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69th Flèche Wallonne - PT

Belgium, April 20, 2005

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Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Hedwig Kröner

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 13:45 CEST
Estimated finish time: 16:10 CEST

13:13 CEST    96km/105.5km to go

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
Click for larger image

Welcome aboard Cyclingnews' inflatable dirigible, "The Oxygen Transfer", which is hovering just above the Mur de Huy in south eastern part of Belgium. After being the only airborne craft to brave the dense fog in southern Limburg last Sunday, today is somewhat of an easier task as we have anchored the "Transfer" to the tennis courts adjacent to the finish line on the Mur, which is a damn sight nicer than Charleroi airport. You can therefore be assured that we will not miss a moment of the action in today's 69th Flèche Wallonne. Unless someone has booked the tennis court between 2 and 4 pm.

Today's race is 201.5 km long and started from the Stade du Pays de Charleroi at around 11:00am. The riders have already passed over the Mur de Huy for the first time and are tackling it for the second time. After this, there are just over 100 km to go including 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.

The weather is quite cool but calm, with no wind. It was a bit damp at the start, but it's clearing up now. Seven riders are riding up the Mur now: Davide Bramati (Quick.Step), Jens Voigt (CSC), Benoît Poilvet (CA), Frederic Finot (Francaise des Jeux), Kurt Van de Wouwer (MrBookmaker), Jef Peeters (Jacques), Oliver Kaisen (RAGT). They have 1'28 on the peloton.

13:16 CEST    98km/103.5km to go
The peloton is coming up the Mur, led by Bettini (Quick.Step), Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) and Klöden (T-Mobile). Cunego and Pozzato are well placed. Van Goolen (Quick.Step) is off the back a bit. The gap is 2'00 at the top.

13:22 CEST    100.5km/101km to go
The six leaders (one has been dropped) are over the top of the Mur and all together, with a 1'53 gap over the peloton. Stangelj (Lampre) leads the bunch through the feed zone at the top, then Liquigas takes over for Di Luca and Pellizotti. The latter can't be seen at the moment, but Di Luca certainly can in fifth wheel. Di Luca tells his teammates to ease up a bit, and they do.

The average speed has been quite fast so far, some 43 km/h, and we're on track to finish at about 16:00.

13:23 CEST   
We are back with seven leaders. Someone must have gone back for a drink.

13:24 CEST   
For those asking, we will have an update on the women's race when we see them on the Mur at about 15:00. If we can get any info before then, we will certainly let you know.

13:27 CEST    104.5km/97km to go
The leaders race through Les Gottes and are now on a narrow road through the lush green countryside. All are working well, with Peeters looking pretty good, as well as the irrepressible Jens Voigt.

13:28 CEST    105.5km/96km to go
The peloton's speed is picking up again, and the gap has gone from 2'00 on the Mur to 1'25. Rebellin's blue Gerolsteiner henchmen are at the front with the fluoro green jerseys of Liquigas.

13:31 CEST    106.5km/95km to go
The break realises the danger as some of the cars start to pass them, meaning the gap is getting down close to a minute. Jens Voigt picks up the pace, stringing them out, but it's now 1'17. There's just one Gerolsteiner rider on the front of the bunch, but he's having a pretty good effect.

13:33 CEST    108.5km/93km to go
The big Oliver Kaisen (RAGT) does a turn in the break, but then Jens Voigt comes through and lifts the tempo again. The gap is just 1'10.

13:36 CEST    110.5km/91km to go
Patrik Sinkewitz (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
Click for larger image
Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) does a turn in the peloton, then Marco Serpellini (Gerolsteiner). The pace has slowed, and the gap grows to 1'20 again.

Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner was at the start in Charleroi this morning, and spoke with German talent Patrik Sinkewitz (Quick.Step). "If my legs are as good as they were on Sunday, I hope to finish right at front," he said. "At Amstel I could have even placed better because I started the final climb at the back of the bunch really.

"Paolo [Bettini] doesn't have a problem at all riding for me, he enjoys it - that's if I have the legs today. He'd like to see me on the podium today, he says! He's recovering from his illness and getting stronger every day, though. As for the weather, I'd much prefer sun and 25 degrees, but hey! What can you do...? It would be good if stayed dry, though..."

13:39 CEST    112.5km/89km to go
Finnish champ Carlstrom is on the front of the peloton again, setting a steady tempo with his hands draped over the tops of the bars. Jörg Jaksche (Liberty) shows himself near the front, with teammate Nozal on his wheel, trying not to eat an energy bar wrapper. Or maybe he's trying not to eat the energy bar.

