- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BRUSSELS (AP) - Alejandro Valverde of Spain timed his climb on the closing Wall of Huy to perfection to win the Walloon Arrow classic ahead of Daniel Martin of Ireland and Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland on Wednesday.

Pre-race favorite Philippe Gilbert, who won the last two classics over the past eight days, never got among the leaders on the mile-long (1,600-meter) climb to the finish line and ended up in 10th place.

The major spring classics end with Sunday’s 100th Liege-Bastogne-Liege race, and Valverde put himself among the favorites since it is run over similar hilly terrain in southern Belgium.

After his biggest one-day victory in six years, Valverde said, “I will be most relaxed.”

As before, the 199-kilometer (123-mile) classic through woods and hills was reduced to the key question: Who is fastest on the final climb on the viciously steep Wall of Huy?

Valverde won in 4 ½ hours, and his final kick gave him an edge of three seconds over Martin, last year’s winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Even though he long felt boxed in, Valverde said that “as soon as I found a way through, I started sprinting.”

His power gave him enough time to cross the line coasting with his arms outstretched.

Kwiatkowski was a further second back, finishing in the same time as Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands.

Valverde kept quiet in the pack for most of the race as Gilbert’s BMC Racing Team chased down the early breakaways, and all favorites were bunched together with 12 kilometers to go.

At its steepest, the Wall is 17 percent, but with an average of 9.3 percent it still calls for the special combined skills of explosiveness and endurance.

And Valverde found that groove again, just days short of his 34th birthday. Valverde was banned for two years from January 2010 after being implicated in Operation Puerto, a blood-doping scandal in Spain involving more than 50 riders.

Now with the Movistar Team, he is enjoying a renaissance, already winning five races this season.

He achieved the Walloon Arrow-Liege-Bastogne-Liege double in 2006, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege on its own in 2008.

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