Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) cruised clear of his rivals on the Mur de Huy to win Fleche Wallonne in Belgium on Wednesday.
Irishman Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) looked to have made the winning move after riding around Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in the final few hundred metres of the climb, but Valverde simply accelerated past both of them to win by distinct margin.
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It’s Valverde’s second Fleche Wallonne, having first won it in 2006 when he went on to also win Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Already this season the Spaniard has taken eight victories in what is shaping up to be his most successful season since returning from a doping ban in 2012.
Amstel Gold Race winner and pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert (BMC) had been slowed down by a crash in the run-in to the Mur de Huy, which saw Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) hit the deck. Gilbert chased back, but was then boxed in on the crowd-lined Mur to place 10th.
Earlier in the race, Jonathan Clarke (UnitedHealthcare), Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) and Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) had formed an escape group in the opening 20km and worked together to build up a lead of nine minutes.
As the race progressed and the peloton wound up the pace, the trio’s advantage dropped sharply. Clarke lost touch on Cote de Bohisseau with 47km to go, leaving just Navardaukas and Van Hecke to dangle out front. They battled on, but were caught on the Cote d’Ereffe with 12km remaining.
Several riders then tried their luck with an attack, but all were swiftly reeled in by the peloton leaving a large group together to tackle the final climb.
The only two British riders to finish were brother Simon and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) who placed 78th and 97th respectively in their first outing in the race.
The riders will now focus on Sunday’s final Ardennes Classic, Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Fleche Wallonne 2014, 199km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar in 4-36-45
2. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp at 3 secs
3. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 4 secs
4. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin at same time
5. Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Garmin-Sharp at 6 secs
6. Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at same time
7. Michael Albasini (Sui) Orica-GreenEdge at 8 secs
8. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff-Saxo at same time
9. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 11 secs
10. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing at 15 secs
78. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge at 5-12
97. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge at 5-23
We look ahead to Wednesday's Fleche Wallonne: route, contenders, TV guide, climbs, teams and more
Andy Schleck also suffering from injuries sustained during Amstel Gold Race on Sunday