Flèche Wallonne: The Moment The Race Was Won

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.


34 thoughts on “Flèche Wallonne: The Moment The Race Was Won”

  1. Purito said not today fellas, this one’s mine!

    …and so we have a week to discuss the ups and downs of Team Katusha…

    Fantastic shot of Gilbert. It says everything with no words needed.

    • All the photos show similar faces. Looking at those from the women’s race Marianne Vos looks like she’s close to tears. But I have a quota of photos and have to ration them for the Giro, Tour and more races.

      • @ INRNG: I always dig your photos. Today’s FW with its ever-changing conditions left some mighty gritty faces, chock-full of mud, sweat and tears. Gilbert takes the cake in my book with his unmistakable emotion and second-rate 5 o’clock shadow. Winning photos tell the whole story!

        I checked out Vos at the end of her race and she DID look completely whipped and choked up with tears after giving 110% today.

        Check out the big FW photos at steephill.tv

  2. So it wasn’t just me.
    Did anyone else fall asleep and wake up with 30k to go?
    Does it seem like RadioShackTrekNissanBruyneel gets a lot of punctures? Or was that last season?
    Sorry Mr. Schleck we need to leave the tubs in the basement a few more years. Ha ha.

  3. I always thought it somewhat ironic one of Katusha’s best riders is nicknamed ‘Purito’, when it appears a lot of their winners have been anything but…

  4. Rodriguez is a pocket rocket: little and explosive when things get vertical. I’m impressed that he was able to hold his gap all the way to the end. I feel like the past few years have seen exactly this sort of attack fizzle as the wise veterans wait, wait, wait, and then come over the top as attacking legs are drained of energy. Maybe I shouldn’t think this, but it made me wonder if Cadel, had he been there, would have done exactly that. Regardless, a massive effort and strong win.

  5. Instead of the boring lead up to the climb in the mens race, they could have shown the finish of the womens race. The girls came in about 2 hours before the men and had apparently quite an animated race with a group “surviving” until the lower slopes of the muur and another counter attack closing in on them before the main peloton…
    The cameras were installed in the climb, but instead, they showed the boring bunch ride behind the two solo riders.. Many things to improve to globalize cycling!

  6. I really like this race but at the same time it is always the same, the winning move happens in the same place. It is good for the Wednesday as I can stop work for only the short moment !

  7. Rodriguez has always fascinated me as a rider. He is neither a born sprinter, nor is he known for being a true climber. Given all of that – it makes you wonder…why is he not a better sprinter in flat stages with this amazing pop or alternatively, why is he not a more solid climber.

    One could also ask a different question…why are more sprinters not capable at winning races such as this, since their top-end power would (you would think) benefit them on these short, punchy climbs.

    • I guess it all comes down to weight and power. Purito is lighter than any sprinter. I think he gets special momentary power through extensive use of his arm-, shoulder-, and back-muscles to boost his danseuse pedalling (his shoulders look particularly bulky for his size, which can’t be good for TT). Of course, so many muscles in tension overtax his oxygen consumption, and he cannot hold it for long, so he struggles with long climbs (we saw it last year in the Giro and Vuelta), and he cannot sustain his attacks à la Contador.
      But he can be a good sprinter in short groups, so he’s also dangerous in races L-B-L, Lombardy, and the Worlds. In fact, he’s closer to Gilbert (not quite as fast, but climbing a bit better) than to, say, Schleck. But Spain and Belgium have very different cycling cultures, so Purito ends up doing a completely different calendar, trying to win GTs (although he’s disastrous in TT) instead of De Ronde and other one-day classics.

      • So in reality – he is kind of like what they say in basketball is a “tweener”. He is a sprinter, who just happens to be too small to put out the absolute power needed to win against the bigger sprinters, but his overall Vo2Max is too low for sustained efforts in a TT (and let’s face it…a TT and a climber are the same kind of rider…one just ways more and has more absolute watts at the expense of absolute w/kg.

  8. I am reading these comments about Purito and Katusha and have the three words to say – jealosy, jealosy, jealosy. Oh, and ill-minded imagination as well. I can hardly think that Puito thought about Galimzyanov or anybody else at the Mur de Huy.
    Get a life, guys!

    • This is the sad state pro cycling has created, where no matter who “wins” the questions are there about cheating. When you have a guy “win” the 2010 Tour de France in 2012 after the guy who held the trophy in Paris was tossed out, the entire sport lacks credibility. Add in “my guy’s clean, yours is dirty (jealous, stupid, no good, etc.)” rhetoric and this is the result. Has the sport reached the bottom yet? While enthusiasts still enjoy watching it, how much longer will the general public even care outside of places like Belgium?

  9. Watched the race (via internet for an hour and a half or so) …….Then with 4k to go lost my (telephone) connection, the air was blue. Caught up with highlights later, great effort by Rodriguez. Will Gilbert pick up that last bit of form he needs to get over the line first at Liege? Tune in to next weeks thrilling episode.

  10. I did completely marvel at the finish to this race and as a relative newby to this world I have been fascinated by this classics season and the intensity of it all. I like to think that the overwhelming majority of riders are racing clean but in light of what has happened at Katusha this week and the issues surrounding the management of the team, doctors etc I find it frustrating that my belief is being tested. Please tell my that it’s OK to have faith in Rodriguez ?

    • I don’t know whether “faith” is the right word, here – “faith” kind of implies absolute confidence, which I personally could never have in a rider.

      I think the climb times on the key climbs of the Grand Tours are pretty strong evidence that if they *are* still doping, the dope isn’t nearly as effective as it once was.

      But I’m pretty sure that there are still dopers out there, and if you’re hoping for a completely clean peloton your hopes are going to be dashed.

      A while ago, Phil Gomes at SBS wrote what I think was a <A HREF="very insightful column about what this means as a cycling fan.

  11. I went to the race and was standing beyond the finish line when the men’s race passed for the first time at about 120km to go. Most of the riders looked like they were in the social group on a Sunday club run, still wrapped up in thermals and scarves. The women were obviously working much harder, judging by some of the grimaces in my photos. They really were suffering on their first pass up the Mur. Just a shame Pooley had two rear mechs smashed, or she would have been up there at the end.

    As for Rodriguez, I went to the Valdepenas de Jaen stage of last year’s Vuelta which he won. That’s a sickeningly steep finish, though not as bad as the Mur, so he was always a good bet. A good win for him.

    My first Belgian race and I tell you, it’s very different from others I’ve been to.

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