13:40 CEST   
Serge Parsani (DS Quick.Step) told us this morning that Sinkewitz "is in good form, he showed it at Amstel Gold Race. He's a young rider important to us, also for next Sunday. So if Patrik has good legs today, and Bettini is still in his group, then it's all for Sinkewitz. Bettini's alright with that. It's also an important race for Pozzato, where he could place well, and of course for Verbrugghe. It's a nervous race, and it will start off fast. We'll see after the first two laps where we stand, and try everything in the finale."

13:42 CEST    114.5km/87km to go
Voigt is back on the front of the break, but not doing a hard turn this time. The powerful German is taking it steady, hoping that the break survives until the last climb of the Mur. It's a big ask though, as they've only got 1'25 with 87 km to go in Villers-le-Temple.

The riders in the break: Davide Bramati (Quick.Step), Jens Voigt (CSC), Benoît Poilvet (CA), Frederic Finot (Francaise des Jeux), Kurt Van de Wouwer (MrBookmaker), Jef Peeters (Jacques), Oliver Kaisen (RAGT).

13:46 CEST    117.5km/84km to go
One of the outside favourites for today, Bjorn Leukemans (Davitamon-Lotto) is being towed back to the peloton by teammate Koos Moerenhout. Meanwhile, Serpellini, Carlstrom and Verstrepen are leading the peloton at 1'35 behind the front septet.

The break passes the church and graveyard at Scry.

13:49 CEST    119.5km/82km to go
Carlström is back on the front, riding on his imaginary TT bars, which the UCI have deemed safer than real ones. The leaders keep going through the back farm roads under grey skies.

13:52 CEST    121.5km/80km to go
Alejandro Valverde has a radio problem and goes back to the team car to get it fixed. He's back in the peloton now.

13:53 CEST   
The next climb, the Cote de Pailhe, is approaching in about 10 km.

13:55 CEST    124.5km/77km to go
The peloton is picking up speed again, courtesy of the two Liquigas men, Serpellini (Gerolsteiner) and Thierry de Grootte (Landbouwkrediet). The gap falls to 1'30.

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Discovery) is back with the team car to get a bottle. Celestino is back there, being brought up by his Domina Vacanze teammates.

14:01 CEST    129.5km/72km to go
The break is now enjoying some sunshine as it passes yet another grand Wallonian building, the Chateau de Modave. Still around 1'30 to the peloton, which doesn't seem interested in closing it down yet.

14:04 CEST    130.5km/71km to go
It falls to 1'11 as De Grootte does a big turn. The average speed after three hours is a brisk 43.3 km/h./

14:06 CEST    132.5km/69km to go
The leaders get a bit of a break just before the Côte de Pailhe, but now it will get tough to hold off the peloton.

Serpellini is back on the front with Carlström.

14:08 CEST    133.5km/68km to go
Kaisen is dropped on the Pailhe as Voigt does a strong turn. Finot is hanging 10m off the back too. He looks toast. No he comes back. Six leaders at 1'05.

14:11 CEST    135.5km/66km to go
Moreau is at the back of the peloton, but he's not in trouble. One of the main attackers in the Amstel Gold Race is looking good today.

Voigt's tempo in the break has extended the gap out to 1'15 again. In the peloton, it's still the same two Liquigas riders and Serpellini, as Vasseur (Cofidis) moves into fourth wheel.

The leaders enter the province of Namur again.

14:12 CEST    136.5km/65km to go
Kaisen is back with the peloton now. Six leaders: Davide Bramati (Quick.Step), Jens Voigt (CSC), Benoît Poilvet (CA), Frederic Finot (Francaise des Jeux), Kurt Van de Wouwer (MrBookmaker), Jef Peeters (Jacques).

Guerini (T-Mobile) has a problem with his bike, but is back on it again now.

14:13 CEST   
The gap comes down to a minute again, thanks to Serpellini. A few more teams are getting nervous and moving their men up to the front. The real finale should start soon.

14:15 CEST   
Correction: Kaisen has made it back to the break. Nice work by the young Belgian!

14:17 CEST    139.5km/62km to go
Kaisen's presence probably won't be a lot of use to the leaders, who now have just 54 seconds of their lead, which was a maximum of 3'10.

14:21 CEST    141.5km/60km to go
Martin Wynants (Jacques) has another problem with his bike, but gets a quick change and is back in the peloton. 60 km to go and Finot has attacked out the back of the break. Meanwhile, Jens Voigt and Jef Peeters have attacked off the front of the break.

