The prospect of a Spaniard from Katusha winning La Flèche Wallonne wasn’t that surprising. After all, a rider fitting that exact description won at the top of the Mur de Huy last year. But this time around it wasn’t Joaquim Rodriguez who triumphed, but his teammate and loyal domestique Daniel Moreno.
In the day’s early break it was Pirmin Lang (IAM), Gilles Devilliers (Crelan-Euphony) and Jurgen van Goolen (Accent Jobs-Wanty) who managed to escape, with the trio opening up over nine minutes on the peloton before they started to react. Philippe Gilbert‘s BMC team were at the front doing the lion’s share of the chasing, and the gap soon began to drop.
They were brought back with over 40km to go, with Laurens Ten Dam (Blanco) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) spotting a window of opportunity immediately after the trio were caught. The duo attacked, and inside the final 30km Ten Dam was out front alone, though he was soon joined – and passed – by Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano).
The duo came together, though were never able to open out a meaningful advantage. The peloton looked content to let them hang a few seconds ahead, knowing they could be caught comfortably. A few attempted, unsuccessful counter-attacks took a chunk out of the leaders’ buffer, and they were caught inside the final 10km on the climb of the Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet.
Riders tried to escape in the closing kilometres, though after letting the Amstel Gold Race slip to a breakaway win, the favourites weren’t willing to run the same risk. That was until the final ascent of the Mur de Huy. Inside the final kilometre Ag2r’s Carlos Betancur made an excellent move, opening up a significant advantage. It momentarily seemed like the other riders had left it too late to close the gap.
Perhaps in a panic, Gilbert attacked early. He led the other riders up the climb towards Betancur but faded terribly and eventually finished 15 seconds in arrears. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) fired clear, catching the leader agonisingly close to the line, with Sky’s Sergio Henao finishing second. Fortunately, his Colombian compatriot Betancur did earn himself a spot on the podium for his efforts as he barely held off a charging Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp).
Analysis & opinion
Another Ardennes classic down, and another shock winner. However, it’s always good to see the unsung heroes of the peloton get their day in the sun, and this was certainly the case here. Dani Moreno has ridden as a mountain lieutenant for a couple of cycling’s best climbers of the last decade – Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez – though hasn’t had many major wins of his own, save for a stage victory at the Vuelta. This is without question his best one-day win, and a thoroughly impressive one at that.
Moving from elation to disappointment inevitably takes us to world champion Philippe Gilbert, who is still looking for his first win in the rainbow jersey. His team worked tirelessly to charge down breakaways today, though perhaps that wasn’t so helpful when it came to the final climb. He had no teammates to help close the gap to Betancur, and it seems his effort to try to bridge too early was at least partly at fault for his disappointing finish. His dramatic fade towards the top of the climb was quite remarkable and he wound up finishing 15th. On this performance, even accounting for any other excuses, he doesn’t have the legs to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
A final word for the Colombian couple on the podium – Sky’s Sergio Henao and Ag2r’s Carlos Betancur. Two more names to be added to the burgeoning list of incredibly talented riders to come out of the nation in the last few years. Of all the Colombian riders currently in the pro peloton, Betancur is one of the least recognisable. But, he’s the winner of the 2010 GiroBio, or Baby Giro, and still being only 23 he’s another one to watch.
1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 4:52:33
2. Sergio Henao (Sky) +0:03
3. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) same time
4. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) s/t
5. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:08
7. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) s/t
8. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t
9. Bauke Mollema (Blanco) s/t
10. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t