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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, April 20, 2017

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2017 Tour de France | 2017 Giro d'Italia

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it "Chuck Berry". - John Lennon

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La Flèche Wallonne team reports

Of course we have to start with Movistar:

Alejandro Valverde has no rivals at the Flèche Wallonne. After breaking a tie against Merckx, Kint, Argentin and Rebellin, all with three victories before the Spanish superstar claimed his fourth in 2016, the marvel from Murcia was able to increase that tally on Wednesday and take his fifth (four on a row) in the second event of the Ardennes trio. Valverde was as strong as usual on the decisive climb to the Mur de Huy (1.3km at 9.6% average, slopes up to 26%). Following impressive work from the Movistar Team –with Erviti, Sutherland, Soler, Herrada, a remarkable Betancur and the final, key contribution from Rojas and Dani Moreno–, Valverde controlled the opposition with ease before doing his classic acceleration from just less than 200 meters from the finish line.

Behind him, with no real chances to contest the win, Dan Martin (QST) and Dylan Teuns (BMC) completed the podium behind the Spaniard, who improves his already amazing start to the 2017 season: most winning UCI rider this year (10 wins, 19 already for the Movistar Team since January), 107 victories as a pro, eight triumphs in the Ardennes (5 in La Flèche Wallonne, 3 in Liège-Bastogne-Liége, which he'll tackle on Sunday with the intention of claiming his second double, after 2006 and 2015) for a legendary cyclist who continues to amaze the world, just six days away from turning 37 years old.

Alejandro Valverde

Valverde wins another big one

Alejandro Valverde: “It was a victory based on confidence, strength and a great team supporting me all the way. I had lots of respect to what my rivals could do, but also knew that I was in great physical condition, and I had to take advantage from it. We believed we could win it again, and the whole team worked from the very first kilometer to keep the race together before the finish. There were plenty of attacks into the final 50km by riders from Quick Step and BMC, but ourselves, as well as Orica who took a big share of the work in the finale, made sure it all came down to the last Huy climb. We knew it would still be difficult to win there, because only one can achieve it and many fight for it, but to be honest, this feels like a race made for me.

"Rojas and Dani Moreno set me up in perfect position before the final kilometer and I took to the front before the double hairpin halfway through the ascent - I wanted to make sure everything was under control and also go on my own trajectory through the last few corners. I went after Gaudu's attack and didn't hesitate to launch my sprint afterwards. Even though it might seem easier, it was just as difficult as the other four wins I got here. There's no secret: you need to be in perfect form and have no doubts about how to reach when someone jumps in the final meters. No one had four victories here, and now that I've got five, it seems like it will be a record very hard to beat.

"Liège? We'll see how we feel on Sunday. It's a race that I really like a lot and won three times. I'm in great shape at the moment, but as always, enjoying this win comes first and thinking about what's next comes after that.”

Here's the Team Quick-Step Floors news:

Daniel Martin concluded Flèche Wallonne on the podium for the third time in his career, after the 2014 and 2016 editions, putting on display the strong form which already brought him in this first part of the season a stage win at Volta ao Algarve and a third overall at Paris-Nice.

Before the riders tackled the legendary Mur de Huy for the third and final time on Wednesday's race, Bob Jungels animated the Belgian Classic, attacking as the peloton crested the iconic climb for the second time and bridging to lone leader Alessandro De Marchi (BMC). After leaving Côte d'Ereffe behind, the 24-year-old Luxembourger put his time trial skills to work and dropped the Italian on the descent, opening a 50-second gap on the bunch.

Bob, who was prominent also during last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, won by teammate Philippe Gilbert, put in a valiant effort as he gave his best to bring the race to life and make the peloton work hard in order to catch him halfway up the Mur de Huy. On the 1300m-long hill averaging 9.6%, it was a waiting game until 300 meters to go, when David Gaudu (FDJ) made a move, which drew a response from defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who then surged clear to take the win.

"It was cold in the beginning and a bit difficult, but towards the end we went with our plan and on the second ascent of the Mur de Huy I attacked. Problem was that too many of the guys behind where still fresh and that made it impossible to go all the way to the line. Overall, I am satisfied with my legs and how I felt, and I take my ride in the Ardennes so far as a good omen for the Giro d'Italia", said Bob Jungels at the finish.

