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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, April 21, 2016

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories | Commentary

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. - C. S. Lewis

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Franck Schleck out with broken collarbone

Before moving on to the Flèche Wallonne team reports, I have the sad duty to note that about 44 kilometers before the finish of Wednesday's La Flèche Wallone, Trek-Segafredo rider Frank Schleck crashed and likely sustained a broken collarbone.

A crash in the 2010 Tour de France cost Schleck three bone fractures, including a broken collarbone.

Schleck has won some big stuff, including the 2006 Amstel Gold Race, 2011 Critérium International, three Grand Tour stages and five Luxembourg national road championships.

Frank Schleck

Frank Schleck earlier this year

La Flèche Wallonne team reports

Here's what winner Alejandro Valverde's Movistar team had to say:

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The second race of the Ardennes trio has an only king as of today: Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard came to the Belgian event with a chance to claim his fourth career victory –third on a row (2006, 2014, 2015)–, and he delivered. The success, three days after his two stage wins and the GC in the Vuelta a Castilla y León, makes him become the most successful rider in the Mur de Huy. A poker of success in the start of a season which seemingly depended on stageraces –starting with next month's Giro d'Italia–, yet showing how consistent, polivalent the 35-year-old from Murcia has always fared during his 14-season career.

Almost from the very beginning of the 196km trek between Marche-en-Famenne and Huy, the squad directed by José Luis Arrieta played their cards with brilliance, a masterclass of cycling strategy. Dani Moreno, Carlos Betancur and Imanol Erviti supported 'Bala' all the way through the climbs, while Rubén Fernández, Giovanni Visconti and Rory Sutherland kept all attacks under control in the finale, ultimately chasing dangerous, late solo attacker Stephen Cummings (DDD). Another crucial piece of the show was Ion Izagirre, at his absolute best when he followed the wheel of Jungels (EQS) without losing sight of all other major moves.

It was the usual development of things -differently to Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège- as the Flèche came bound to be decided into the 1.3km, 9.6% average gradient Mur de Huy (204m). Visconti's perfect final relay took Valverde into the very front of the group, as attacks from Joaquim Rodríguez (KAT) and Daniel Martin (EQS) were unable to take 'Bala' out of calmness. Intelligence to follow his plan and pure power into the closing 200 meters granted him another magnificent victory in front of Etixx duo Julian Alaphilippe and Daniel Martin.

The Movistar Team's next battle in the Ardennes, the last classic of the cycling spring, will be Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. There, Valverde will also look for his fourth victory.

Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde wins 2016 Flèche Wallonne


Alejandro Valverde: “The team was immense. An absolute marvel, the whole squad was amazing, in perfect harmony - since this very morning. We were able to do the race we wanted to - and crown it in the best possible way. Imanol, Rubén, Betancur, Rory, Dani, Visco… all of them pushed like hell and paid attention to every single split into the bunch, keeping me calm at the front.

"Before the last Mur de Huy there was a lot of fighting, swerving and also mind games. I wanted to get to the front before the real climbing started to avoid any surprises. Purito attacked first, Daniel Martin followed shortly after. That moment, I saw my feelings were so incredibly great that I couldn't do any other thing but going after them. This victory, as well as the ones in Castilla y León, keeps me much calm. Also, see: before heading into the start, I was nervous because I felt my conditions were better than in previous years. I wanted to keep everything under control and eventually, it turned out well.

"I'm really happy, as much as willing to go for next Sunday. We've fulfilled our 'internal' goal, which was winning Flèche - now it's time to rest up and thing about Liège. We don't know if it will rain, maybe the forecast can change, and if he does, we can stay happy: cold without rain is easier to combat. I'm really happy to enter history with this fourth Flèche Wallonne.”

And here's what Etixx-Quick Step reported:


A great ride of the team saw Etixx – Quick-Step place two riders inside the top three of the prestigious Belgian Classic.

Once again, Flèche Wallonne was all about the Mur de Huy. After a very fast start, which saw an escape form only inside the second hour, the race followed the traditional pattern of the past years, with the break building an advantage of a couple of minutes, before the favourites' teams came at the head of the peloton to control things. As expected, the escapees were caught before the real action kicked off, with around 20 kilometers to go, triggering other attacks from the bunch.

