Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) left his rivals for dead on the Mur de Huy to take the 2011 Flèche-Wallonne.
Gilbert put the hammer down with five hundred metres to go, held his pace up the terrifyingly steep second half of the Mur and left the other favourites floundering in his wake.
There was a full forty metres between the Belgian and the rest at the finish line, and he virtually free-wheeled the last fifty metres, saluting the crowd as he did.
Rodriguez finished second, followed by Sanchez in third, Vinokourov fourth and Igor Anton fifth.
It was a case of three-in-a-row for Gilbert, who won last week’s Brabantse-Pijl and the weekend’s Amstel Gold. With Liège-Bastogne- Liège coming on Sunday, he could complete an Ardennes Classics hatrick, something that only Davide Rebellin has achieved, in 2004.
Gilbert’s burst on the day’s final climb came after the peloton’s successful chase of several breakaway groups.
There was the inevitable early break, which built a ten-minute lead by the seventy kilometers to go point. With the peloton chasing it down, a group that included Sky’s Löfkvist, Kolobnev, van Garderen, Kiriyienka and several others broke off the front and took a thirty second lead going into the last twenty kilometres.
Löfkvist and Kiryienka attacked with 16km left, but were always going to find it hard to build the lead they needed to survive on the Mur de Huy, with Omega Pharma Lotto and Katusha both riding hard on the front of the peloton.
This has been a great season for Philippe Gilbert. He won the Strade Bianchi early in the year, a stage at the Tirenno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Algarve and got a podium at Milan-San Remo. Only nine men have won three classics in a year. Soon it could be ten.
La Fleche Wallonne 2011, 201km
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto in 4-54-57
2. Joaquin Rodriguez (Esp) Katusha at 3 secs
3. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 5 secs
4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 6 secs
5. Igor Anton (Esp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 6 secs
6. Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto at 6 secs
7. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 6 secs
8. Daniel Moreno (Esp) Katusha at 9 secs
9. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Garmin-Cervelo at 12 secs
10. Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank at 12 secs
Mur de Huy
Philippe Gilbert takes the win
Winner Philippe Gilbert flanked by Joaquin Rodriguez in second (left) and Samuel Sanchez in third (right)