Further behind, Preben van Hecke (Lotto) and Benoît Joachim (Discovery) have counter attacked the peloton.

14:24 CEST    144.5km/57km to go
The break has completely fragmented with Voigt and Peeters going off the front. Finot, Poilvet, Van de Wouwer and Bramati are behind, but not really chasing. Kaisen has now given up and gone back to the bunch. Joachim and Van Hecke are in there somewhere, as another two riders: Marichal (Cofidis) and Calzati (Ag2r) attack the peloton.

14:25 CEST    146.5km/55km to go
Thierry Marichal (Cofidis) and Sylvain Calzati (Ag2r) have now caught Davide Bramati (Quick.Step), Benoît Poilvet (CA), Frederic Finot (Francaise des Jeux) and Kurt Van de Wouwer (MrBookmaker). Voigt and Peeters are still off the front, but Van Hecke and Joachim have been caught by the bunch, which is led by Serpellini at 1'22. The chasers are at 1'09.

14:29 CEST    148km/53.5km to go
Ben Day, Laurent Paumier (MrBookmaker), Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) and Andriy Grivko (Domina Vacanze) crash near the back of the peloton.

In front, Voigt and Peeters have 1'10 on the nearest chasers and 1'40 on the peloton. There's no holding back now!

Illes Balears and Domina are at the front of the peloton, chasing Erik Dekker who has just attacked.

14:34 CEST    151.5km/50km to go
Dekker still has a bit of a gap over the peloton, which is getting restless. But there are still two groups ahead of him. The Dutch champion is caught. Now just Voigt and Peeters at 1'45 and Marichal, Calzati, Bramati, Poilvet, Finot and Van de Wouwer at about 45 seconds.

Pozzato needs a wheel change.

14:35 CEST   
Peeters does a turn now - he has been sitting on Voigt all this time. They have 2'00.

14:36 CEST   
David Moncoutié (Cofidis)
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
Click for larger image
David Moncoutié (Cofidis) told us this morning that "The climbs are a little too short for me. I'll try to attack before the final climb - if I arrive at the bottom of the Mur de Huy with the bunch, it will be hard. So I have to anticipate."

14:39 CEST    154.5km/47km to go
Löwik and Sijmens crash in the peloton, but it's not serious. They're going again. The bunch isn't hanging around, but Voigt and Peeters still have 2'00 as they hit the Côte de Coutisse. The six chasers are 1'30 behind Voigt and Peeters.

14:41 CEST    156.5km/45km to go
Voigt gives it plenty of gas on the Coutisse, but Peeters is able to hang on.

The peloton is just about to catch the chase group of six, as Marichal and Calzati try to stay away. Brandt counters, driving through the remnants of the break. Verheyen is with him.

14:44 CEST    158.5km/43km to go
The peloton is breaking up as Bichot, Brandt and two others get a small gap, 1'37 behind Voigt and Peeters. Voigt attacks! Peeters gives it everything to try to hold the powerful German, but no...

14:47 CEST    160.5km/41km to go
The three chasers behind Voigt (and Peeters): Patxi Vila (Lampre), Moos (Phonak), Bichot (FDJ). Brandt had a bike problem and has gone back to the peloton.

Voigt is driving up the Côte de Bellaire now, with 1'47 over the bunch.

14:50 CEST    162.5km/39km to go
Matthieu Sprick (Bouygues) has crashed into the side of the road, along with Castresana and Coenen. Sprick doesn't look too good, but he's up again.

Nicole Cooke (SAFI) has won the women's Flèche Wallonne, beating Oenone Wood (Nürnberger), Judith Arndt (Nürnberger) and Mirjam Melchers (Buitenpoort). Cooke went so hard that she collapsed after the finish line.

Benoît Vaugrenard (FDJ) has attacked the peloton.

14:52 CEST    164.5km/37km to go
Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) was third here last year. The German told us this morning, "We will do our best as we always do. Every race counts, and with the amount of races we've won so far we really have to observe the races differently now."

Voigt has 1'49 over the peloton. There's still a group with Moos, Vila and Bichot in between.

14:53 CEST    165.5km/36km to go
Voigt hits the Cote de Bellaire at full speed, driving in the big ring. Impressive work by the CSC super-diesel.

The peloton has caught counter-attacker Vaugrenard.