First to move was Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels, who was joined by Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal). The trio opened a gap of 20 seconds on the chasers, but Cofidis and Tinkoff brought them back with less than three kilometers to go, before Mur de Huy. On the final hill of the day – 1300 meters, 9.6% average gradient – the Etixx – Quick-Step duo of Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe made its way to the front and played the old 1-2, gunning for the win in the race which this year was celebrating its 80th edition.

The Irishman launched his attack and forced the others to chase, before Julian – who was second last season at Flèche Wallonne – came to the forefront and accelerated as a response to the attack of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Despite putting in a brave and solid effort, Julian finished runner-up once again, just ahead of his teammate, making Etixx – Quick-Step the first team in 13 years to place two riders on the podium of the Belgian one-day race.


Alaphilippe and Martin joined Valverde on the podium

For the second time in the top three of Flèche Wallonne, Daniel Martin talked about the team's strategy on Wednesday and tried to see the bright side of things: "We wanted to go for the victory, but second and third on the podium is still a great result for the team. We knew that we can't beat Alejandro on the last 100 meters, so we tried to anticipate with 300 meters to go. We rode aggressively and the tactic was for Julian to stay in the wheel of Valverde, while I tried to go a little bit from afar. I have a very good relationship with Julian and we work very well together. We have to be happy, but we're also a bit sad, because we came here to get the win."

"I felt good throughout the day, rode with confidence and stayed close to Dan during the race. Our tactic was to have Dan start his effort early, because he has the power for such an attack, while I waited behind Valverde. Dan was really incredible and did a fantastic job on the climb. My legs were in pain after a really hard race, always up and down, without any respite. Of course, I am disappointed not to take the victory, but I'm also satisfied to come again on the podium at my second participation and especially to see how the team made the race on the Mur de Huy", said Julian Alaphilippe, who notched his best result of the season.

Lotto-Soudal had this to say about the 2016 La Flèche Wallonne:

The 80th edition of La Flèche Wallonne was again something for the real punchers in the peloton just like previous years. A lot of riders, among them Tomasz Marczysnki, tried to set up a break right from the beginning but the peloton raced very fast and nervous during the first hour. After 55 kilometres nine riders managed to obtain a significant gap, Tosh Van der Sande was part of the break. A bit later, Mads Peterson bridged the gap to the nine escapees on his own. In the meantime Katusha and Movistar controlled the gap at the front of the peloton.

After that the race situation remained the same for a while. At 45 kilometres from the finish only four riders remained in front, among them Van der Sande. Stephen Cummings accelerated at the front, when entering the final local lap. He was caught at seventeen kilometres from the finish. The speed increased in the peloton but still several riders tried to get away, among them Tomasz Marczysnki and Tim Wellens, who bridged the gap to Bob Jungels and Jon Izaguirre. But the expected uphill sprint couldn’t be avoided. Alejandro Valverde was again the fastest on the Mur de Huy, it’s his fourth win in this Walloon Classic. Julian Alaphilippe and Daniel Martin ended second and third. Jelle Vanendert finished at the eighteenth place and was the first Belgian.

Marc Sergeant, manager Lotto Soudal: “Before the race we decided to race aggressively but I think that the Mur de Huy is one of the most specific finishes in the WorldTour. Movistar and Katusha really controlled the race, these are two very good teams so then you know it will be difficult to try something. I would have preferred that the domination would be less today but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Tim Wellens tried to get away with a few strong riders although we said to him during the race that he was allowed to wait until the final climb. He decided to attack earlier, so we don’t know yet what he is capable of on that uphill finish. Perhaps we should decide that he needs to wait till the final climb next year. The good news is that Tim again showed that he’s in good shape, but that didn’t get him a top result. Hopefully we can change that in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”

Here's Tinkoff's Flèche Wallonne release:

The Ardennes Classics moved from the Netherlands to Belgium, with the Flèche Wallonne marking the second of the climbers’ classics. After racing at a blistering pace, and the twelve infamous climbs sapping the energy of the racers, it all came down to the final climb of the Mur de Huy, where after a spirited and strong ride, which saw Tinkoff controlling the pace for much of the day, Roman Kreuziger crossed the line in eleventh position, just outside of the top ten.

A warm, sunny day greeted riders on the morning of the 80th edition of the Flèche Wallonne at the start in Marche-en-Famenne. A 196km course awaited them for the second of the three Ardennes Classics, taking in twelve climbs, including the fearsome Mur de Huy on three occasions.

