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Joaquim Rodriguez Wins La Flèche Wallonne


Joaquim Rodriguez delivered on the promise he has shown since he began his complete domination of the Montelupone climb in Tirreno-Adriatico and finally secured a win in La Flèche Wallonne today. Runner up in 2010 and 2011, Rodriguez this time timed his effort to perfection to come across the line four seconds ahead of Michael Albasini and 2011 winner Phillipe Gilbert.

ASO, the organizers of Flèche Wallonne, took a page from nearly every classic's playbook this year and altered the route. The second loop in the area to the northeast of the finishing town Huy gained two climbs, both of which came in the final 20 km, in an attempt to draw out and reward attacking riders. The finish up the Mur de Huy is so brutal, solo riders or breakaways generally need at least 20 seconds at the base of the climb with 1 km to go in order to survive. Unfortunately, this has largely stifled racing in the past editions as every big name conserves his energy for one big effort at the finish.

The organizers must be pleased with themselves, as this year's edition was quite a bit more thrilling than prior editions. Several riders tried to jump away on the Côte d'Amay, but the bunch mercilessly brought them back. It appeared that the race was still destined for a bunch kick up the Mur, at least until the penultimate climb appeared...

Maxim Iglinsky tried to jump off the front on the Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet and was countered by Canada's great hope Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda). Hesjedal got Team Sky's Lars Peter Nordhaug for company and the two set to work attempting to extend their gap to manageable margins. Team Katusha chased hard behind, as they had all day, to keep things together for Rodriguez.

The daring duo's lead hovered at seven or eight seconds for seemingly forever before incredulously creeping out. 10 seconds, 11, 12.... and finally, under the flamme rouge, 13 seconds lead. Would it be enough? Commentators thought not, but the hope in their voices was palpable.

But, so violent is the effort required on the Mur, the escapade was doomed to failure. Hesjedal led into the (in)famous s-bend where the gradients stray northwards of 17% but by the exit, he was an also-ran. Gilbert, who had appeared to be laboring mightily on the penultimate ascent of the Mur, was near the front, as was Michael Albasini. They were shadowed by Rodriguez until he accelerated viciously with approximately 300m to go.


Normally, this is far too distant from the finish to hold onto an effort of this scale. Last year, Phillipe Gilbert attempted the same and crowds and commentators alike were incredulous when he continued to open his advantage until he sat up to celebrate with 50m to go. Far more often, these are the attacks that fizzle out with a mere 100 or 50 meters until the finish.

But, this is a finish perfectly suited for Rodriguez and he has had years to perfect his tactics. When he attacked, we all thought it was too early, but at the same time few believed he would be caught. Indeed, his gap grew all the way until the line where his elation managed to crack the grimace burned into his features from his efforts. Behind, Albasini barely edged out Gilbert. In a promising note, Gilbert's former teammate Jelle Vandendert, riding for himself for the first time, finished fourth.


All photos © Fotoreporter Sirotti