7th Flèche Wallonne - CDM/68th Flèche Wallonne - 1.HC - CDM
Belgium, April 21, 2004
Commentary by Chris Henry, with additional reporting by Jeff Jones
Complete live report
Start time: 11:00 CEST
Estimated finish time: 16:20 CEST
Welcome to another mid-week classic, the Flèche Wallonne in the Ardennes hills of Belgium. Wedged in between the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Flèche isn't a World Cup event but it does carry its own prestige, finding a worthy winner each year atop the dreaded climb of the Mur de Huy.
Photo ©: CN
Defending champion Igor Astarloa is regrettably absent, sitting out his target classics thanks to Cofidis' volunatary withdrawal from competition. The field is full of top contenders, however, including Milan-San Remo winner Oscar Freire, Paolo Bettini, Michele Bartoli (winner in 1999), Danilo Di Luca, Tyler Hamilton, and so on. The race climbs the Mur de Huy three times over 199 kilometres, but it's the final ascent that counts.
The weather at the start was decent, with cloudy skies and temperatures around 12 degrees. A wind from the south could split big groups out in the open fields and help force a selection before the final climbs.
Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile)
Here's the story so far: on the first trip up the Mur, former winner Michele Bartoli (CSC) led the big bunch up the climb. At the back was a struggling Jan Ullrich, riding for T-Mobile today but not exactly thinking of a win in Huy.
Photo ©: CN
The first hour of racing was quite fast, with 48.7 kilometres covered but the bunch staying mostly together.
After the second lap up the Mur there were several small groups trying to break clear but the gaps were small.
Cyclingnews' Jeff Jones spoke to a number of riders at the start to see who's excited and looking for a big ride.
Lotto-Domo's Rik Verbrugghe, winner in 2001, is hoping that his form is coming back to his best levels.
"I hope today that I can ride in front in the finale," he said. "For me, it's important to protect my position. I've been training every day on these climbs.
"I rode the Vuelta a Aragon and the condition was as good as I hoped. Now for
Wallonne classics here, I hope it's also good."
A young rider looking forward to the Ardennes is US Postal Service's Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
"I like these races," he said with a smile. "In the espoirs I was second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, so I really love Flèche Wallonne and Liège. They've got some nice hills.
"I don't know how I'll go... It's the first big one so we'll see. I did Pais Vasco so that was good preparation. Then I did Redlands in the USA, so I think I should be good. We don't really have a team leader. I think Floyd [Landis] is good for the finale, and maybe Azevedo."
Right now we have a breakaway that's gone clear with two men: Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC) and Benoît Poilvet (Crédit Agricole). There's no coordinated response in the main field behind but several riders are trying to jump clear in search of the leaders.
Jan Hruska of Liberty Seguros has managed to go clear and is trying to bridge the gap.
News has just come too that Paolo Bettini, who's just signed a new contract with Quick.Step-Davitamon for two more years, has abandoned the race. No word yet on the reason.
13:59 CEST 126km/73km to go
There's a lot of looking around going on at the head of the main bunch. Riders look eager to start making the selections, but nobody is too keen on taking too big an initiative. It's single file at the front as more riders try to break free.
Defending Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Tyler Hamilton is here in his new Phonak colours, and seems to be motivated for a good ride. No doubt though he's thinking more of Sunday's defense of his title...
"We have a strong team," he told Cyclingnews. "We have Oscar Pereiro and Oscar Camenzind who are riding strongly. Hopefully myself as well, so we have several options.
"I felt like in Pais Vasco I was getting stronger as the race went on. I was a hair off from last year, just a little bit below. A race like that is so hard that if you're a fraction off you're a little bit behind. For me it was good training. It would have been great to do better, but it was more for preparation for these races.
Does Hamilton have similar goals to last year, when he won Liège and went on to win the Tour de Romandie?
"Yeah, why not? Even more for the Tour de Romandie. This year is probably more important, because being in a Swiss team it's a very important race for us."