After just 12km, the race was going at a blistering pace and several attacks had been made, but due to the numbers involved, the peloton couldn’t allow them to escape and pulled them back in quickly. It wasn’t until after 50km had passed that the first attack to stick came, with a ten-man group quickly building up a gap on the bunch. By the time the escapees climbed the Mur de Huy for the first time at 100km, the breakaway had 3:30on the peloton.

On the speed of the race, Sport Director, Bruno Cenghialta knew only too well how fast the Flèche Wallonne can travel. “Since I was a young pro this race has always been like that here. The speed in the first hour was 46km/h average so that shows how hard the racing is.” Roman Kreuziger explained how the first hour panned out from the peloton’s perspective. “I think it was a very fast race, which was what we were expecting. It’s a big area with very narrow roads. It was a hard start – we had no-one in the break and even if we’d tried, it was really crazy there. In the end we didn’t catch the break so we raced for a whole day on the front.”

As the race neared the finish however, the break started to crumble. After a group of four attacked on the Côte de Bohissau, the remaining breakaway riders knew it wouldn’t be long until the peloton swallowed them up. With 50km remaining, the breakaway had fifty seconds on the chase group, which was only a minute in front of the peloton and fast falling apart.

In the closing kilometres, Tinkoff were driving the pace to close the gap on the two men remaining in the breakaway. With the catch made, the attacks began. While a group of three were launching their bid for the win on the Côte de Cherave, the mood in the peloton, with Tinkoff in control and dragging back the attacks, was clear it was all going to come down to the Mur de Huy.

Calling on his experience of the race as a rider, Cenghialta was confident from the start of how the race would finish. “The breaks always get caught & the race always gets to the bottom of the Mur de Huy in big group. We could be competitive here with Alberto Contador but this race doesn't suit the riders we have here too much, so we can't expect too much more. The race has always been the same and probably always will be. Breaks always work hard and always come back.“

With the most difficult climb of the race on the horizon, and almost the race’s full 196km in their legs, the race was going to be decided on the Mur de Huy. Roman Kreuziger gave it his all, riding hard and within touching distance, finally crossing the line in eleventh position – just outside the top ten.

“It’s not easy to beat some guys on the Mur de Huy.” said Roman at the finish. “We tried to ride together most of the race, even if it wasn’t easy, because everyone wanted to be at the front on the small roads. I had really good support from Pawel Poljanski, Michael Valgren and Ivan Rovny, who put me in this position. I was in a good position on the last climb but then some riders went stronger, but I’m happy because I start to feel better day by day.”

With two of the three Ardennes Classics completed, Cenghialta looked ahead to Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the team’s chances there. “The team's in good form and Liège on Sunday suits us much better – we’ll aim for a stronger result there and today wasn't too much of a surprise. The best in the world for this race were here today so we can still be quite happy with Roman's 11th place.”

BMC for Liège-Bastogne-Liège

The team sent me this preview:

20 April 2016, Chaudfontaine (BEL): Liège-Bastogne-Liège will cap off BMC Racing Team's Ardennes Classics' campaign, with Richie Porte set to join the La Flèche Wallonne team.

Sports Director Valerio Piva said the team is going in with multiple options. "With riders like Richie Porte and Samuel Sánchez, who finished in sixth place at La Flèche Wallonne today, we are going in with strong climbers, as well as some of our younger guys who have showed their form at the earlier Ardennes races," Piva said.

Sánchez said that although he is going in with good form, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a completely different kind of race. "Liège-Bastogne-Liège is going to be really tough. We're looking at six or more hours in the saddle and it looks like the conditions will be really bad, so we'll have to see on the day," Sánchez said.

Samuel Sanchez

Samuel Sanchez winning stage 4 of this year's Tour of the Basque Country

Porte will return to Liège-Bastogne-Liège for only the third time in his career. "I'm coming in off the back of altitude camp and my last block of stage races, so Liège-Bastogne-Liège will be a good chance to test the legs on these climbs. I've only lined up twice before so I'm not going in with any real expectations," Porte confirmed.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège (24 April)

Rider roster: Alessandro De Marchi (ITA), Silvan Dillier (SUI), Philippe Gilbert (BEL), Ben Hermans (BEL), Richie Porte (AUS), Samuel Sánchez (ESP), Dylan Teuns (BEL), Loïc Vliegen (BEL).

Sports Directors: Valerio Piva (ITA), Jackson Stewart (USA)

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