He was the five-time winner, the twice runner-up, but La Última Bala just missed the target. It wasn’t meant to be for Alejandro Valverde at La Flèche Wallonne. Because faster than a speeding bala was Dylan Teuns.
Perhaps the best word to describe Teuns’ attack was a shove, rather than a punch. The Bahrain Victorious rider went early, if 300m to the line can be called early on the Mur de Huy, which it can, and delivered a sustained whack of power just as effective as a coup de poing from Julian Alaphilippe or a puñetazo from Valverde.
The shoveur had form - eighth at Brabantse Pijl, 10th at Amstel Gold Race, sixth at the Tour of Flanders and third previously here in 2017 - but it was still something of a surprise to see the 30-year-old dispatch the pure puncheurs and become the first Belgian winner here since Philippe Gilbert in 2011.
Valverde at least went out with a smile. Up there with the best in the world five days away from your 42nd birthday. You would, wouldn’t you?
The contrast between last weekend’s race won by a man named Dylan and this Wednesday’s race won by a man named Dylan could not have been starker. To understand what was going on at Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, won by Dylan van Baarle, you had to watch the last five hours. To understand Flèche Wallonne you really only had to watch the last five minutes. That’s still being generous. It only took Dylan Teuns two minutes and 50 seconds to climb the Mur de Huy for the third and final time.
Credit: ASO/Gautier Demouveaux
There surely is a point to the 201.9 kilometres and 3,200m of elevation gain that the peloton must complete before the third and final attempt of the Mur de Huy, but with every passing year it’s never becomes any clearer what that is.
This year organisers added the tough climb of the Côte de Cherave immediately before the Huy finale and first Cofidis then Søren Kragh Andersen tried to break the form book for the race that is essentially the annual men’s WorldTour hill climb championships.
For all that effort, however, Kragh Andersen and his shadow Mauri Vansevenant could only make it as far as the bottom of the Mur, at which point it became the usual competition to see who could not run out of batteries for the longest. That’s not to say there isn’t a tactical art to timing your effort on the Mur de Huy, but it’s also true that you’ve either got the legs or you haven’t.
Remco Evenepoel was handed an armchair ride by Ineos Grenadiers but appeared to kind of give up at the bottom of the hill. Enric Mas took up the mantle for Valverde and whittled the leaders down to a handful. Tadej Pogačar (12th) proved he is human after all and conked out just after the steepest 17% gradients of that final climb, perhaps feeling the effects of an unwelcome chase after puncturing with around an hour to go.
Credit: ASO/Gautier Demouveaux
When Teuns went it appeared that Julian Alaphilippe, pre-race favourite and triple victor here himself, had been marking Pogačar and when the Slovenian dropped off, Loulou was too far back to close the gap to the leaders and finished fifth. There was no doubt that he was also missing his usual spark, but that left Teuns, Valverde and Alexandr Vlasov in a three-way shootout.
Valverde dispatched the Russian and drew level with the Belgian but stalled and ultimately resigned himself to second place. Sixteen years after he won his first edition of La Flèche Wallonne, Valverde just didn’t quite have it. Now he’s all outta bullets.
Cover image: Getty Images