The two leaders, Poilvet and Arvesen, have been joined by two more riders: Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step) and Erwin Thijs (Mr. Bookmaker). The accelerations are still coming in the main field behind, including some forcing from Michele Scarponi of Domina Vacanze, who could be a dark horse for today's race. He's caused a split with two riders in tow: Brad McGee (FDJeux.com) and a rider from Liberty Seguros.
The three chasers have reached the leaders, so we now have a seven man break leading the race. Correction, however, it's Gentili and not Scarponi up there for Domina Vacanze.
2002 winner Mario Aerts (T-Mobile)
With Jan Ullrich present for T-Mobile, we asked Mario Aerts (winner here in 2002) who would lead the team and what his own prospects were.
Photo ©: CN
"Matthias Kessler and Vinokourov are the leaders, but I don't know if they're really motivated because they did a hard race on Sunday and they will do [Liège] next Sunday. They will say in the race what they want to do. If I feel good I can do my own race."
"I think Jan's feeling normal. Good, not super. I think he'll be ready for the Tour..."
The seven man break has been caught by the fast-moving field, and the newest counter attack sees Jérôme Pineau (La Boulangère) go clear. The main field is still nervous and active behind.
14:18 CEST 138km/61km to go
A new chase group is trying to form in pursuit of Pineau, who looks quite good out alone in front. It'll be tough to stay away but Pineau has impressive speed on his own. The peloton is not letting many people go, so it's all together now as for the moment the counter attacks have shut down.
Photo ©: CN
Pineau has 26" on the field right now, which finds four Team CSC riders starting to organize the chase.
14:26 CEST 144km/55km to go
The race is in a transitional zone between the climb of the Côte de Pailhe and the next test, the Côte de Coutisse. Including the Coutisse there are four climbs before the final drag up the Mur de Huy.
The peloton is getting restless again, anxious to bring Pineau back. Mixing it up front in the field is US Postal's Van Den Broeck. He's just moved clear with Alessio's Alessandro Bertolini.
14:29 CEST 146km/53km to go
The two chasers have reached Pineau so we have three up front with a very modest advantage over the main field.
14:31 CEST 149km/50km to go
The peloton is almost entirely single file, winding through the farm roads in pursuit of the three leaders, who have just entered the little town of Perwez. A small counter attack is just slightly ahead of the main field but they're being pulled back.
Four men have gone clear in a chase: Elmiger (Phonak), Vicioso (Liberty Seguros), Kolobnev (Domina Vacanze), and De Weert (Rabobank). They're still having a tough time getting more than 50 metres on the field.
Pineau, Bertolini, and Van Den Broeck are still out front.
The chase is having trouble making full contact with Pineau, Van Den Broeck, and Bertolini, who are on the Côte de Coutisse. The gap is just a few seconds between the two groups but the three leaders are actually looking stronger.
The main field is now 40" behind, the first time they've had more than 30".
A US Postal rider has gone down by himself in the main field. It was Floyd Landis. He's back up and in the group, but feeling his right thigh. Landis is one of Postal's main men for these Ardennes classics.
He looks to have touched wheels with another rider, as he fell on his own while sitting in about 6th position in the main field.
14:49 CEST 160km/39km to go
On the Côte de Bellaire the three chasers are finally getting back to the leaders while the main field waits to sort itself out with an organized chase.
Bertolini has just attacked after an acceleration by Pineau. He grabs a few points for the climber's prize within the race.
From the main field Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval) attacks, followed by Belgian Philippe Gilbert (FDJeux.com). Gilbert pulls through and looks to Zaballa to up the pace.
Zaballa and Gilbert have a good gap on the main field as they take off in search of the leaders on some twisting, narrow roads.
The junction has been made up front so the break is now six: Pineau, Van Den Broeck, Bertolini, Kolobnev, Vicioso, and Elmiger.
14:56 CEST 167km/32km to go
With 33km to race, the six leaders have built a small but healthy gap of nearly 30", with Zaballa and Gilbert chasing hard behind. The difficult Côte de Bohissau is next up on the menu. The bigger break is cooperating well and very much forcing the pace to keep the peloton at bay.
