A great ride of the team saw Etixx – Quick-Step place two riders inside the top three of the prestigious Belgian Classic.
Once again, Flèche Wallonne was all about the Mur de Huy. After a very fast start, which saw an escape form only inside the second hour, the race followed the traditional pattern of the past years, with the break building an advantage of a couple of minutes, before the favourites' teams came at the head of the peloton to control things. As expected, the escapees were caught before the real action kicked off, with around 20 kilometers to go, triggering other attacks from the bunch.
First to move was Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels, who was joined by Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal). The trio opened a gap of 20 seconds on the chasers, but Cofidis and Tinkoff brought them back with less than three kilometers to go, before Mur de Huy. On the final hill of the day – 1300 meters, 9.6% average gradient – the Etixx – Quick-Step duo of Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe made its way to the front and played the old 1-2, gunning for the win in the race which this year was celebrating its 80th edition.
The Irishman launched his attack and forced the others to chase, before Julian – who was second last season at Flèche Wallonne – came to the forefront and accelerated as a response to the attack of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Despite putting in a brave and solid effort, Julian finished runner-up once again, just ahead of his teammate, making Etixx – Quick-Step the first team in 13 years to place two riders on the podium of the Belgian one-day race.
For the second time in the top three of Flèche Wallonne, Daniel Martin talked about the team's strategy on Wednesday and tried to see the bright side of things: "We wanted to go for the victory, but second and third on the podium is still a great result for the team. We knew that we can't beat Alejandro on the last 100 meters, so we tried to anticipate with 300 meters to go. We rode aggressively and the tactic was for Julian to stay in the wheel of Valverde, while I tried to go a little bit from afar. I have a very good relationship with Julian and we work very well together. We have to be happy, but we're also a bit sad, because we came here to get the win."
"I felt good throughout the day, rode with confidence and stayed close to Dan during the race. Our tactic was to have Dan start his effort early, because he has the power for such an attack, while I waited behind Valverde. Dan was really incredible and did a fantastic job on the climb. My legs were in pain after a really hard race, always up and down, without any respite. Of course, I am disappointed not to take the victory, but I'm also satisfied to come again on the podium at my second participation and especially to see how the team made the race on the Mur de Huy", said Julian Alaphilippe, who notched his best result of the season.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele