The Moment The Race Was Won: Flèche Wallonne

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

With 200m to go Daniel Moreno accelerates, building momentum on the last part of the steep slope to distance Philippe Gilbert and pass an increasingly static Carlos Betancur. This was the moment the race was won.

Often there’s plenty to analyse in a race because each event is page in the script and Sunday brings one of the season’s biggest one day acts. But it’s hard to draw too many lessons from today in advance of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The problem lies with the formula and status of the race.

Protest Calmed
The race was briefly under threat. A large steel plant nearby is going to be closed. Obviously upset workers came to the race to protest but matters were calm and the union distributed pamphlets to explain what was happening.

As unions waved red banners the red-shirted workers of BMC Racing got to work to control the race. Attacks were controlled and one point we saw Andy Schleck at the front of the race, a sign his recovery is slowly continuing in the right direction. The TV coverage was suffering from production issues, the image jumping like a badly-animated GIF. But French TV said Vacansoleil will end their sponsorship of the Dutch cycling team, saying the news came out earlier this week (I missed it… and so did everyone else?).

Mur de Oui
Carlos Betancur took off from the bunch early on the climb. It looked mad. Each year someone tries their luck only to crack in no time. But the Colombian seemed to have vanished up the road and quickly took 10 seconds’ lead. Behind the bunch was climbing fast but spread across the road. Gilbert led as the slopes kicked up. He’s almost local and the emblem of Walloon cycling, you can imagine the crowds of Huy and beyond shouting “oui” as he was in the ideal position. But then Daniel More-no launched an acceleration that left Gilbert stuck.

Daniel Moreno
Today’s winner is a specialist at uphill finishes. In 2011 he was eighth in the race and last year took two uphill stage finishes in the Dauphiné. Above all he was fifth overall in the Vuelta, a result that’s easily overlooked.

A word on Betancur too. Seeing an Ag2r jersey attacking in the final of a race is rare but that’s Betancur for you. A punchy climber he had two years at Acqua e Sapone in Italy and in his first year as a pro he rode the Giro and managed fourth place on the final mountain stage to Sestriere. He’s long been regarded as an exciting rider and became the subject of a contractual tug of war after the end of his first year. It’s also an obvious vindication for the French team’s policy change, gone are the Iranians and Slovenians hired in such mercenary fashion for their points, now the team is focussing on results ahead of points and it’s paying dividends.

Vos Wins
The sun rose, birds sang, Marianne Vos won and night will follow day. Yes but she didn’t win last year so the Dutch champion seemed especially pleased with the win today. It’s reportedly her 50th pro win.

Lessons For Liège
Philippe Gilbert seems to be “sinning by pride” as they say in French, being too bold with his attacks only to get caught before the line. But his form seems to be on an upward trajectory and physical ability and mental confidence could intercept in time for Sunday. For me Alejandro Valverde is the quiet pick for Sunday, he looked fine on the climb today. Of course Katusha now come with two riders in Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez. Team Sky have that last classics chance, we saw them winning in Trentino today as if their GC riders keep performing when their classics squad don’t. But there’s more to it than that as we saw Richie Porte dropped in today’s race in Belgium.

Fetch Wall Yawn
At 200km it’s too short to blow the field apart but doesn’t have enough climbing to make it selective enough. Is it enough to have a race that’s really only worth watching for the last 10 minutes? Ask a rider and they’ll tell you of the narrow roads, the way the pace picks up with 50km to go and the crosswinds. But the aggressive racing and the tough course just don’t appear on TV. All we see is the bunch fetching any breakaways, the race hits the wall and then the riders undergo a 150 second ramp test. Sure it’s exciting for a few minutes but does it merit hours of TV airtime?

Suggestions are easier said than done but the obvious answer is to send the race up the Mur more often, to use a shorter finishing circuit. The Mur de Huy is great and besides, ASO have a contract with the town until 2019. A circuit would have the virtue of being crowd friendly too.

Adrian Holman April 17, 2013 at 8:04 pm

This is one of my favourite races, but as you mention above, you only really need to watch the last 10 minutes! A more selective lead-up to the final ascent of the Muur is needed!

Anonymous April 17, 2013 at 8:48 pm

I think Gilbert was the strongest rider today but got his timing wrong. Thankfully nothing of such sort will happen on Sunday

Philip April 17, 2013 at 9:01 pm

The strongest rider was Daniel Moreno.

Steppings April 18, 2013 at 11:58 am


Duluth Baptist Clydesdale April 17, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Perhaps not the greatest mid-race, but isn’t a race like this–if you can catch the last 10 minutes you’ve gotten the meat of it–perfect for a midweek classic with people at work and school? I have a busy day today but I had 20 minutes to watch this and it was perfect.

