Dan Martin a distant second as Valverde wins on the Mur de Huy once again
In a race which once again came down to a one minute sprint up the 22 per cent gradients of the Mur, Valverde’s timing was impeccable.
After late escapee Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) was caught with 800m to go, Valverde was perfectly positioned on the front of the peloton, launching a stinging acceleration that left his rivals in his wake.
A poorly positioned Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) was able to gain ground on his Spanish rival, but only enough to secure himself second place, while Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) took third.
The day’s breakaway formed early and consisted of six riders: Fabien Doubey (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Romain Guillemois (Direct Energie) and Daniel Pearson (Aqua Blue Sport), Yoann Bagot (Cofidis), Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) and Olivier Pardini (WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect).
A flat first half of the race enabled them to build a maximum advantage of nearly six minutes before Movistar, working for strong pre-race favourite Valverde, started to raise the pace behind.
By the time the race hit the first climb of the race, the Cote d’Amay, with 73km to go that gap had dropped to around three minutes, with Movistar also receiving some help from Orica-Scott and Lotto-Soudal.
The first ascent of the Mur de Huy came with 58km remaining, and occurred without any action at the front of the peloton, even if it saw a large number of riders shelled out of the back as a fast pace also pegged the breakaway, which by this time was down to just Guillemois, Bagot, and Pardini, back to just a minute and a half.
The next action came with 46km remaining when BMC Racing’s Alessandro De Marchi attacked on the Cote d’Ereffe, pulling a group clear including Carlos Betancur (Movistar). That attack came to nothing, but did inject enough pace to all but catch the remains of the break.
A few kilometres later and De Marchi was on the attack again, leading onto the penultimate ascent of the Mur de Huy with a 20 second advantage.
The peloton was led up the 22 per cent gradients by Quick-Step Floors, with Bob Jungels attacking once the road flattened out.
The Luxembourgish champion quickly made his way across to De Marchi, with the two men having a lead of around 20 seconds with 20 kilometres and three climbs remaining.
Despite hard chasing from Orica-Scott at the front of the peloton, De Marchi and Jungels were able to eek out an extra few seconds of an advantage.
However the gap wasn’t enough for Jungels, who decided to go solo, taking a gap of 50 seconds on the penultimate climb, the Cote de Cherave, with six kilometres remaining.
An unsuccessful attack from Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) brought Jungels’ lead down, and by the base of the final climb of the Mur de Huy his lead was little more than 20 seconds.
The catch was inevitable as Team Sky and Movistar led the peloton on the steep slopes of the Mur, before Valverde jumped clear with an irresistible burst of speed.
Within a handful of seconds the Spaniard had opened a significant gap over the chasers, and although Dan Martin was able to close in the final hundred metres after initially being positioned too far back, he was not able to prevent Valverde from taking his fifth victory in La Flèche Wallonne, and his fourth win in a row.
La Flèche Wallonne 2017: Binche to Huy (204.5km)
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, in 5-15-37
2. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 1 sec
3. Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team
4. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky
5. Michael Albasini (Sui) Orica-Scott
6. Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb
7. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky
8. Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ
9. David Gaudu (Fra) FDJ
10. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, all at same time