Joaquim Rodriguez attacks on the Mur de Huy with 350m to go. Normally riders sprint when they are this close to the finish line. But this isn’t a normal finish and Rodriguez put in a powerful attack to go clear. This was the moment the race was won.
The day’s early breakaway saw FDJ’s Anthony Roux and Dirk Bellemakers of Landbouwkrediet go clear. The pair were kept in check by a bunch led by BMC and Katusha and if the TV coverage started early, the action did not.
Things finally livened up with 42km remaining when Andy Schleck attacked, going clear on the Côte de Bohisseau with Katusha’s Yuri Trofimov and Astana’s Fonfonov sitting on his wheel. He looked powerful uphill but once the race hit the flat valley road alongside the Meuse the move was shut down by the chasing bunch.
Over the Mur de Huy for the second time the bunch rolled up together. The trick here is to see who is looking comfortable, who is struggling and who is attacking. Normally anyone attacking here is wasting their energy, a sign they’re not sure of themselves for the final. This time it was Chris Horner of Radioshack who tried a move. All the other contenders seemed normal and amongst the struggling riders Gilbert was grimacing a bit.
The weather was changing. Dark skies appeared and in no time emptied themselves on the roads. Several riders were trying moves but nothing would stick. The best move saw Sky’s Lars Petter Nordhaug and Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedal go clear, giving Norwegians something to cheer about today. But they struggled to pull out more than 10 seconds but their effort allowed team mates more of an armchair ride behind. So it came to the Mur de Huy and a “bunch sprint” with a very large group hitting the slopes together.
The climb’s real name is the Chemin des Chapelles and there are seven little chapels on the way up. Some could have stopped to pray because there was no other way to restrain Joaquim Rodriguez. He jumped clear in a powerful attack 350 metres from the line, just on the steepest part of the climb and quickly pulled out a lead.
Behind nobody even tried to follow. Michael Albasini of Greenedge and Philip Gilbert seemed content to ride tempo, although tempo on the Mur is a series of tortuous leg presses rather than measured pedalling.
Rodriguez goes by the nickname Purito, a brand of cigars. He smoked everyone today and in a week dominated so far by the handwriting of Dennis Galimzyanov, the Catalan rider had enough time to celebrate some positive news for the team.
Behind Michael Albasini held off Philippe Gilbert. The riders crossed the line, pain written on their faces but I suspect Gilbert will now be feeling confident ahead of his home race on Sunday, Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Once again the race was all about the final five minutes. Yes the previous 190km are needed to soften up the field but as TV spectacle this years changes to the finish made little difference and the Mur decided the result.