The Inner Ring April 18, 2013 at 1:48 am

I agree… but this an expensive production for 10 minutes of action. Even if the finish is exciting, surely the rest of the race has to be altered to make it more variable?

Steve Crawford April 17, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Seems a bit odd saying that Sky’s classics team aren’t performing with Sergio Henao taking 2nd.

MTB April 17, 2013 at 11:00 pm

& 6th in Amstel IIRC.

ave April 17, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Henao isn’t really a Classics riders, is he?

Chris April 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Anyone else think that Henao could be a good shout for LBL on Sunday? A quick look at Oddschecker says he’s available at 25/1 with some bookies, seems a big price to me given his form in the last few days and the amount of climbing involved in the race.

Philip April 17, 2013 at 10:24 pm


H M April 17, 2013 at 10:33 pm

This is actually quite obscene. Perhaps it should be removed ?

The Inner Ring April 18, 2013 at 1:36 am

Fixed. Sorry about that but there are hundreds of spam messages every day that get automatically detected and cleared before anyone sees them. This one slipped through the net.

TourDeUtah April 17, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Poor Betancour, looked like he outfoxed the foxes today, but he completely blew up on the last 200 meters. Perhaps, he’ll save his powder for an extra 100m on Sunday.

A nice win for Dani Moreno. He has ridden in the shadows of JRod as a super domestique. But when they let this cat out of the bag, he produces.


Ablindeye April 18, 2013 at 12:40 am

I think Bentacur’s increasing gap was the reason Gilbert felt he had to come out early, especially after AGR. As for L-B-L I’m thinking Nibali is a strong possibility, if he’s commited before the Giro.

Vanilla_Thrilla April 18, 2013 at 6:49 am

“Is it enough to have a race that’s really only worth watching for the last 10 minutes?”

Indeed. The same could be asked of so many flat stages in the Tour de France, or many other stage races for that matter.

womanizer April 18, 2013 at 8:36 am

A good solution would be to broadcast the final 30 minutes of the womens race during the mens race, when the latter are about 100km from the finish and not much is happening anyways… This would make it much better for TV. Its not too difficult to implement, as the media infrastructure is there any ways, just let one of the camera motorbikes and the helicopter go with the womens race for a while (they race within a few km’s of the men).

toestrap April 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Totally agree. Seems totally stupid not to show at least the highlights of the womens race during the mens race.

Vanilla_Thrilla April 19, 2013 at 6:52 am

That does sound like a good idea. Two races for the price of one.

Jason April 18, 2013 at 7:27 am

As mentioned above a perfect race for people who are working…

I think the course should be reviewed but the finish should remain the same. The changes should allow at least 1 in 10 times a breakaway to stay away..

Everybody was saying that Moreno’s win was a big surprise.. Neither did I expect him to win but looking back to the 2012 race he rode 3/4 of the climb in front setting up JR perfectly!

Jason April 18, 2013 at 7:34 am

@inrng I am quite impressed with Colombian cycling exploits this year and the expectations they create for the future, what about a blog entry regarding the story of Colombian cyclists???

Adam W April 18, 2013 at 9:50 am

Cycling Inquisition does an excellent job of covering Colombian cyclists. You should take a look there.

Dachs April 18, 2013 at 8:43 am

Anymore on Vacansoleil’s future?

The Inner Ring April 18, 2013 at 10:28 am

No, the TV commentary mentioned they were quitting but said the announcement came last Monday. There was no more and nobody saw the news on Monday so it could be false.

But the sponsor is considering what to do and we should get definitive news by the end of the month.

Kieran April 18, 2013 at 9:29 am

For info on Colombian cyclists just read the excellent cyclinginquisition blog

Tom April 18, 2013 at 10:26 am

Kwiatkowski once again in the top 10. Hope he gets a podium on Sunday.

The Inner Ring April 18, 2013 at 10:29 am

Yes, he’s one of the revelations of the classics and we (or even he) don’t know if he’s for the classics or stage races.

Jason April 18, 2013 at 10:53 am

He was very good in TA as well!! Will he race a GT and which one?

Tom April 18, 2013 at 11:18 am

Following his FB page, often time, he himself is surprised by the end results he gets. If he can pull up front like he did in the Paris-Roubaix and maybe get some help from a break away, he will be the one to look in to. Only 23 and already in the top 10 of the WT ranking.
Inrng-He has lots of FB fans (from Poland of-course as u can imagine) I posted link to Inrng site on his Facebook page hope you do not mind :).

