Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha, second in each of the past two editions of the Fleche Wallonne, attacked on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy to take a convincing win in the 76th edition of the race today, with GreenEdge's Michael Albasini second and last year's winner, Philippe Gilbert of BMC Racing, third.
On a day when the peloton had to deal with intermittent showers that made for treacherous road surfaces, it was a large group that headed towards the third and final ascent of the Mur de Huy that would decide the race.
On the penultimate climb, the Cote de Villers-le-Bouillet, Lars Petter Nordhaug of Team Sky and Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedal had attacked to go clear and enjoyed an advantage of more than ten seconds as they headed onto the final, brutal ascent, which has an average gradient of 9.3 per cent and hits 26 per cent on one bend.
As the chasing bunch caught the pair just ahead of that steepest part of the climb, Hesjedal kicked again, but Rodriguez countered almost immediately, quickly opening up what would prove to be a decisive gap on his four closest pursuers, Gilbert and Albasini, plus Amstel Gold runner-up Jelle Vanendert of Lotto-Belisol and Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali.
Nicknamed ‘Purito’ after a type of cigar – in his younger days he had mimicked smoking one to show his team mates on a training ride the ease with which he was tackling an ascent – Rodriguez looked at ease as he hit the top of the climb with enough of an advantage to sit up and celebrate as he approached the line.
A past stage winner in the Tour de France and the Vuelta, today is the 32-year-old’s biggest win to date and one that give him particular satisfaction after he had finished second to Cadel Evans in 2010 and Philippe Gilbert last year.
His victory will also give Katusha cause for celebration during a week in which it was revealed that their sprinter Denis Galimzyanov had tested positive for EPO. The Russian outfit has suspended the rider, who has admitted taking the banned substance.
A number of riders had launched attacks early on in the race, which at 194 kilometres is the shortest of the trio of races, the other two being the Amsel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, that together make up Ardennes Week.
Two riders, Dirk Bellemakers of Landbouwkrediet and Anthony Roux of FDJ BigMat, the latter celebrating his 25th birthday, eventually managed to get off the front of the peloton and had a lead on the peloton of getting on for six minutes as they approached the first of the day’s ten climbs, the Mur de Huy, negotiated three times during the race.
Behind, Sjef De Wilde of Accent Jobs had launched a lone bid to try and bridge across to the leaders, but he would eventually sit up, as too would another solo attacker later on, Sandor Armee of Topsport Vlaanderen, who would similarly find himself in no-man’s-land.
As the race entered its closing 20 kilometres and with the leading pair’s advantage tumbling, Italian champion Giovanni Visconti of Movistar and Rabobank’s Tom Slagter attacked from the main bunch and did eventually succeed in getting across to Bellemakers and Roux, but the quartet were caught with 15 kilometres still left to race.
Fleche Wallonne 2012 result 1 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin KATUSHA TEAM 4h 45' 41" 2 ALBASINI Michael GREENEDGE CYCLING TEAM + 00' 04" 3 GILBERT Philippe BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 04" 4 VANENDERT Jelle LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 00' 04" 5 KISERLOVSKI Robert ASTANA PRO TEAM + 00' 07" 6 MARTIN Daniel GARMIN - BARRACUDA + 00' 09" 7 MOLLEMA Bauke RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 00' 09" 8 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 09" 9 ULISSI Diego LAMPRE - ISD + 00' 09" 10 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 00' 11" 11 GASPAROTTO Enrico ASTANA PRO TEAM + 00' 11" 12 NOCENTINI Rinaldo AG2R LA MONDIALE + 00' 11" 13 IGLINSKIY Maxim ASTANA PRO TEAM + 00' 11" 14 HENAO Sergio Luis SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 11" 15 POELS Wouter VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 11" 16 MARTENS Paul RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 00' 11" 17 ANTON Igor EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 00' 11" 18 COSTA Rui MOVISTAR TEAM + 00' 18" 19 SIMON Julien SAUR-SOJASUN + 00' 18" 20 SCHLECK Frank RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 18"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.