Dylan Teuns became the first Belgian rider to win La Flèche Wallonne in over a decade on Wednesday afternoon, with the man from Diest beating five-time race winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the Mur de Huy.
The Bahrain Victorious leader recounted later on how he had been on the Mur the day Philippe Gilbert took victory – the second race of his Ardennes triple – in 2011 and wondered if his winning move might have been made in the same place as the Walloon.
Speaking after his win, Teuns said that he has a ‘love-hate’ relationship with the race, especially the closing climb, which features double-digit gradients reaching up to 26 per cent.
“I don’t know if I have a big passion for the race because I had already some bad moments there,” he said. “It’s a love-hate relationship – it’s all or nothing on the Mur. You have to have those legs like I had today, otherwise you’re not in a good position and I’m super happy with my legs today.”
Teuns can now add a WorldTour Classic to his career palmarès, which also includes the 2017 Tour de Pologne and two stages of the Tour de France. The 30-year-old had been in strong form in recent weeks having recovered from a COVID-19 infection caught at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in February.
Earlier this month, he followed up sixth at the Tour of Flanders with two further top 10 finishes at Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl, while he also made his Paris-Roubaix debut, curiously given how unsuited he is to the race.
“That was a big surprise on Wednesday,” he said. “They didn’t have enough riders to put in Roubaix. I was good at cobbles they said, so they could use me for the first part of this Classic.
“Honestly, I didn’t like the stress on the first sectors, but then when you’re on the cobbles I didn’t have a super bad feeling. But when I entered Arenberg I thought what am I doing here? I put my brakes on and I was trying to find the end and there I stopped.”
As a light climber/puncheur, Teuns found himself on more favourable ground on Wednesday, surging to victory ahead of Valverde at a race he finished third at back in 2017.
“Before the climb, I knew I had to be in a good position,” Teuns said of the final ascent of the Mur de Huy. “I was a little bit stressing and at that moment [of my attack] I tried to think about nothing and just go for it, make the position.
“When Valverde went, I knew he would go. It was perfect moment for me also, and then I took my chance. I felt him coming back but I had the legs to make another acceleration.”
Teuns, who has benefitted from training with 1999 Flèche winner Michele Bartoli – “he gave me a lot of confidence,” he said – noted that he felt that a win or a podium wasn’t far away for him given his spring Classics results earlier this month. He proved just that on the Mur de Huy.
“I felt like Catalunya was good,” he said, referring to his first race back after 10 days off the bike and just four weeks’ training following his COVID-19 infection.
“Then, I went into the Classics in really good form and good results. But the podium and winning was not far off but it still had to come like one day. Sometimes I had bad luck. I was hoping to turn it around and today, it happened.”