Quick Step team

The Quick Step team tackles the Mur de Huy

Daniel Martin was the best of the rest at the top of the Mur de Huy, coming one second behind the winner and notching up his sixth top-3 finish at a World Tour one-day race: "This year's Flèche Wallonne was strange, because we had a strong headwind on the Mur and the peloton was very nervous. That made for a messy finish and as a result I didn't have the best position on the climb, where my plan was to take Alejandro's wheel. Although things weren't perfect and I didn't have good legs today, I managed to come back and grab second place at the end of the race, and this makes me look with optimism to Liège–Bastogne–Liège."

Ahead of the Spring's final Monument, Quick-Step Floor – who amassed four victories and seven other podiums at this year's Classics – continue to have a healthy gap, of more than 1700 points, in the World Tour team classification.

And BMC sent me this about the Belgian race:

19 April, 2017, Huy (BEL): Dylan Teuns put in a breakthrough performance at the second race of the Ardennes Classics series, La Flèche Wallonne, with an explosive burst of acceleration on the final ascent of Mur de Huy to claim third place, the first WorldTour podium result of his career.

As is tradition at La Flèche Wallonne, the race came down to the final steep climb, however earlier in the 200.5km race, six riders went clear on the flat to form the day's breakaway. The peloton kept control of the race and the gap hovered around six minutes for the first half of the race.

With 50km to go, the gap was down to 55" and a few kilometers down the road, Alessandro De Marchi tested his legs with an attack off the front of the bunch. De Marchi was joined by a handful of riders but the peloton was quickly on their heels and the group was reeled in. The injection of pace by De Marchi saw the peloton within reach of the breakaway and the catch was made moments after.

Another explosion from De Marchi with 39km to go saw the Italian go clear with a solo attack. De Marchi ascended the Mur de Huy for the second time solo, while behind him Bob Jungels (Quickstep-Floors) attacked to make the junction to De Marchi. The duo forged on ahead and held a 30 second advantage over the peloton, before Jungels surged ahead of De Marchi 13km before the line.

Behind, the peloton was picking up the pace and by the time they reached the base of Mur de Huy for the final time, Jungels was in their sights. Teuns was sitting in the first 15 riders as the reduced peloton started the climb and stayed in position as the group approached the finish line.

With 250 meters to go, the attacks started and Teuns put in an impressive effort to follow the attack by eventual winner, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and hold on for third place on the line.

Fleche podium

The Flèche Wallonne podium, Dan Martin, Alejandro Valverde and Dylan Teuns

Dylan Teuns: "I was able to keep calm until the last two or three kilometers. The only important thing with the Mur de Huy is positioning, to be in front, and to try and ride as fast as possible up the climb. With Alessandro De Marchi in front in the final 30km we didn't have to chase, and even if we didn't have De Marchi, we were able to wait because Valverde (Movistar Team) was the big favorite. The pressure was on him and Movistar Team, and ORICA-SCOTT also took the pressure because they were riding for Michael Albasini. For us it was perfect to have De Marchi in front."

"You need to be in the top ten riders when you approach the Mur de Huy. I knew from two years ago because I was in 25th or 30th position and I came up to 5th position at the steepest part but by then I had already made a big effort. I was with the big favorites towards the top of the climb so it was the perfect position for me. I was here in 2011 when Philippe Gilbert won and I was at the place where he attacked but I was boxed in by Michael Kwiatkowski and Sergio Heano, and I was thinking this was the moment to go. But when you are in a race with a top favorite like Valverde you need to wait until he goes. I tried to follow and I could for five meters but then I lost a bike length. Then it was just about keeping going to the end. The legs hurt."

"In 2015 I was a neo pro and now it's my third year with BMC Racing Team. I did my first Grand Tour last year and they always say that this helps you to step up a lot. So, I guess that helped me. I'm 25 now and Valerde is 37 so I think I still have a lot of years to progress and try and win this race one day. Today I shared the leadership with Samuel Sanchez and I took my chance that I got from the team. I'm really thankful for this chance from the team and I think I still have time to grow, to compete more for winning in the next few years."

