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Daniel Moreno steps into the spotlight at La Flèche Wallonne

Daniel Moreno is best known as Katusha teammate Joaquim Rodriguez’s lieutenant in most key races, but he is a gifted cyclist on his own and had a chance to shine at this week’s La Fleche Wallone.

Moreno is typically there for most every race Rodriguez does, from the Vuelta a España in 2012 (where Moreno finished fifth behind Rodriguez third place overall) to the Classics.

But as a gifted climber in his own right, the 31-year-old from Madrid occasionally gets his own chance to shine – and at the Mur de Huy at the end of La Flèche Wallonne on Sunday, Moreno took what he recognised was the “biggest victory of his career and in my favourite race.”

Following World Champion Philippe Gilbert’s wake when the BMC rider took half way up the dreaded Mur, then striking out alone to track down Carlos Alberto Betancur (AG2R-La Mondiale) who had staged an early, unexpected attack proved to be the perfect move for Moreno. Although already a winner of a Vuelta stage in 2011 at Sierra Nevada, as well as two stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné last year, this was without a doubt what the Katusha pro later called “a hugely important win for me.”

“I can do well both in Grands Tours and in one-day races, but this was a big step up for me,” he said. “I love this race because it suits me perfectly, and today I had my chance to do well for myself.”

Moreno’s chance to strike out for himself came after defending champion Rodriguez (Katusha) was injured in the Amstel Gold Race. ‘Purito’, as Rodriguez is nicknamed, was not so ill that he could not take part in La Fleche Wallonne, and was indeed instrumental in keeping Moreno close to the front as the peloton sped towards the foot of the Mur. But the two – room-mates and close friends as well as team-mates – had already agreed that this time it was Moreno would be the designated leader on the Mur. And he delivered in style, winning ahead of Sergio Henao (Sky ProCycling) and early attacker Betancur.

Overall in the UCI WorldTour’s individual classification, there was no change in the top four spots, with Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) still leading Peter Sagan (Cannondale) by 351 points to 312, Richie Porte (Sky ProCycling) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team). The biggest mover was Sergio Henao (Sky PoCycling), up from 13th to sixth, whilst Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) is up from eleventh to seventh thanks to the Irishman’s fourth place on the Mur – two places better than in 2012.

With Sagan not present on Sunday, Cancellara will remain on top of the UCI WorldTour at the end of the Classics season, given he has an advantage of 151 points over third placed Porte. But a victory from Porte, already the winner of Paris-Nice this season and a podium finisher and stage winner in the Vuelta al País Vasco, would certainly tighten up the classification.

Overall in the teams and nations classifications, Sky ProCycling and Spain remain in control and there were few significant changes – with two exceptions. Colombia have moved up from sixth to second overall, reducing Spain’s advantage to just 105 points – a reflection that this has been one of the most successful seasons for years for a country that is fast becoming the Latin American powerhouse of professional cycling. And indeed, there are now three Colombians – Henao, Quintana and Betancur – in the top 20 of the overall classification.

Meanwhile in the teams classification, Katusha have regained the second spot overall, ousting RadioShack Leopard. Whether they can finally long-standing leaders Sky ProCycling, though, remains another story.

Business will return to usual for Rodriguez – hopefully – on Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a race in which he has taken second in 2009. Porte, double LBL winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard), also a former winner, are all potential candidates in a race with no clear favourite. Factor in Chris Froome (Sky ProCycling) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and naming a favourite becomes an even less clear process. However, that should guarantee some fascinating racing.

UCI WorldTour Rankings as of April 17, 2013:

  1. Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland / RadioShack) 351
  2. Peter Sagan (Slovakia / Cannondale) 312
  3. Richie Porte (Australia / Team Sky) 200
  4. Nairo Quintana (Colombia / Movistar) 182
  5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain / Katusha) 166
  6. Sergio Henao (Colombia / Team Sky) 164
  7. Daniel Martin (Ireland / Garmin) 147
  8. Sylvain Chavanel (France / Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) 142
  9. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium / BMC Racing) 140
  10. Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland / Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) 131
  11. Alberto Contador (Spain / Saxo – Tinkoff) 124
  12. Geraint Thomas (Britain / Team Sky) 117
  13. Tom-Jelte Slagter (Netherlands / Blanco) 111
  14. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy / Astana) 106
  15. Simon Spilak (Slovenia / Katusha) 102
  16. Andrew Talansky (U.S. / Garmin) 92
  17. Alexander Kristoff (Norway / Katusha) 90
  18. Javier Moreno (Spain / Movistar) 86
  19. Chris Froome (Britain / Team Sky) 86
  20. Carlos Betancur (Colombia / AG2R) 85

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