Rodriguez Wins La Fleche Wallonne
Joachim Rodriguez (Katusha) has won La Fleche Wallonne.
Joachim Rodriguez (Katusha) has won La Fleche Wallonne. The Spaniard, who finished second in 2010 and 2011, surged away from the field on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy to win the 194-km classic in 4:45:41. Michael Albasini (GreenEdge Cycling) outsprinted defending champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) for second.
The race began in windy, rainy conditions. Daniele Ratto (Liquigas) and Mads Christensen (Saxo Bank) made an early break and took a 12-second advantage on the field. A crash split the peloton in two, and Katusha led the first group in catching the escapees.
At 55 km, Dirk Bellemakers (Landbouwkrediet) attacked, and Anthony Roux (Francaise des Jeux) joined him. The break's lead over the first chasing group maxed out at a little under eight minutes. Katusha and Lotto began to chase, and Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen) set out after the fugitives. With 50 km left, Armee was 2:40 behind the leaders, which was as close as he would get.
With 40 km left, Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) attacked from the lead chase group as the field approached the Mur de Huy's second ascent. Ten km later, the chasers reeled in the break.
Tom Slagter (Rabobank) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) escaped and forged a 14-second lead. Frank Schleck's (RadioShack-Nissan) race ended when he punctured with fewer than 20 km remaining. Slagter and Visconti were reeled in with 13 km to go. Five and a half km later, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) and Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) attacked.
With three km remaining, Hesjedel and Nordhaug led the field by 0:12. This was not nearly enough of a lead to hold off the peloton, and when the pair began to slow on the final ascent of the Mur, the field engulfed them. With 350 m left, Rodriguez powered into the lead and went unchallenged. He had time to celebrate his victory before he crossed the finish line.
Rodriguez was elated, as a rider who had finished second in this race in 2010 and 2011 and as a classics rider who had garnered the biggest victory of his career. "This is my most cherished victory, for me it's my best day ever," Rodriguez said. "I am a real fan of the classics. I've had so many good finishes but I was still waiting to win one."
"I have been second at Amstel Gold, Fleche, Liege, and third at Lombardia, but I was needing that victory," Rodriguez added. "Like I said before, I would change all of those placings for one victory and I pulled it off today. I am so content."
Gilbert, the dethroned champion, was gracious. "Rodriguez is the deserving winner," the BMC rider said. "His team assumed the work."
On Sunday, many of today's riders will cross swords in La Doyenne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Who will win? Defending champion Gilbert? Frank Schleck? Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)? Damiano Cunego (Lampre)? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!