By Owen Rogers
Despite finishing on the podium for the third time, Dan Martin believes the Flèche Wallonne finish line should stay where it is. The Quick-Step Floors rider finished the classic in second place behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on Wednesday, but says the race has character and should not be changed to stop one man winning.
Valverde took his fourth successive win - the fifth of his long career - extending the record number of wins he set last year, and Martin has been on the on the podium behind him on three of those occasions.
Indeed, the race suits the Irishman nearly as well as it does Valverde, he finished in the top ten every time he has finished it as well as also placing fourth when stage 3 of the 2015 Tour de France finished in Huy.
“I think the Mur is definitely an art to get right and I haven’t mastered it yet,” 30-year-old Martin said.
Winning his first Flèche in 2006, Valverde has a spectacular record on the steep, narrow climb which - on its famous bends - ramps to over 20% per cent gradient. However, it is not just his dominance that prompted calls for a change.
The climb is so tough that the peloton often waits for the final 300 metres to make their move. This year, however, organisers changed the route to tempt attacks and it nearly worked.
After Quick-Step Floors massed on the front of the peloton as they climbed the Mur for the penultimate time, Martin’s team mate, Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels attacked, catching BMC’s Alessandro De Marchi and holding his advantage until the bottom of the final climb.
Watch: La Flèche Wallonne 2017 highlights
“We tried to take advantage [of the route change], to really tire the legs of our competitors, and then have Bob go, but it didn’t work,” explained Martin. “In the end it was the headwind, it made things a lot more difficult and made the race quite negative until the last 200 metres when Alejandro went.
“In my experience I know I need to get the jump on Alejandro, but with the headwind it was always going to be hard to beat him.
“I don’t think they should change the race so one guy doesn’t win. This is the one race that really has a lot of character and it has its trademark. We’ve seen in years before that races lose their identity when they change too much. Organisers tried to make it more aggressive and if it wasn’t for the wind…”
On Sunday Martin will line up at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a race he won in 2013 and came close to repeating the following season. His nemesis on the Mur de Huy - Valverde - won there two years ago and has the form to do so again.
In the meantime Martin is again left to ponder what has to do to beat him at Flèche Wallonne.
“Obviously I hope that I can beat him one day, but I’ll have to wait until he retires maybe.”
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