They're at the foot of the climb, with percentages around 13%.
Gilbert and Zaballa have just hit the bottom of the climb and just about have the six leaders in sight. They're 20" back, another 20" ahead of the main field.
A new round of attacks is coming from the main field as it hits the Côte de Bohissau. The acceleration in the bunch has quickly caught Gilbert and Zaballa, who just seconds ago looked to be flying but now the legs are hurting.
Liberty Seguros and US Postal both have riders forcing the pace, which is questionable given that both teams have strong riders in the six man break.
The winner of women's World Cup race in Huy is Sonia Huget of the French national team.
Saeco and Rabobank are now taking control in the main field, ramping up the chase. Rabobank has Freire, Leipheimer, and Dekker as possible cards to play in today's race. Saeco will no doubt count on Di Luca.
The six riders are still clear but the peloton seems to be getting serious as the race enters the final 30 kilometres.
15:04 CEST 170km/29km to go
In the lead group it's Bertolini who once more puts in an acceleration on the hills. Pineau is still strong and able to stick to his wheel.
Meanwhile an Illes Balears rider, José Ivan Gutierrez, is breaking clear of the main group at the summit of the Côte de Bohissau.
And just like that, the break of six is swept up by the accelerating main field after the Côte de Bohissau. There are just two more climbs: the Côte de Ahin and the final rise up the Mur de Huy.
Euskaltel-Euskadi is now trying to launch riders clear in a new attack.
More details filtering in from the women's race today. After French national champion Sonia Huget it was Germany's Hanka Kupfernagel taking second place on top of the Mur.
15:10 CEST 173km/26km to go
Rabobank's Erik Dekker has now gone clear in a solo attack. He's a dangerous rider for sure, having already shown his strength with a late race counter attack in the Amstel Gold Race. Who will chase behind? No one team is taking responsibility yet and the favourites best not watch each other too much.
Gerolsteiner's Faresin is chasing.
Nico Sijmens of Landbouwkrediet has crashed. He doesn't look happy at all, still sitting in a ditch at the side of the road.
Dekker is the flying Dutchman today, looking very smooth as he carves through the turns. He's got 11 seconds on the main field, draping his arms over the tops of the handlebars in faux-time trial position.
Gerolsteiner is leading the chase behind Dekker. Amstel Gold Race winner Davide Rebellin is here, but he's kept himself well hidden in the field all day. Not many big names have been showing themselves, all waiting for an explosive finale.
15:14 CEST 178km/21km to go
The repeated turns, corners, and small roads are favouring Dekker over the big bunch. Plus, Faresin is the only rider pulling for Gerolsteiner, there's no organized team effort up front.
15:15 CEST 179km/20km to go
The penultimate climb of the Côte de Ahin is just 13km from the finish. Will the leaders try something there, or wait for the ultimate showdown on the Mur? This is a rather large field heading towards Huy.
Dekker now finds himself on a large, wide road, and he's out of the saddle looking for any acceleration he can get. A final drink before tossing his bidon to the side of the road and he's still hammering, never looking back nervously.
Faresin is still chasing for Gerolsteiner with a teammate slowly moving up to assist.
Meanwhile, Australian Oenene Wood should be set to keep her World Cup leader's jersey after today's race for the women.
15:21 CEST 183km/16km to go
Fassa Bortolo is moving to the front of the field, trying to get the team's resident Walloon Frank Vandenbroucke into position for the eventual attacks.
Dekker's starting to show a little strain from his effort, but his poker face is pretty good.
Now it's the turn of Lotto-Domo to send some men to the front. Is Verbgrugghe in as good shape as he hoped before the start? Axel Merckx also commented before the start that he was motivated... but nervous.
To recap the top three from today women's race:
1 Sonia Huget
2 Hanka Kupfernagel
3 Edita Pucinskaite
Dekker is on the climb of the Côte d'Ahin, a 3km drag with a summit just 11km from the finish. Riders are starting to get shelled out the back of the main field.
