One final time up the Mur de Huy for Alejandro Valverde, one final podium for the Spaniard.
In his 20 year career, Flèche Wallonne has been the race that has come to give him his best success: five victories, two second places and one third place. His final runners-up spot on Wednesday came days before his 42nd birthday, and clearly meant a lot to the Movistar rider.
No one has been able to conquer the steep gradients of the Mur, to time their effort to perfection, as much as Alejandro Valverde - apart from maybe Anna van der Breggen, but the pair have never raced each other.
"I can only feel happy about my performance today," he said post-race. "I’ve been so close to victory. I was pushing so hard that I felt more pain in my arms than in my legs!"
"This second place is worth as much as a victory," he continued. "I’m turning 42 in five days and this was my last Flèche Wallonne. Having performed at this level, with lots of sufferance but finishing on a good note, gives me hopes of a nice Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday."
With no Valverde, other riders will now have a chance to take on the Mur - Wednesday's winner Dylan Teuns of Bahrain-Victorious will certainly be back, now he knows how to win.
Valverde's first victory came in 2006, when Teuns was just 14, showing how he has stayed at the top of the sport for so long.
"Teuns has been stronger than me – period," Valverde said. "Congratulations to him."
A race that requires so much about timing clearly favoured riders who have done it multiple times before, although Aleksandr Vlasov was an exception, finishing second in Huy.
Although the final climb is clearly so decisive, the whole day requires an organised team in order to make the most of the test at the end. Valverde was clearly grateful that he was allowed the honour of a team working for him at Flèche one last time.
"I want to thank my team for the excellent work they’ve done for me the whole day," he said. "They’ve given me an excellent travel to the Mur de Huy. Then Enric Mas set a very strong pace on the final climb that enabled me to be in perfect position for the final accelerations."
With Valverde shuffling off the cycling scene, the pace seemed higher than ever to him on the Mur.
"It must have been the fastest-ever climb to the Mur de Huy," he said. "Definitely one of the fastest. Some days you end up the race feeling you could have done more, but it’s not the case today."
With energy exhausted in Huy, Valverde can now look to other objectives in his final season, happy that he gave it his all, one last time, at his race.
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