Ad April 18, 2013 at 11:13 am

I have to say I love the new Ag2R. Some great wins and exciting, attacking riders. So much better than idly hoping for a top ten in a grand tour. Hopefully other teams that have struggled for points will see the success of this approach and follow suit.

Ronan April 18, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Another near miss for Dan Martin, paying for a puncture and poor positioning at the base of the climb, same issue as last year. It looked as if he could have competed for the win, if he hadn’t been so far back and had to go around other riders. Not sure if it’s a problem with his own positioning or if Garmin need to have more men at the front to lead the pack into the final climb.

Nice to see Martin and Kwiatowski in the top 5.

Beth Leasure-Hudson April 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

inrng, You know I’m a fan and thanks for the 3 sentences about the women’s Flèche. Help some sistas out though by please including a bit of action like the moment the female race was won. It is not a nod to Vos to – yawn- report about her win in such fashion nor respectful to the other women who tried considerably to beat her. We of the estrogen sort need your press. Love your way. You can do better. Beth

TheDude April 18, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Yo, Beth, are you trying to be funk-centric and hip shakin’ bootie in yo diction? Seems a bit pale. Hint: if you bring in the diction of “playa,” remember it is spelled “playa” not “player” and is not referring to a sanday beach in Mexico, but rather some beeotch rida on da Oui.

Beth Leasure-Hudson April 18, 2013 at 11:56 pm

@TheDude, there is nothing hip or funk-centric about me. Your post lends nothing to the point of bringing attention to great racing in women’s cycling. Please feel free to reply directly to me and not anonymously if you have something that can help women’s cycling get positive attention in the media.

TheDude April 19, 2013 at 3:24 am

Oh Beth. Lighten up a bit. This is not an advocacy forum. I am very supportive of your motivation toward promoting women’s cycling, but behaving like a borderline militant is not going to help your cause IMHO. There are plenty of advocacy organizations where many people clench their jaws tightly to fight for the cause and have almost zero tolerance for humor or kid like fun. Many of the participants here are jovial, while insightful, and provide tongue-in-cheek comments now and then. Try to enjoy this unique environment without projecting too much of your personal agenda.

The Inner Ring April 18, 2013 at 5:24 pm

I’d probably cover the race if I could watch it but there was no TV.

Beth Leasure-Hudson April 18, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Sadly, precisely.

Larry T. April 18, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Thanks for the comments on the terrible TV picture. I was calling the guys at RAI all kinds of names since it seemed Pancani and Cassani had no issues with their TV monitors at the race but it was frustrating as hell listening to the comments while staring at a still image. Sunday’s L-B-L should be a good one, providing the TV feed works that is! For me the only monument left to see of the 5, I hope to be there in 2014 or 2015. Oh, and did anyone notice Fons de…….ooops…Andy Schleck finished this race? I’m not a fan but would like to see the kid come back and be competitive again.

Chrisman April 18, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Schleck? He’s terrible but he at least has the decency to be terrible in a hilarious way. But yeah maybe would be even funnier to actually see him win a race again sometime.

Moreno is the super-wingman. He’s like the Froome of Katusha, maybe an even better climber than Froome. On the killer triple-header in the Giro last year it was J-Rod, Albert, Valverde…and Moreno. And Moreno was usually the one setting the pace! If him and J-Rod take the TDF seriously this year they could be a huge contender, arguably favourites. J-Rod deserves a break after last year, maybe he could get it in the big one….less TT miles this year…

On the race itself, it was a bit of let down. It’s rare I’ll watch a race and not be excited. I can get excited for any type of race because my expectations are set, and usually exceeded. Today I think my expectations were set too high. It felt like not many teams were really up for it and perhaps there wasn’t actually much to be achieved. Riding for a final ‘mur’ in the TDF works because you have GC connotations as well as the stage, and you’ll prob also have a breakaway. This lacked those elements and the race felt a bit empty without them.

Henao and Betancur now must be serious contenders for LBL, but the favourites are still Valverde and Gilbert. Dan Martin has to be taken pretty seriously too, looks like he’s really kicking on to that elite level now. Will he get a leaders spot in a GT for Garmin rather than selection as a stagehawk? Vuelta?

Alex April 19, 2013 at 6:00 pm

I think we should all take it easy on Schleck. Dude is clearly injured, either physically or psychologically. Maybe I’m projecting too much based on a few images of him, but his results and behavior seem a lot like depression to me. If you’ve read A Life Too Short about the German goalkeeper, Robert Enke’s depression and suicide, I think you’d hesitate before laughing at his misery.

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