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Photo ©: Sirotti

69th Flèche Wallonne - PT

Belgium, April 20, 2005

Three times a-Huy

By Jeff Jones

Davide Rebellin winning in 2004
Photo ©: AFP

The first of the two Belgian Ardennes Classics is the mid-week Flèche Wallonne, which literally translates into English as the Walloon Arrow. Created by newspaper Les Sports 70 years ago, La Flèche Wallonne will be run for the 69th time on Wednesday, April 20. It is being counted as a ProTour race on the UCI calendar this year, elevating it to the (UCI) level of the other spring classics.

The 201.5 km race starts in Charleroi, in the province of Hainaut, and heads east to Huy, where the riders pass through for the first of three laps. Each lap includes the legendary Mur de Huy, a viciously steep wall that rises 130m in 1.3 km and contains some extremely steep (greater than 15%) sections. The riders have to climb the Mur three times (km 62, km 96.5, km 201.5) and the finish is at the top on the last lap. In addition to this, there are a number of other small climbs to soften up the peloton before the final assault of the Mur. The Côte de Bellaire (km 160), Côte de Bohissau (km 171.5), and Côte de Ahin (km 190.5) are all important, falling in the final 40 kilometres of the race.

Last year, La Flèche Wallonne marked the second of Davide Rebellin's magic "triple", which also included the Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The Gerolsteiner rider is definitely in the right form to repeat his Flèche win, after finishing fourth in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. But the man of the moment is clearly Amstel winner Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi), who commented after the race that he believed it very unlikely that anyone would repeat Rebellin's triple this year. That doesn't mean that he's not going to try, but Di Luca's real aim is Liege-Bastogne-Liege at the end of the week.

Rabobank will not have all its big guns firing on Wednesday, as perennial AGR second place getter Michael Boogerd is skipping La Flèche in order to save himself for Liege on Sunday. But with riders like Oscar Freire and Erik Dekker, Rabobank still has the means to make amends for its Amstel disappointment.

The Davitamon-Lotto camp has already got one ProTour win under its belt, and will be working for another one this week with Axel Merckx and Serge Baguet, and perhaps Bjorn Leukemans, who finished 7th in the Amstel. 2002 winner Mario Aerts will not be racing as he is still recovering from a broken collarbone. T-Mobile has a few strong riders in its ranks, including Steffen Wesemann, Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden, but the team's best rider in this race last year was Matthias Kessler, who placed third. He is also on the roster for Wednesday.

Quick.Step possesses 2000 Flèche winner Rik Verbrugghe in its ranks, but the team will probably look to the more in-form riders like Marc Lotz and Patrik Sinkewitz, with Paolo Bettini and Filippo Pozzato also in the squad. The Liberty Seguros team saw a solid performance from David Etxebarria last Sunday, as he was involved in the key breakaway late in the race and, after being caught, backed up to finish 9th on the Cauberg. Jörg Jaksche is also on the start list for Liberty, but the Mur is not typically a climb suited to his talents.

Cofidis will likely rely on the talents of David Moncoutié, who is usually a good finisher on an uphill, while Lampre-Caffita will feature Damiano Cunego in its roster. The 2004 UCI number one is in good, but not top form so far this season. Cunego is looking to Liege-Bastogne-Liege as his main goal, but might show his face a few times in La Flèche.