Alejandro Valverde wins La Fleche Wallonne for record fourth time
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 20/04/16 5:27pm
Alejandro Valverde mastered the iconic climb of the Mur de Huy to win the Belgian one-day classic La Fleche Wallonne for a record fourth time and third year in a row on Wednesday.
The 35-year-old Spaniard hit the front of the peloton at the start of the viciously steep 1.3km ascent and nullified attacks from Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Dan Martin (Etixx - Quick-Step) before making his own move with about 100m to go.
Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx - Quick-Step) set off in pursuit but could not make ground and had to settle for runner-up for the second year in succession, while Martin (Etixx - Quick-Step) hung on for third.
Valverde (Movistar) now moves clear of three-time winners Eddy Merckx, Moreno Argentin, Marcel Kint and Davide Rebellin as the most decorated rider in the history of the race, and is only the second rider to win in three successive years, emulating Kint's treble between 1943 and 1945.
He said: "It's incredible to win for a fourth time. It's historical for myself and for the team. I knew that I was in great shape, so I made the best of it.
"The idea for the Mur de Huy was to be well positioned at the front. I decided to focus on my own course up the Mur, my own path. I knew I had to hang on until a certain distance, stay well positioned and give everything with 100m to go."
Alaphilippe added: "We did all we could to be in the fight on the last climb, as planned. We can't have regrets; Valverde was just the strongest."
Martin said: "We thought that Julian Alaphilippe could go faster than Valverde close to the summit. I had to try with 300m. But Valverde was just the best. I love this race because it's so tactical. I probably did my best race ever here but struggled in the last 100m."
Valverde has now won in each of his past three race days and appears perfectly placed for a tilt at a fourth triumph at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday, which is the last of the season's spring classics.
However, with cold weather forecast and his bid for Giro d'Italia victory less than three weeks away, he insisted he would not push his body to extremes.
He added: "We know it'll be cold on Liege-Bastogne-Liege, with maybe some rain or even snow. It'll be tough for everyone. I've already won the Fleche, so that's already a good thing.
"I don't want to sacrifice my Giro if the conditions are tough on Liege. It's going to be cold for sure, but if it doesn't rain it should be OK."
The women's edition of La Fleche Wallonne also took place on Wednesday, with the Netherlands' Anna van der Breggen (Rabobank-Liv) winning for the second year in succession following a late attack. Dani King (Wiggle-High5) was Britain's highest finisher in 25th, while world champion Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) was 28th.
1 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, 4:43:57
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step, same time
3 Dan Martin (Irl) Etixx - Quick-Step, st
4 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, +4sec
5 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert, +5
6 Samuel Sanchez (Esp) BMC Racing, st
7 Michael Albasini (Sui) Orica-GreenEdge, st
8 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida, st
9 Warren Barguil (Fra) Giant-Alpecin, st
10 Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida, st