Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) successfully defended his La Fleche Wallone title of last year by taking the win ahead of Julien Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quickstep). Dan Martin (Etixx-Qucikstep) made it a fair day for the Belgian squad by finishing in 3rd place.
The mid-week Ardennes Classic had an incredibly fast and hard start with countless attacks being fired from the peloton. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka was always very active with Natnael Berhane and Jacques Janse van Rensburg part of all the early moves. With up to 20 riders at a time getting a gap, it was difficult for the peloton to let such a large group go clear. It took more than 50 kilometers for the break to finally stick and it was our man Steve Cummings who initialised the move.
Cummings jumped away solo with a little less than 150km to go. 8 other riders would then bridge the gap to our British time trial expert and the lead group then rode away to a 3-minute lead. Movistar and Katusha, with two of the hot race favourites in Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez respectively, took up the chase from the peloton.
Out front Cummings showed he was in pretty fine nick as when the race came to the short steep climbs synonymous with the Ardennes region, Steve took the lead on the on climbs. Eventually, just 3 other riders remained with Cummings by the time the race reached the penultimate ascent of the Mur de Huy. Over the top, it was Cummings who led the race alone.
Cummings solo effort lasted up until 17km to go before the joint effort of Katusha and Movistar brought the race all back together. Back in the peloton, our African Team weren’t quite able to sit back and take advantage of Cummings’ escape. Punctures at key moments in the race placed some pressure on Serge Pauwles, who was our protected rider for the final.
Pauwels still reached the all-important final right hand corner onto the Mur de Huy in a decent position but the explosive climb was once again the perfect stage for Valverde to show his class. Pauwels dug deep on the 25% gradient slopes yet at the finish, it would be 24th place for our Belgian star.
Jens Zemke – Sport Director
It was a super-fast start with one attack after the other. Natanel and Jacques did a super job to be part of the action, covering the moves. Then Steve decided to try something after 50 kilometers and he went solo. 8 riders chased him down, bridging the gap. Movistar took control and they rode until they caught Steve, who was the final rider from the break to be caught. Then it was up to Serge to try and get a result. He came 24th, we had hoped for a better result but not everything went our own way. Jacques was an important rider today and he got 2 flat wheels in the space of 20 kilometers and then he also had to give his wheel to Serge, so basically those 3 mechanicals took him out of the race. Serge is in a good shape though and he is upping the game with each race. We can be happy with Steve today as well, he did a great job.