. They have just a clutch of seconds in hand on the Lotto-Soudal-led peloton, which contains just 25 or so riders.


Schachmann presses on alone and drops Haig. Vandendert leads the reduced peloton for Lotto Soudal. Gilbert, Woods and Sam Oomen are among the riders who have been dropped on the lower slopes...


Schachmann leads into the S-bend, with Vanendert leading the chasers. Valverde, Alaphilippe and Michael Matthews are all well placed...


Vanendert chases Schachmann with Alaphilippe on his wheel. Valverde has lost a few lengths to the Frenchman...


Schachmann is caught and passed by Vandendert and Alaphilippe...


Julian Alaphilippe attacks and opens a gap... Valverde has some ground to recoup...


Alaphilippe pulls away as the road flattens out. Valverde is beaten...


Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) wins La Fleche Wallonne.


Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished second. Jelle Vandendert (Lotto Soudal) held on for third ahead of Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott), while Michael Matthews (Sunweb) takes fifth.




1 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors 4:53:37
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:04
3 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal 0:00:06
4 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott
5 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
7 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal
8 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors
9 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:12


Julian Alaphilippe speaks: "It’s the third time I’ve ridden and the third time I’m on the podium, this time as a winner. I thought each time I could do it. I worked really hard to win this. I couldn't hear the raido very well, so I didn’t know all of what was happening in front. I knew Nibali was up there, and I just want to thank my teammates for their help. The race was hard from the morning, hard on the legs, I like this harder parcours, it was tough in the finale, and I’m just really, really happy."


The winner of Fleche Wallonne is automatically installed as a favourite for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Having placed second in La Doyenne on his debut in 2015, Alaphilippe will take beating on Sunday. "I just want to enjoy the win today first, but I’m motivated for Liege and I’ll try my best," Alaphilippe said.


It was a remarkable showing from the 33-year-old Vanendert, who is enjoying his best run in these races in several years after his 10th place finish at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. Vanendert's late acceleration here ended Schachmann's challenge, teed up Alaphilippe - and may well have proved fatal to Valverde's chances to boot.


Kreuziger was closing rapidly in the final 100 metres, in a manner reminiscent of Dan Martin's traditional late charge in this race, but the Czech ran out of road and missed the podium by a hair.


Michael Matthews, meanwhile, underlined his credentials as perhaps the most versatile rider in the peloton with a fine 5th place finish. In theory, Liege-Bastogne-Liege is too difficult for him. In practice, he placed 4th a year ago, and will be a real danger if a group of any size reaches the Cote de Ans together.




As ever, Fleche Wallonne offers some indications for Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Alaphilippe and Valverde will likely be the five-star favourites, and on the evidence of today, we can expect Roman Kreuziger to be a factor. Vincenzo Nibali will surely be pleased with his work-out ahead of La Doyenne, while Romain Bardet was bubbling under nicely ahead of the big objective of his spring. For Dan Martin (61st at almost 10 minutes) and 2016 winner Wout Poels, on the other hand, this was a sobering afternoon.




Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) explained that he was riding on behalf of Tim Wellens, but ended up inadvertently providing a lead-out for Alaphilippe. “200 metres from the line I saw Tim wasn’t on my wheel, it was Julian Alaphilippe instead,” Vanendert said. “With another strategy, and if I had accelerated a bit later, I might have been able to finish second, but I wouldn’t have won. I’m very happy with this third place, it’s my favourite week of the year.”


Alejandro Valverde, meanwhile, has no complaints about his second place. "I know Julian Alaphilippe is a great rider, so I don't feel any bitterness. He was just stronger than me and I couldn't close the gap to him."



1 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors 4:53:37
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:04
3 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal 0:00:06
4 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott
5 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
7 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal
8 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors
9 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:12


Thanks for following our live coverage on Cyclingnews this afternoon. You can find a full report, results and pictures of the men's race here and the women's race here. We'll have all the news and reaction from Huy in due course, and we'll be back with more live coverage from Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.


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