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Huy - A powerful late acceleration in Wednesday's Fleche Wallonne netted Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez his first ever win in a major cycling Classic at the age of 32.
Second in the race in 2010 and 2011, Rodriguez left nothing to chance this time, blasting ahead 400 metres from the line on the steep Mur de Huy climb.
Second behind the Katusha rider at four seconds was Michael Albasini of Switzerland with last year's winner, Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, in third.
“I've had a lot of near misses in a lot of races, but this is the one I wanted to win the most,” Rodriguez told reporters.
“In my team I've had to put up with a fair amount of legpulling about my coming so close in Fleche Wallonne before but never winning. I was getting a bit desperate.
“Finally, though, I can put that obsession with getting a win here behind me. It looked straightforward, but you have to have the strength in Fleche and above all on the Mur de Huy calculate exactly how and where you want to make the attack.”
Rodriguez's Katusha team had worked hard on the technical, rainsoaked course featuring 10 short but sharp Ardennes climbs.
They pegged back a 150km move by Netherland's Dirk Bellemakers and Frenchman Anthony Roux, then efficiently extinguished a late attack by Norway's Lars-Petter Nordhaug and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal.
Despite the Fleche being considered a reliable form guide for Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, one of cycling's five 'Monuments' or top one-day Classics, Rodriguez said he was not making any predictions.
“Everything has changed for me since the Amstel Gold Race (last Sunday) where I had an off day and it can all change again,” he said.
“You can't say I'm a big favourite for Liege-Bastogne-Liege just because I've won today.”
Defeated on home soil following his spectacular hat-trick of Ardennes Classics last year, Gilbert said he was still pleased because of a recent steady improvement in race condition.
“This is a good response to the people who criticised me, but in any case I'm more interested in my supporters,” Gilbert told reporters.
“I'm happy to have given them something to cheer about.” - Reuters