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66th Fleche Wallonne - 1.HC
Belgium, April 17, 2002
Verbrugghe back for more
By Jeff Jones
Last year's Criterium International and Flèche Wallonne winner Rik Verbrugghe will be back to defend his title in the 66th Flèche Wallonne. Verbrugghe, a local of the area, has not had as good a start to the season as last year: he could not repeat his success in last month's Criterium International and will only be an outside chance in this year's Fleche.
The 198 kilometre hors categorie race is markedly different in style from the preceding classics (Milan-San Remo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix). It follows a hilly parcours starting from Charleroi, travelling 71 kilometres east to Huy, the eventual finishing town. The riders then do a 33 kilometre lap around Huy followed by a 93 kilometre lap, with the climb of the Mur De Huy featuring each lap.
It's this climb that decides the winner, but not necessarily the shape of the race. The Mur de Huy is 1 kilometre long, averaging 13.5% with stretches at 20%. There is no possibility of a bunch sprint, and the race normally finishes with small groups dragging themselves to the top.
Look for Verbrugghe's two very able Lotto teammates Serge Baguet and Mario Aerts to do well in this race. However, with a strong line up of climbers against them, they will have their work cut out.
Mapei's Paolo Bettini will be aiming for another win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday, and may leave the pace making to his young teammate Cadel Evans, who has the perfect characteristics to win this race. Oscar Freire will also return to competition here after a three and a half week absence.
Fassa Bortolo's Michele Bartoli endured an epic battle with Maarten den Bakker in the snowy 1999 edition, to come out on top. However, Bartoli is not at his best at the moment despite a strong start at the beginning of the year. The Fassa standard will be carried by Ivan Basso (runner up in 2001) and 2000 winner Francesco Casagrande.
Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) has finished fifth in this race previously, and comes into it in good form after a fourth overall in the Vuelta a Pais Vasco. Team Telekom has Paris-Nice winner Alexandre Vinokourov, who should also be suited to this race.
Danilo di Luca (Saeco) has big ambitions for this race, and certainly wants to win it. Di Luca is good at uphill finishes, but his form is a little off at the moment.
Floyd Landis (USPS) hammered himself in Sunday's mud bath that was Paris-Roubaix, and if he is sufficiently recovered will find the hills of the Ardennes also to his liking.
Bonjour's Circuit de la Sarthe winner Didier Rous will lead his team, while Dario Frigo is back in action for Tacconi. Both riders are certainly capable of winning this race.
Gerolsteiner's mob will be headed by 'Tintin' Rebellin, another rider who will be aiming for Sunday rather than the Fleche. Similarly Davide Etxebarria (Euskaltel), who has good form at the moment after Pais Vasco, and will be stretching his legs in this race.
With a field packed with good riders, few of whom can be considered outright favourites, the 66th Fleche Wallonne promises to be an exciting battle in the Ardennes. The most consistent rider in this race and in Sunday's LBL also wins the Ardennes trophy.
Weather conditions are expected to be cool, between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius. There is a chance of rain but it should remain fairly dry.
Men 2001 Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) Lotto Adecco 198 kms in 4.50.03 (40.958 km/h) 2000 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Vini Caldirola 198 kms in 4.53.08 (40.53 km/h) 1999 Michele Bartoli (Ita) Mapei 210 kms in 4.52.46 (41.19 km/h) 1998 Bo Hamburger (Den) Casino 201 kms in 5.06.54 (39.30 km/h) 1997 Laurent Jalabert (Fra) 1996 Lance Armstrong (USA) 1995 Laurent Jalabert (Fra) 1994 Moreno Argentin (Ita) 1993 Maurizio Fondriest (Ita) 1992 Giorgio Furlan (Ita) 1991 Moreno Argentin (Ita) 1990 Moreno Argentin (Ita) 1989 Claude Criquielion (Bel) 1988 Rolf Gölz (Ger) 1987 Jean-Claude Leclercq (Fra) 1986 Laurent Fignon (Fra) 1985 Claude Criquielion (Bel) 1984 Kim Andersen (Den) 1983 Bernard Hinault (Fra) 1982 Mario Beccia (Ita) 1981 Daniel Willems (Bel) 1980 Guiseppe Saronni (Ita) 1979 Bernard Hinault (Fra) 1978 Michel Laurent (Fra) 1977 Francesco Moser (Ita) 1976 Joop Zoetemelk (Ned) 1975 André Dierickx (Bel) 1974 Frans Verbeeck (Bel) 1973 André Dierickx (Bel) 1972 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1971 Roger De Vlaeminck (Bel) 1970 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1969 Jos Huysmans (Bel) 1968 Rik Van Looy (Bel) 1967 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1966 Michele Dancelli (Ita) 1965 Roberto Poggiali (Ita) 1964 Gilbert Desmet (Bel) 1963 Raymond Poulidor (Fra) 1962 Henri De Wolf (Bel) 1961 Willy Vannitsen (Bel) 1960 Pino Cerami (Bel) 1959 Joseph Hoevenaars (Bel) 1958 Rik Van Steenbergen (Bel) 1957 Raymond Impanis (Bel) 1956 Richard Van Genechten (Bel) 1955 Stan Ockers (Bel) 1954 Germain Derijcke (Bel) 1953 Stan Ockers (Bel) 1952 Ferdi Kübler (Swi) 1951 Ferdi Kübler (Swi) 1950 Fausto Coppi (Ita) 1949 Rik Van Steenbergen (Bel) 1948 Fermo Camellini (Ita) 1947 Ernest Sterckx (Bel) 1946 Desire Keteleer (Bel) 1945 Marcel Kint (Bel) 1944 Marcel Kint (Bel) 1943 Marcel Kint (Bel) 1942 Karel Thijs (Bel) 1941 Sylvain Grysolle (Bel) 1939 Edmund Delathouwer (Bel) 1938 Emile Masson (Bel) 1937 Adolph Braeckeveldt (Bel) 1936 Philippe Demeersman (Bel)