WALSHOUTEM, Belgium (VN) – Nearly lost in the fever of Philippe Gilbert’s triumph for Omega Pharma-Lotto at La Flèche Wallonne Wednesday was Alexander Vinokourov’s best-ever result in the mid-week classic. Astana’s defending champion of Liége-Bastogne-Liége ground out a fourth-place result atop the Mur de Huy and said afterward that the ride gave him much confidence ahead of Sunday’s Ardennes finale.
“I was already feeling well before the race, but today proves that I am in really good shape,” Vinokourov said Wednesday. “This is my best ranking in that race since my debut as rider. I thought about the podium for a moment but it was really hard here. In any case I am very satisfied; the team worked very well today and trust is further strengthened before Liége.”
Vinokourov started the climb of the steep wall above Huy boxed in at the center of the road, 15 riders from the front. He was soon leading a group back to Joaquim Rodriguez’s (Katusha) wheel 500 meters from the line. The Kazak would go on to miss the podium by one spot, following Samuel Sanchez (Eusaltel-Euskadi) across the line.
“It was impossible to beat Philippe Gilbert in Flèche Wallonne,” said Vinokourov.
Astana teammate Enrico Gasparotto jumped into a late breakaway atop the Mur with 30 kilometers remaining. That move stayed away until the final approach to Huy.
“My team tried to attack, influence the race,” said Vinokourov. “I was full-go for the win; I felt that my legs had it and with a powerful breakaway on the final climb I could succeed.”
If not for his positioning at the right turn onto the wall, Vinokourov’s legs may have had enough to match Gilbert. That is unknown now, but they will see each other again on Sunday.
Vinokourov and Gilbert will each chase history at the oldest classic, La Doyenne. The Astana rider will look to join just five riders who have won three titles at Liège. With a win, Gilbert would become just the second rider to sweep the Ardennes classics, after Davide Rebellin in 2004, and the first to win the four northern, hilly one-day races in a year.
“Sunday in Liège-Bastogne-Liège we shall meet again, maybe for a rematch,” said Vinokourov. “That is a very different course.”