La Fleche Wallone– for any Australian cycling fan those words mean only one thing: 2010.
That year Cadel Evans came over the top of Alberto Contador on the punishing final climb – Mur de Huy – to take his first victory in a classic.
It was a win that not only vindicated the world champion’s rainbow hoops but also proved the perennial bridesmaid could beat the best climbers in the world.
He had previously come second in the race, making the win even sweeter. The man who came second to Evans that year – and again to Phillipe Gilbert in 2011 – was Joaquim Rodriguez.
After last year’s race, Rodriguez must have been feeling like the Mur de Huy was hell on earth, a climb filled only with lactic acid and bitter disappointment.
Wel,l on Wednesday night, we witnessed yet again the beautiful redemptive qualities of cycling and sport at large.
One of the unique things about the cycling calendar is that, unlike other sports where you have to wait four years for another crack like the Olympics or a World Championship competition, cycling’s Classics roll around every year.
This year Rodrigues got his chance at redemption.
This time it was Rodriguez who prevailed over GreenEDGE’s Michael Albasisni (who himself is putting together a very good season) as well as local favourite and defending champion Phillipe Gilbert (BMC).
Again the race was decided on the brutal slopes of Mur de Huy, where riders face gradients as high as 25 percent.
It is truly one of the most demanding stretches of road that that the peloton face all year.
However, for a steep-hill specialist like Rodrigues it is the perfect place to mount an attack.
In the end he dropped Albasisni and Gilbert with what seemed like ease. But the reality was somewhat different as the winner pointed out “it looked like an easy victory, but I did a strong effort in order to defeat my rivals”.
After such disappointment on this same stretch of road Rodrigues was able to enjoy the moment as he crossed the line with one finger in the air.
And enjoy it he did, stating that it was the “best and most incredible victory of my whole career”.
“Today is definitely one of the best days of my life. I’ve always been in love with these Classic races and a victory in these competitions has always been one of my main goals,” he said.
“Finally, after many good results, I managed to win.”
Cadel Evans did not start in the race, having pulled out of all three Ardennes Classics after falling to a sinus infection in the Amstel Gold.
However, he can take one positive out of the race: his new teammate Gilbert seems to be finding his legs in the BMC colors.
Despite finishing third, the defending champion is starting to find something closer to his 2011 form, commenting that “I’ve come from a long way down, so I am satisfied to be back at this level”.