With the wounds from La Flèche Wallonne still raw, Anthony Tan analyses the key moments and key riders, which provide a telling clue as to who will rule Sunday in 'La Doyenne’, Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

On Wednesday it was Mur(der) on the Huy, as Katusha's 57-kilo assassin, Joaquim Rodríguez, bumped off his rivals on its precipitous slopes with the mindset of a cold-blooded killer.

The build-up of suspense was similar to what we saw in the Amstel Gold Race the Sunday previous, twice circling the final and decisive climb before the inevitable denouement. On both occasions the early break was caught inside the last 30 kilometres before another escape went in the final 10 clicks, albeit to no avail but augmenting the anticipation.

In Fl̬che Wallonne, such were the nerves among the Ardennes top guns Рparticularly after outsider Enrico Gasparotto upstaged all in Amstel Рnot one of the pre-race favourites dared to try their luck on the penultimate climb, the C̫te de Villers-le-Bouillet, its crest a tantalising 8.5km from the finish, which race organisers threw in as bait for the opportunistic puncheur.

Instead, it was Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) and Lars Petter Nordhaug (Team Sky) who went for broke once over the top of the 1.2km Villers-le-Bouillet. They needed another two to come with them but none were willing.



Still, as pair's lead moved to double digits and the cameras panned backwards towards a foreboding sky that momentarily turned tar-black, as if God himself was drawing a curtain on the race, tension was nearing fever pitch. Maybe, just maybe, these two could hold them off… a few moments' hesitation in the bunch and they would stand a fighting chance.



But Katusha had controlled the race beautifully all day and weren't willing to let them slip away. Meanwhile, with just 5.5km left, pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert was curiously at the back of the chasing bunch and with no teammates beside him. Eurosport commentator Magnus Backstedt remarked: "He's just weighing up his options and having a final little rest there… he'll move himself into position quite quickly now." But why? When placement coming into the third and final ascent of the Mur de Huy would be critical, why waste valuable energy and be forced to take risks to bring yourself back to the front?



Rodríguez would contemplate no such manoeuvre and hit the lower slopes of the 1.3km climb that boasted a 9.3 per cent average gradient in perfect place. Gilbert was in good position just behind, but at what cost?



As the Mur rises above the town of Huy it gets progressively steeper with sections over 20%, and when 'El Purito' decided to go long 350 metres from the line, Backstedt thought it might be too early: "It's a good move by Rodríguez but it's not over yet. Like I said, this is the steep part, it flattens out a little bit, and there's still some time for riders to go."



Adopting this very move Alberto Contador had narrowly lost to Cadel Evans in 2010, when the then reigning world champion overhauled the beleaguered pistol-shooter in the final 50 metres. But Rodríguez would remain defiant and inviolable, and after finishing second the previous two editions, he cruised to victory in the Walloon Arrow.



"Everything changed from the Amstel Gold Race to Flèche Wallonne and everything can change on (this) Sunday too," said the diminuitive Spaniard from Barcelona.



I'm not so sure. Right now, Rodríguez knows he's having a blinder, even if he isn't saying as much.



Sans Peter Sagan who is not riding, if you combine the other podium places at Amstel – Gasparotto, Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) – with the podium at Flèche – Rodríguez, Michael Albasini (GreenEdge), Gilbert – among this potent quintet, you more than likely have your winner at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.



Here are their odds on Sportsbet.com.au, as of midday Thursday:



Albasini: 26.00

Gasparotto: 21.00

Gilbert: 3.75

Rodríguez: 10.00

Vanendert: 19.00



A few others worth considering:


Simon Gerrans: 34.00

Vincenzo Nibali: 12.00

Samuel Sanchez: 17.00

Frank Schleck: 8.00

Alejandro Valverde: 13.00



A smokey?
Hesjedal (51.00) or Greg Van Avermaet (41.00).



Your job is to pick which one...



Twitter: @anthony_tan