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Moreno emerges from the shadow of his friend, ‘Purito’

Spanish domestique steps into the spotlight after Katusha gives him the reins in midweek climbers' classic

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HUY, Belgium (VN) — Daniel Moreno (Katusha) has bounced around the professional peloton for years, posting some impressive results, but few have taken notice. That changed Wednesday when the Spaniard won the Flèche Wallonne classic.

Riding in the shadow of his friend and prolific climber, Joaquim Rodríguez, certainly hasn’t helped Moreno’s star. With “Purito” knocked back from a crash Sunday at Amstel Gold Race, Katusha gave Moreno the mantle of leadership for Flèche Wallonne.

The 31-year-old madrileño certainly didn’t slink from the responsibility. Instead, he rode off Rodríguez’s wheel with 300 meters to go to catch Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) and burst across the line victorious.

“This is my biggest win, and it comes in my favorite race of the year,” Moreno said. “We talked about our tactics during the team meeting. ‘Purito’ said he wasn’t feeling great and I had good legs. He rode for me just like I did for him last year and it worked out perfectly.”

Moreno’s victory at Flèche Wallonne is perhaps his most important, but he’s notched some equally impressive results over the past few years.

Since turning pro in 2005, Moreno’s proven a consistent performer. A move to Katusha to join his training partner and friend Rodríguez in 2011 saw him reach a new level, with stage wins at the Vuelta a España and the Critérium du Dauphiné as well as one-day wins at Giro del Piemonte and GP Miguel Indurain.

“In 2010 with Lotto, I had a bad season. I was ill and I had a hard time with the English,” Moreno said. “’Purito’ asked me to join him at Katusha. We work well together and we are friends off the bike. It’s an ideal situation.”

The victory gave Katusha two in a row at Flèche and bodes well for Sunday’s clash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Katusha sport director Valerio Piva said the team was excited about Moreno’s steady upward trajectory and said the Flèche victory could bring more responsibility in the coming years.

“This is a big victory. I hope it will change his mind a bit. Sometimes he needs to think more about himself,” Piva told VeloNews. “Today he showed he can win a big race and I think in the future we can count on him to become another good rider.”

When VeloNews asked in the post-race press conference if the Flèche win would bolster his chances in the future, Moreno countered that self-confidence is not a problem.

“It won’t change that much for me. Every year I have become better and better. I’ve won stages in the Vuelta and the Dauphiné,” he said. “For sure, this is a big win, but it’s part of my progression.”

At 5-foot-8 and 130 pounds, Moreno is a prototypical Spanish climber. And most of his wins have come when the road pushes upward.

Riding to support Rodríguez also puts him in position to exploit openings. His wins at the Vuelta came after he went on the attack to position himself up the road to help Rodríguez when he pulled through.

Moreno sees his partnership with Rodríguez as a plus. Riding in support of his captain, Moreno finished fifth overall at the 2012 Vuelta. Rodríguez led the race and ultimately finished third.

“I am always at the front of the race to help ‘Purito,’” he said. “Sometimes I can take my chance. Like today, the cards changed and I could play my hand. Even last year at the Vuelta, I still managed a strong GC.”

Before his Flèche Wallonne triumph, giving Moreno more opportunities this year was already in Katusha’s plans. He’ll race the Tour de Romandie with chances to win and then reload for the Tour de France, where he’ll support Rodríguez.

“I go to Romandie, then take a break before the Tour,” he said. “’Purito’ likes the Tour course, so we’re going to try to win. After that, we’ll see about the rest of the season.”