Australia's world champion Cadel Evans won the Fleche Wallonne one-day classic here on Wednesday ahead of Spanish duo Joaquin Rodriguez and Alberto Contador.
Evans, second here in 2008 and fifth last year, powered up the gruelling final 'Mur de Huy' climb to snatch victory and set down a marker for the upcoming Tour of Italy and Tour de France.
The head of the American BMC team, runner-up in the Tour de France to Contador in 2007 and Carlos Sastre in 2008, surged past Contador in the final 100 metres for his first Fleche-Wallonne success.
Spaniard Igor Anton filled fourth at the end of the 198 kilometre circuit in front of Italy's Damiano Cunego and Belgium rider Philippe Gilbert.
Russia's Alexandre Kolobnev had made a late burst for victory only to be pegged back on the final climb.
This was Evans' first win since taking possession of the world champion's rainbow jersey which he won in Mendrisio, Switzerland, last year and the first time the Fleche Wallonne was marked down for export to Australia in its 74-year history.
Andy Schleck leads Gilbert and Contador on the Mur de Huy
Evans put his dynamic performance down to a change in his training programme.
"As I'm riding in the Giro (Tour of Italy) I've had a different approach. I'm happy with my progress, but I can still improve further."
In contrast to 2008 when he went for broke too early on the final exhausting climb Evans on this occasion timed his attack to perfection. This win has catapulted Evans into the position of favourite for Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
"That's that negative side to my victory - now everybody's going to be watching out for me!"
Contador was satisfied with his showing in the Belgium classic.
"I'm happy enough even if I'd preferred to have won the race. I'm in good shape ahead of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege (on Sunday) but to win there you really need to know the circuit. It would be fantastic to win it, for me it would be like winning a big tour event because I'm not a classic specialist."
© AFP 2010
Women: Pooley beats Cooke and Johansson
Emma Pooley wins the women's Fleche Wallonne
Briton's Emma Pooley (Cervelo TestTeam) confirmed she is one of the best climbers in women's cycling by winning Flèche Wallonne with a strong attack on the Mur de Huy climb.
Pooley had earlier been well protected by her teammates, while her rivals were forced to chase other attacks, and so was able to give her all on the climb to the finish. She managed to distance fellow Briton Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) on the steepest section of the Mur de Hut and won by eight seconds. Emma Johansson (Redsun) was third, also at eight seconds.
Pooley has won other World Cup races but was overjoyed with victory on the Mur de Huy.
"Last year I said I thought I'd never win a World Cup again and said the same thing this year. But this is not any World Cup, it has a lot of tradition," Pooley said as she fought to regain her breath after the steepest final kilometre in professional racing.
"My coach said that one day I'd win it and I told him not to be stupid but it's not me that's won, it's the team and the way the directeur told me to ride. I've never got to the end of a race without having to do so little work because I had the most awesome team behind me. They did absolutely everything for me. After the first time up the Mur, we had four girls in the front group. It came back but I wouldn't have won if the other favourites weren't all tired from chasing the attacks. They (my teammates) won the race. I just had to do the last kilometre."
|1 Cadel Evans (Aus|BMC Racing Team)||4:39:24|
|2 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa|Team Katusha)|
|3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa|Astana)|
|4 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa|Euskaltel - Euskadi)||0:00:06|
|5 Damiano Cunego (Ita|Lampre-Farnese Vini)||0:00:09|
|6 Philippe Gilbert (Bel|Omega Pharma-Lotto)||0:00:11|
|7 Christopher Horner (USA|Team Radioshack)|
|8 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa|Caisse d'Epargne)|
|9 Andy Schleck (Lux|Team Saxo Bank)|
|10 Ryder Hesjedal (Can|Garmin - Transitions)|
|1 Emma Pooley (GBr|Cervelo Test Team)||3:01:27|
|2 Nicole Cooke (GBr|British National Team)||0:00:08|
|3 Emma Johansson (Swe|Redsun Cycling Team)|
|4 Grace Verbeke (Bel|Lotto Ladies Team)||0:00:12|
|5 Evelyn Stevens (USA|HTC Columbia Women)||0:00:17|
|6 Marianne Vos (Ned|Nederland Bloeit)||0:00:22|
|7 Tatiana Guderzo (Ita|Team Valdarno)|
|8 Elena Berlato (Ita|Top Girls Fassa Bortolo - Ghezzi)||0:00:27|
|9 Judith Arndt (Ger|HTC Columbia Women)||0:00:40|
|10 Eleonora Patuzzo (Ita|Safi-Pasta Zara Manhattan)||0:00:42|