TEUNS UPSETS THE FAVOURITES FOR BIGGEST CAREER WIN
With only three different winners in the last eight years, Flèche Wallonne tends to be one of the more predictable races of the season, so for Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Victorious) to take victory comes as a surprise.
Although he has for a while been a consistent performer in the Classics, the Belgian had never before won one, and would not have been expected to mix it up in a stacked field that also included three-time winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), five-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and the apparently unstoppable Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
Yet it has felt like this big one-day career win had been coming for a long time. He’s already had two stage wins at the Tour de France, and has placed third at Il Lombardia in 2018. And he’s also among one of the peloton’s most impressively diverse riders, having only a few weeks ago placed sixth at the Tour of Flanders.
Punchy finishes like on the Mur de Huy appears to be what suits him best, however. It was here at the 2017 Flèche Wallonne that he first really came to the cycling world’s attention, when, at the age of 25, he finished third behind Alejandro Valverde and Dan Martin.
This time he had the experience to make his move at the opportune moment, accelerating inside the final 400 metres of the climb, and the legs to hold off a late charge by Valverde, the man who beat him that day.
The win comes as yet another major classics success for Bahrain-Victorious, following Matej Mohorič at Milan-San Remo earlier this spring and Sonny Colbrelli at last autumn’s Paris-Roubaix, and further proof that they’re now one of the best Classics teams in the peloton.
CAVALLI CONTINUES HOT STREAK WITH ANOTHER WIN
In the space of just 10 days, Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) has grown from being a solid Classics rider with lots of potential to be one of the very best in the peloton.
Victory at Amstel Gold Race the weekend before last was her first at WorldTour level and easily the biggest of her career, and she’s now followed that up with another win at the highest level at Flèche Wallonne.
Whereas the triumph at Amstel Gold was the result of great tactical nous, with the Italian picking her moment perfectly to ride to victory, this was a display of pure power. She was the only rider able to cling on to the wheel of Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) as she laid the hammer down on the Mur de Huy, then kept her cool to sprint past the Dutchwoman at just the right time.
From the point of view of her FDJ-Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope team, the win was especially impressive considering that they were one of the most high-profile teams to miss a dangerous breakaway that went clear earlier in the race. The onus was on them to do much of the chasing, and Cavalli especially has Brodie Chapman to thank for her turn following the penultimate ascent of the Mur de Huy that brought it down to around 30 seconds.
Cavalli now goes into this weekend’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège with the chance to follow n Anna van der Breggen’s footsteps and become the second woman to achieve a hat-trick of back-to-back victories at the Ardennes Classics In this kind of form, she looks like the rider to beat.
41-YEAR-OLD VALVERDE STILL LOOKS ALMOST AS FRESH AS EVER
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) already has the record for most career Flèche Wallonne titles with a total of five, and he very nearly extended that record today.
Such is the Spaniard's experience of the race and knowledge of how to pace himself up the Mur de Huy, it seemed inevitable that he’d take victory the moment he came from behind Teuns’ wheel to start his sprint, having calmly followed wheels up until that point.
But just as we were expecting him to power past Teuns, he instead ran out of strength and slumped resigned back into his saddle, perhaps for the first feeling some heaviness in his 41-year-old legs.
Nevertheless, this was still a mighty impressive ride from Valverde, and second-place is his highest finish here since 2018.
Behind him, more fancied riders either made mistakes or lacked the legs. Defending champion Alaphilippe started the climb from further back than Valverde, and seemed to pay for that later when he was caught behind Tadej Pogačar’s wheel just as the Slovenian was stalling — a very rare moment of weakness from Pogačar, who faded to 12th despite having looked strong initially.
The ride was proof that Valverde has still got it, even as he approaches his 42nd year. Who knows, maybe he’ll be tempted to postpone his retirement, and be back to compete for victory here again next year?
VAN VLEUTEN'S FRUSTRATING RUN OF NEAR MISSES CONTINUES
When Anna van der Breggen retired at the end of last season, the path appeared clear for Annemiek van Veuten (Movistar) to firmly establish herself as the world’s best, and start to in even more prolifically.
On many occasions in the past, Van der Breggen was the only rider to come between her and victory — not least of all Flèche Wallonne, where Van Vleuten had finished twice behind her compatriot in the past.
But Van Vleuten has had a frustrating season limited to just one classic victory so far, and again finished second today at Flèche Wallonne having already also been runner-up at Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders.
Whereas those near-misses were inflicted by the strength-in-depth of SD Worx, and specifically Lotte Kopecky, who outsprinted her on both occasions, this time Van Vleuten was simply done for legs on the climb by Marta Cavalli.
In fact, her team was one of the strongest on the day, and offered her excellent support in the finale. After Jelena Eric dropped back from the breakaway to help the peloton reel them in, Van Vleuten was then lead-out onto the climb by Arlenis Sierra and then Paula Andrea Patino. Van Vleuten was therefore able to attack the climb from the front, and led for most of the way up, only for Cavalli to pip her at the line.
Like others in the peloton, Cavalli has upped her game this year, and Van Vleuten isn’t able to ride away from everyone the way she has in previous seasons.
BRAVE ATTACKS FAIL AS MUR DE HUY AGAIN DECIDES WINNER
There was plenty of tactical intrigue in the women’s race, as a dangerous group went clear early on over the Cote d’Ereffe.
Most of the big teams were represented in the group, but not with one of their main stars — Anna Shackley was there for SD Worx, Leah Thomas for Trek-Segafredo, Jelena Eric for Movistar and Anouska Koster for Jumbo-Visma, but so was the dangerous Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) and Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco), leaving the bigger teams with a dilemma of whether or not to chase, or rely on their riders presents to beat these difficult opponents.
Movistar ultimately made the call for Eric to drop out of the group and pace the peloton instead, and her efforts, along with FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, were enough to sound the break’s death knell.
Though the finish at the Mur de Huy now loomed close, the tactical riding wasn’t over yet, as SD Worx adopted their familiar tactics of firing riders up the road one-by-one. Niamh Fisher-Black managed to go clear for them along with Liane Lippert (DSM) and Arlenis Sierra (Movistar), and threatened to take a headstart onto the Mur, but they were ultimately brought back to that the peloton (albeit by now heavily reduced) arrived at the bottom of the climb together.
There were also some spirited attacks in the men’s race, but as is usually the case here they were all in vain. Britain’s Simon Carr (EF Education-EasyPost) was especially aggressive, and appeared on a one-man mission to liven the race up, but couldn’t prevent the inevitable.
And a late attack from the reliably aggressive Søren Kragh Anderson (DSM) might have produced more tension heading onto the Mur had Mauri Vansevenant been licensed to work with him, but with his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Alaphilippe the favourite to win from the bunch behind, Vansevenant sat on his wheel rather than worked with him — a strategy that might in hindsight have been the wrong call following Alaphilippe’s failure to win.
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