For the first time, Dekker takes a turn to see if the field is closing in.
Jurgen Van Goolen of Quick.Step accelerates and gets a small gap with US Postal's Chechu Rubiera for company.
15:26 CEST 187km/12km to go
Dekker knows now that the big reaction is coming. He's labouring more on the climb and looking back more often.
Rubiera and Van Goolen have just caught Dekker, as Di Luca accelerates from behind.
T-Mobile's Andreas Klöden starts an attack with Di Luca.
More riders forming a new break: Klöden, Di Luca, Michele Scarponi... and Vinokourov! Two men from T-Mobile and it's getting serious.
15:28 CEST 189km/10km to go
The group continues to swell at the front as more riders jump across, but the rest of the bunch is not far behind. David Etxebarria is up there for Euskaltel along with his teammate Samuel Sanchez.
Sanchez is playing a teammate's role for Etxebarria. He's already been on the attack earlier in the day, now he's attacking again from the first group. There are a few splits as the field crests the penultimate climb and heads across the fields.
A new counter behind includes Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo) and Vinokourov (T-Mobile), with Frank Vandenbroucke not far behind. Vino and Kirchen have caught Sanchez so we have three ahead.
15:32 CEST 190km/9km to go
The three leaders aren't riding well together... Kirchen seems to be there to protect VDB's chances, Vinokourov's strength is hard to judge. He's proven himself in many situations like this but his face looked more strained than usual.
It's looking more and more likely that there could be a peloton arriving en masse at the bottom of the Mur de Huy. The three leaders are being reeled in, and attacks before the Mur will be tough, though not impossible, to pull off. Granted, the peloton is considerably smaller now than it was an hour ago, but there must be at least 40 riders there.
15:35 CEST 194km/5km to go
Vinokourov, Sanchez, and Kirchen are hitting the hairpin bend on the final descent before the valley and the entry to Huy.
One rider is bridging the gap very quickly at the end of the descent. It's Mirko Celestino of Saeco, a definite contender today.
15:36 CEST 195km/4km to go
Vinokourov takes a pull up front as another chase of about 6 riders separates itself from the field. Cristian Moreni of Alessio-Bianchi is also trying to bridge to the four leaders.
Kirchen accelerates and Vinokourov marks him immediately.
There's a distinct lack of Belgians up front... Swiss, Kazakh, Italian, but no locals.
15:38 CEST 196km/3km to go
Three kilometres to go and the four leaders are starting to trade pulls more effectively to stay away.
Moreni has been pulled back by the field... and now so have the leaders!
This is a huge group charging into Huy.
15:39 CEST 197km/2km to go
Now it's a battle for position before the steep slopes of the Mur. Nobody at the back of this group will be making his way to the front once the climbing begins.
Saeco leads the field into Huy.
Rebellin and Bartoli have appeared at the front of the field.
Axel Merckx hits the slopes first of the Mur
Who will dare to attack first?
T-Mobile's Matthias Kessler is there, so is Klöden. Rebellin is up there, Vino is in third slot... Klöden has a gap of 5 metres.
Scarponi is moving up.
15:41 CEST 198km/1km to go
Still mostly together as they struggle up the Mur.
Di Luca is in second spot behind Kessler, with Rebellin in third position. Scarponi in fourth.
Di Luca attacks!
15:42 CEST Finish
Di Luca is giving it everything with Rebellin just behind him on the toughest stretch of the climb.
Rebellin and Di Luca are duking it out, getting distance on the rest.
Rebellin passes Di Luca and takes the win!! Amstel Gold followed by Flèche Wallonne. Bravo!
1 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
2 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Saeco
3 Matthias Kessler (Ger) T-Mobile
4 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Domina Vacanze
5 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile
6 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile
7 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) Fassa Bortolo
8 Marcos Serrano (Spa) Liberty Seguros
9 Markus Zberg (Swi) Gerolsteiner
the commentary team Results