Many have argued that such a tough finish, 1.3km uphill averaging 9.5% and maxing out at 22%, makes for a cautious race. That was the case in both the male and female Fleche Wallonne races that took place under warm and sunny skies on Wednesday.
The first finish on this iconic climb was the women’s world cup, which took in a slightly shorter distance than the men. 147 ladies took the start with a group of eight breaking away before their first of two times up the Mur de Huy. On the first time up the climb a group of seven strong riders went clear of the peloton, not due to an attack but due to their strength. Dutch favourite Marianne Vos (Rabo Women’s) was in this group.
They soon caught the breakaway riders and were then caught by a group from behind so that 35 ladies entered the narrow start of the Mur. 4 times winner, World and Olympic Champion Marianne Vos showed her class and rode away to a slow victory, her fifth at Fleche Wallonne, at only 25 years old. Completing the podium was, Italian, Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products UCK) and South African, Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto Belisol Ladies).
In the men’s event a similar race panned out. An early break of 3 riders went clear of the peloton, but were never allowed enough of an advantage for it to stick to the finish. Philippe Gilbert’s BMC team were keen to keep the pace high and to make sure that their star rider, who showed his form on Sunday at Amstel, was in the correct place for the final.
The long breakaway trio were caught by a hard-charging peloton with 45 kilometres to the finish. As soon as they were caught Larens Ten Dam (Blanco) and young French rider Romain Bardet (AG2R) were the next to try their luck. Ten Dam was able to hold off the peloton, showing great form, to 15km to the finish. On the penultimate time up the hard Mur de Huy, with the road lined with vocal fans, Bardet was replaced by Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano).
As the race approached the final climb of the Mur de Huy BMC was replaced on the front of the peloton by two other teams who had an interest in keeping the pace high, Katusha and Saxo-Tinkof. They continued to force the pace, thinning out the size of the group that arrived at the foot of the Mur de Huy, ready for the final fireworks. Of note Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) had to chase back on to the peloton after suffering a puncture in the final 20km.
The Mur de Huy is a sprint that punishes those who jump too soon. At the foot of the climb, heading to the finish Columbian Carlos Bentacur (AG2R) put in a massive attack. Many of the more experienced favourites letting him go, knowing that he would pay for those efforts during the last 100 metres of the climb. As ever, an over-eager Gilbert set the pace on the final 300 metres of the climb, a tactic that he has employed often at this race. Followed by Peter Sagan (Cannondale), both were unable to catch Bentacur, paying for their efforts by getting swamped by those with more restrain at the finish.
100 metres to the finish and Daniel Moreno (Katusha) put in a massive attack, catching Bentacur and getting the final victory. In second place was Sergio Henao (Team Sky) and just making it into third, being saved by his earlier lead, was Bentacur. A late charge by Martin was not enough to knock him off of the podium. Gilbert, Sagan and those who had under estimated the difficulty of the Mur de Huy rolled in outside of the top ten.
1 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha
2 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling
3 Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) AG2R La Mondiale
4 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp
5 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
6 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
8 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
9 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team
10 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale