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6th Flèche Wallonne - CDM/67th Flèche Wallonne - 1.HC
Belgium, April 23, 2003
By Jeff Jones
Serving as a World Cup race for women and an Hors Categorie race for men, La Flèche Wallonne is the only Ardennes 'double header'. As its name indicates, the race is run in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium, and is organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation, which is responsible for the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and several other big races.
Both men's and women's races finish atop the Mur de Huy, a tough 1.4 kilometre climb averaging around 10%, with the steepest part at 20%. It's often the decisive point of the race, the men having to tackle it three times in the last 63 km, while the women do it just once at the finish. Prior to this there are a number of relatively short but steep climbs, and these usually serve to soften up the peloton before the final rush to Huy
The men's race is 199.5 km, starting in Charleroi and heading straight to Huy, where they do two different circuits before the finish. The women's race starts and finishes in Huy and is only 97.5 km, making it one of the shortest World Cup races. The fact that the women's peloton is larger and stronger than ever points towards a lengthening of the World Cup races in order to make them more selective. 141 riders from 163 starters finished the women's Amstel Gold on Sunday - a far greater proportion of finishers than in the men's race - and that should send a message to the UCI and race organisers in future.
There has been some rearranging of the calendar in April, with the Amstel Gold Race taking place before La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, instead of a week after L-B-L as is usually the case. In some ways this makes a little more sense, as Amstel is a more suitable segue into the Ardennes week than Paris-Roubaix.
The defending champion in this year's race is Belgian Mario Aerts (then with Lotto, now with Telekom), who dropped his breakaway companions on the Mur last year to take the biggest win of his career. This year, Aerts has struggled with sickness and injury in the early part of the season, and may find it hard going in this race. Telekom also has Alexandre Vinokourov, who won the Amstel and wants to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege next Sunday. If Vino has recovered and is motivated for this race, then he is a definite threat. Unfortunately, Telekom will be without Cadel Evans, who broke his collarbone in a crash in Amstel and will miss the next few weeks of competition.
Lotto-Domo will be present with 2001 winner Rik Verbrugghe, who is also coming into form after a shaky start to the season. The silver-haired resident of Chaudfontaine knows these roads well, and will have the company of Axel Merckx as a co-team leader for this race.
The Quick.Step-Davitamon squad is looking for another big win after several near misses in the recent classics, and who better to do it than Frank Vandenbroucke, who is well suited to this race and just needs things to go his way a little, as they haven't done in the last two World Cups. VDB is targeting L-B-L as well, and this race will be an important gauge for Sunday.
Rabobank, smarting from its loss on Sunday in Amstel, will be relying on Michael Boogerd again to try and do what he couldn't on Sunday. The finish up the Mur de Huy is tailor made for Boogerd, but he'll have to ensure he gets to the hill in a position to win.
Saeco is due for a win in a classic soon, having placed on the podium in three of the four World Cups so far. La Flèche Wallonne is a race suited to its power climbing specialists Danilo Di Luca, Igor Astarloa and Mirko Celestino, who are also targeting L-B-L.
CSC features Tyler Hamilton, who was a protagonist in last year's race, and has the ability to do well on this type of terrain.
Cofidis has climbing specialist David Moncoutie in its ranks, and his victories in the Mont Faron stage of the Tour of Med and the GP Lugano show that he has some form this year. If he is in the front group at the foot of the climb, he will be tough to beat.
1999 winner Michele Bartoli (Fassa Bortolo) just missed the break on Sunday in Amstel, but his form is gradually improving. He's certainly not at his 1999 level, but is a rider who you can never underestimate in a race like this.
Another past winner who is in form is Francesco Casagrande (2000 winner). The Lampre rider was a dangerous man in the break on Sunday, riding solo for a few kilometres in the finale. He's a good climber and relishes this type of finish.
In the Italian theme there is also Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), who tends to do well on uphill finishes although he prefers it to be a little flatter to put his sprint to good use. Rebellin showed good form on Sunday to finish 4th and should be a protagonist in this race as well as Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Finally, and by no means least, there is Jan Ullrich (Team Coast), who put in an impressive display of power on Monday to win the Rund um Köln with a 50 km solo breakaway. It wasn't an easy parcours either, containing more than 10 climbs of between 500m and 2 km, and Jan was simply too strong for the others. He is looking more at Liege, but if the opportunity arises in this race, he is certain to take it.
The women's race will be no less competitive this year, with a large field stacked with top class riders. Three time winner and defending champion Fabiana Luperini (Team 2002 Aurora RSM) will be a definite favourite, although she has yet to really show herself this year.
Amstel Gold Race winner Nicole Cooke (Ausra Gruodis-Safi) is clearly in good shape, and will rely on her aggressive racing style and excellent sense of timing to try and add this race to her palmares. Ausra Gruodis also features sprinter Rochelle Gilmore, who often surprises in hilly races.
World Cup leader Sara Carrigan (Powerplate-Bik) will be looking to add some more points to her lead in Huy, with the competition for the jersey still very close. Carrigan is a strong rider, and has shown it in each of the rounds so far, and shouldn't have too many problems with the Mur.
World Champ Susanne Ljungskog (Catalunya-Aliverti-Kookai) has been close to winning a World Cup all season, but has yet to do so. Perhaps the Mur de Huy will smile on her this time.
Team Nürnberger features 1999 winner Hanka Kupfernagel, as well as Judith Arndt and Margaret Hemsley, all good climbers with a chance on the Mur.
Farm Frites Hartol's Mirjam Melchers is sure to be in the action, as she too has been quite consistent this year in the World Cups, picking up one win so far.
The Prato Marathon Bike team includes Zoulfia Zabirova and Nicole Brandli, both fitted to this course.
Finally there are the various national teams, with Australia including climber Oenone Wood and Olivia Gollan, and the USA T-Mobile squad with Kim Bruckner and Dede Demet-Barry.
Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of the 67th Fleche Wallonne,
starting from 14:00 CEST/08:00 EDT/05:00 PDT/22:00 AEST.
(Prizemoney in €) Place Men Women 1st 5,065 667 2nd 2,532 400 3rd 1,691 320 4th 1,391 267 5th 1,252 213 6th 1,195 173 7th 1,095 160 8th 1,017 147 9th 877 133 10th 799 120 11th 724 107 12th 581 93 13th 556 80 14th 442 67 15th 364 53 16th 268 40 17th 268 40 18th 268 40 19th 268 40 20th 268 40 21st 200 27 22nd 200 27 23rd 200 27 24th 200 27 25th 200 27
Men 2002 Mario Aerts (Bel) Lotto-Adecco 198 kms in 4.42.04 (42.117 km/h) 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) Women 2002 Fabiana Luperini (Ita) 93 kms in 2.33.15 2001 Fabiana Luperini (Ita) Edilsavino 93 kms in 2.41.32 2000 Genevieve Jeanson (Can) Canada 1999 Hanka Kupfernagel (Ger) Greenery Hawk Team 1998 Fabiana Luperini (Ita)