Jackson Stewart, Sports Director: "I think we can say that today was a super day for us. We stuck to our plan and we gave Dylan Teuns and Samuel Sanchez joint leadership because they have both gone well here in the past. It was really nice to see Dylan to be able to podium. We knew he could do a top ten but we didn't really expect a podium from him today. We had Alesandro De Marchi who did some big efforts and really made the race hard and for a while there we thought maybe it would pay off. I think we did a good day and we can be very happy with our result. Dylan is young, only 25 years old, so this signals big things for his future.

Here's Lotto-Soudal's Flèche news:

This afternoon, Alejandro Valverde won the Flèche Wallonne for the fifth time. Jelle Vanendert and Tim Wellens turned up the Mur de Huy in a comfortable position, but didn’t finish on top ten.

After almost 150 kilometres, a front group of six started the first of three ascents of the Mur de Huy. At the top, four leaders were left. The peloton followed at one and a half minutes. It was mainly Movistar that had brought the bunch closer, after a maximal gap of over eight minutes. With 35.5 kilometres to go, Olivier Pardini was the last rider of the early break to be caught. Alessandro De Marchi attacked almost immediately. Ten kilometres further, Bob Jungels joined him. Another ten kilometres further, Jungels left De Marchi behind. In the meantime Tomasz Marczynski was keeping Jelle Vanendert and Tim Wellens in a good position in the bunch. Jungels started the last ascent of the Mur de Huy as leader of the race, but with not enough advantage. The winner would come from the reduced peloton. Alejandro Valverde was unbeatable. Dan Martin joined him on stage as second, Dylan Teuns was third. Jelle Vanendert crossed the finish as seventeenth, Tim Wellens as eighteenth.

Tim Wellens: “It was the plan to ride at the front of the pack all day long and so we did. Everyone knows the last ascent of Mur de Huy is decisive. Jungels did an ultimate attempt to get another outcome, but it came back together nonetheless. On the way to the Mur, I tried to move up in the bunch and get a good position, but on the Mur I didn’t have the legs anymore to follow the best riders in the race. That’s a pity, because I felt good all day long and had hoped for a place on top ten. As a team’s leader you hope for a better result than eighteenth of course, but the others were stronger. I wanted to see how far I would get on the Mur and that was not far enough. I have to recover now and focus on the fourth monument of the year: Liège-Bastogne-Liège. That’s my dream race.”

Tour of the Alps stage three Team Sky report

Geraint Thomas capped off a superb display by leading home a Team Sky 1-2 at the Tour of the Alps and moving into the race lead. The Welshman launched a stinging late attack on the steep finish to Funes, bridging across to team-mate Mikel Landa and then pushing on to take the win on stage three.

Geraint Thomas

Geraint Thomas (left) and Mikel Landa go 1-2 at the Tour of the Alps

Flanked by Landa, who played a perfect team role on the final climb, the win and bonus seconds were enough to ensure Thomas moved into a 16-second race lead with two days to go.

Team Sky grabbed control of the race on the tough penultimate climb of the Alpe Rodengo Zumis. Initially Pete Kennaugh, followed by a massive turn from Ian Boswell, helped to string out the bunch and chase down the day’s three-man break.

Landa helped control the pace on the descent, before Phil Deignan helped lead the race onto the final climb. Kenny Elissonde then took it up, with Landa in position to drive the race on when attacks fired with 5km to go.

Thomas was able to sit in and monitor the moves, before timing his late attack to perfection.

After the race the new race leader explained: “I felt good on the climb and I said to Landa – ‘just go and make the others chase’. I could just follow everyone else and it worked perfectly. After Scarponi went and Formolo [attacked] it became quite hard so I thought I’d have a go. I went full gas. I didn’t really expect to but I got across to them, took a few deep breaths, counted to five and just went again. Luckily I had the legs to stay away."

With victory Thomas was quick to put his success into context as he continues to build towards the upcoming Giro d’Italia. He added: “It’s one thing in a week-long race, it’s another thing completely at a Grand Tour. It’s completely unknown for me. The likes of Nibali, Quintana, Pinot and other guys have all been on the podium in Grand Tours. We’ll see how it goes but for me it’s a good way to start.

“It shows all the work I’ve been doing and the dedication is finally paying off. I’m looking forward to a bit of a rest after this race and going to the Giro fresh mentally and physically. And trying to get what I can!”

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