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Daniel Moreno (Katusha) won the Flèche Wallonne classic on Wednesday in Huy, Belgium.
High up on the Mur de Huy finishing climb, Moreno countered a surge by world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) to ride clear of a group of favorites.
Moreno came around Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), who had attacked early on the climb, for the win.
Sergio Henao (Sky) followed Moreno through for second, with Betancur third.
Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) was fourth.
“It’s the most important win of my career, and it came on my favorite race of the year,” said Moreno.
The late attacks above Huy
Three riders — Gilles Devillers (Crelan-Euphony), Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling), and Jurgen Van Goolen (Accent Jobs-Wanty) — made up the day’s long breakaway. The trio built an advantage of almost 10 minutes, but would not see the front of the race over the final circuits around Huy. With pressure building toward the final two climbs of the Mur de Huy, the peloton reeled the leaders in with 46 of 2005 kilometers left to race.
Laurens Ten Dam (Blanco) countered on the Côte de Bousalle, with 45km to go, and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) followed. The tandem struck out to nearly a minute’s advantage, but couldn’t shake the peloton ahead of the second of three climbs of the Mur de Huy.
Marcus Burghardt and Stephen Cummings went to the front of the peloton for BMC Racing inside 40km to go, stringing the bunch out ahead of the wall. At the back of the peloton, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) suffered a mechanical and took a wheel hand-up from teammate Thomas Dekker after losing contact momentarily just before the race turned onto the Mur.
Ten Dam led Bardet onto the climb, looking over his shoulder. Just 12 seconds later, a collection of Movistar, Argos-Shimano, Katusha, and Sky jerseys led the peloton over the entrance to the climb, the former’s Giovanni Visconti on the point.
Ten Dam left Bardet low on the climb and Simon Geschke (Argos) bridged across to the Dutch leader. Behind them, BMC Racing led the peloton as it approached the final, left-hand bend on the climb. Geschke led the race over the top, Ten Dam six seconds behind and appearing reconciled with falling back to the peloton. The Dutchman carried on, however, rejoining Geschke, just 10 seconds ahead of the bunch.
With 29km to go, on the flat, open roads over the finishing circuit, Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Leopard) attacked, drawing out three riders. Crosswinds ripped across the road and after just 1km, Monfort’s companions had dropped back to the peloton and he was looking back, prepared to do the same. With 27km to go, Monfort was back and BMC Racing led the pack with six riders.
Gilbert sat fourth wheel, behind three BMC Racing teammates and in front of two others. Peter Sagan worked his way up the left side of the road with two teammates, about 10 riders back.
Another pre-race favorite, Martin, suffered a flat with 21km to go. The Irishman was forced to chase back.
“I don’t know when my good luck is going to begin,” said Martin. “I punctured, but Peter Stetina was right there and I worked through the cars to get back on. It wasn’t too bad.”
The red and black train continued to push a steady tempo at the front of the peloton, the two leaders 20 seconds clear with 20km to go. Martin made his way back up to the peloton of perhaps 40 riders with 18km to go, before the day’s next climb, the 1.5km, 6.7-percent Côte d’Amay.
Up front, Burghardt continued to push the pace, Cannondale’s green jerseys positioned behind the BMC Racing train.
Ten Dam and Geschke continued pressing, carrying 21 seconds toward the top of the climb.
Richie Porte (Sky) lost contact with the peloton on the climb.
On the opposite end, Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil-DCM) jumped away just before the summit, a Katusha rider tucked tightly in his wheel. The pair took a 100-meter gap over the summit, with Burghardt continuing to drive the bunch. Andy Schleck (RadioShack) and Sergio Henao (Sky) showed themselves at the front as well, but the spindly climbers were there to chat, not to pull the peloton.
Whatever their words, the chase ticked up and the gap was just five seconds when the race arrived to the penultimate climb, the Côte de Villers le Bouillet.
Ten Dam and Geschke continued to press and with no help from his Katusha tag-along, Lagutin could not make contact.
Peter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) attacked on the Villers le Bouillet, spelling the end of the two escapes and stringing the bunch out. The peloton followed the move and most of the big favorites were there.
Jérôme Pineau went to the front for Omega Pharma-Quick Step high up on the climb and pushed the pace. The pressure dispatched Schleck and the race was together for the final, 8.5km approach to the finish.
The final dance on the Mur de Huy
Gilbert led the peloton around the right-hand bend onto the approach to the climb. Blanco took to the front and Betancur attacked almost immediately. The Colombian was five seconds clear before the lower switchbacks, pushing Gilbert into action.
“I always like to attack from far. That’s better for me,” said Betancur.
The 2011 winner took to the front and stood on the pedals, looking back at the Katusha tandem of Moreno and defending champion Joaquim Rodríguez, known as ‘Purito.’ Still, Betancur led. Behind, Sagan planted himself on Gilbert’s wheel, ahead of Moreno and Henao, but when the Belgian surged, Sagan had no answer.
“‘Purito’ was a little banged up from his crash [on Sunday at Amstel Gold Race], so we discussed that I would start as the leader, but it also depended on how each of us felt during the race,” said Moreno. “I felt good and ‘Purito’ worked for me. Betancur tried from a long attack and he made it difficult for us.”
Moreno and Henao bridged across to the world champion ahead of the final, left-hand bend on the climb and countered. Moreno surged up the right side of the road, Henao the left. Gilbert could only watch as they drove across the gap to Betancur.
“It was very difficult today,” said Gilbert. “The best always wins here. I’m very sorry that I came up short in the last kilometer, because my team rode very strong. It was mostly tailwind, and we had to control the race. In the last five climbs we constantly had counter-attacks. But my teammates did very well, and I am sorry my last kilometer.”
Ahead, Moreno and Henao only caught Betancur in the final 50 meters.
“I thought I had chances, but they caught me in the final 50 meters,” said Betancur. “Of course I am disappointed. I was very close to victory.”
Martin surged in the final 100 meters, nearly nipping Betancur as well for third.
“I was blocked a little bit there and I couldn’t get through to do my sprint,” he said. “This is a good race for me and I know I can win it someday. I think I missed the podium by inches.”
Katusha director Valerio Piva told VeloNews that Moreno, who helped Rodríguez to his 2012 victory, entered the finale with free reign.
“We spoke yesterday that Moreno would have his chance today,” said Piva. “‘Purito’ was not bad, he was still (sixth), but Moreno said he had good legs. ‘Purito’ led him out perfectly, just like Moreno did last year for him. It’s a big win for him.”