Joaqiun Rodriguez (Katusha) comfortably won this afternoon’s Flèche Wallonne after leaving his opponents behind on the Mur de Huy.
The Spaniard has finished second here for the past two years, but he finally added a classic to his name as he got the better of Michael Albasini (GreenEdge) and last year’s winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC).
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This victory will come as welcome relief for his team, coming as it does in the same week that sprinter Denis Galimzyanov admitted to taking EPO.
Ireland’s Dan Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) finished sixth and despite not having any riders in the top 10, Sky’s Lars-Petter Nordhaug was caught shortly before the finish having made a bid for glory on the run in with Ryder Hesjedal.
All eyes on the Mur
Anthony Roux (FDJ-Big Mat) and Dirk Bellemakers (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony) jumped clear some 55km into the race after an opening hour of racing which consisted of crashes and unsuccessful bids to form escape groups.
With the break established, Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) was followed by Yuri Trofimov as he attacked from the peloton 42km from the finish, and the chasing duo were joined by Dmitriy Fofonov (Astana) shortly after. However, their move lasted just 11km, and they were caught just before the riders tackled the Mur de Huy for the second time.
Roux and Bellemakers were caught with 15km remaining, which led to several riders chancing their arm at the front of the peloton. Nordhaug (Sky) and Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) gained the most ground – they held an advantage of 12 seconds for some time – but were swamped with 600m to go.
Rodriguez then launched his blistering attack, and he looked unassailable despite the best attempts of Gilbert, Albasini and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) to chase him down.
Joaquin Rodriguez wins the 2012 Fleche Wallone
2012 Fleche Wallone podium, Albasini, Rodriguez, Gilbert
La Flèche Wallonne 2012: Charleroi to Huy, 194km
1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha in 4-45-41
2. Michael Albasini (Sui) Green Edge at 4 sec
3. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC
4. Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto-Belisol all at st.
5. Roman Kyserlovski (Cro) Astana at 7 sec
6. Dan Martin (Ire) Garmin-Barrcauda at 9 sec
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
9. Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-ISD all at st.
10. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 11 sec
Flèche Wallonne 2012: The Big Preview