14:54 CEST    166.5km/35km to go
CSC's press officer Brian Nygaard updated Cyclingnews on the status of Ivan Basso.
"Ivan Basso is in good shape. We have conducted some performance tests in Germany, and the results are very good. He might be able to show his abilities in the last climb, but his true goal is Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday."

14:56 CEST    167.5km/34km to go
Vila is now joined by Pieter Ghyllebert and a Discovery rider. No sign of Moos and Bichot. But the peloton will likely sweep them all up.

14:59 CEST    169.5km/32km to go
Voigt is now in the small chainring on the steep Côte de Bohissau (the last one was the Bellaire, sorry). He still has 1'46 and doesn't look like slowing down for a coffee break.

In the peloton, it's Illes Balears, Liquigas and Phonak's Murn in front.

15:00 CEST    169.5km/32km to go
Rik Verbrugghe attacks on the Bohissau! He gets a gap. He won this race four years ago with a similar move.

15:03 CEST    171.5km/30km to go
Verbrugghe has now caught Jef Peeters on the Bohissau. The pair 1'39 behind the impressive Voigt, who is at the top of the climb and fighting his way along the false flat.

15:03 CEST   
It's raining a little now...

15:04 CEST   
Gerolsteiner DS Christian Henn
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
Click for larger image
Jörg Jaksche spoke to us this morning, and said, "I feel good, we'll see how it goes in the race. The climbs are short and explosive for guys like Kessler, who can really push it hard during three minutes. But Flèche is between Amstel and Liège, and both of these races have more prestige, so anything can happen here."

15:06 CEST    173.5km/28km to go
Voigt has increased his advantage out to 1'52! Verbrugghe and Peeters are swallowed by the Liquigas boys on the front of the peloton. Still spots of rain falling, but the roads are dry here.

15:08 CEST    174.5km/27km to go
The peloton is strung out in a long line now in pursuit of the lone leader, Jens Voigt. Illes Balears has got it cranking with Liquigas. 1'36.

15:11 CEST    176.5km/25km to go
It's Voigt against the peloton with 25 km and two climbs to go. An Illes Balears rider is hammering on the front of the peloton, along with Liquigas. Pellizotti is up to third wheel, while Di Luca is in sixth. Jaksche and Kirchen are also well up there, as is Freire.

15:13 CEST    178.5km/23km to go
The rain starts to fall a bit harder but that doesn't deter Jens Voigt, who is mashing along in his typical style en route to the Cote de Ahin. Jaksche is now in second wheel in the bunch, at 1'26.

15:14 CEST    179.5km/22km to go
The peloton is in full pursuit of Voigt now, and has the gap pegged to 1'21. But it's not over yet as the wet roads will make it hard to chase. Voigt has a few problems with his chain/gears on a descent.

15:15 CEST   
Murn is back on the front for Phonak, with a Lampre man there too. Look out for Cunego in today's finish.

15:17 CEST    181.5km/20km to go
Another crash! Thomas Dekker is down with about six others. They're all strewn across the road. This has been a very crash filled race. Strange fall - Dekker crashed by slamming on the brakes after riders crashed in front of him. He didn't even get close to hitting them.

Murn is back on the front of the peloton, still at 1'18. Voigt can sniff victory, but it's still 20 km away and up a couple of big hills.

15:19 CEST    182.5km/19km to go
Murn has to take the descent very gingerly. That's not going to help the chase. It's murderously slippery.

Mauro Facci (Fassa) and Aldag and Sevilla (T-Mobile) were also in the crash.

15:19 CEST    183.5km/18km to go
Voigt has to slow right down to take a corner, but he's back up to full speed again as he heads towards the Ahin. Still 1'18 - the CSC rider is going very well.

15:20 CEST    184.5km/17km to go
Voigt drives through the rain, which is not too heavy but enough to make it slippery now. Murn is still leading the chase, at 1'16.

15:22 CEST   
Murn, the Slovenian champion, is working with Szmyd (Lampre) in the pursuit. They're going to need more than two men to catch Voigt. He still has 1'18. Amazing work.

15:23 CEST    185.5km/16km to go
Xabier Zandio (Balears), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner) and Marcus Ljungqvist (Liquigas) come to lend a hand. Then a host of Lampre-Caffita blue and pink outfits.

15:24 CEST    186.5km/15km to go
Voigt told Cyclingnews this morning that he didn't want to start the final climb with the rest, so his attack was planned...

Stangelj is driving the peloton at 1'11 behind the German.

15:24 CEST   
Stangelj pulls off and an Illes Balears rider takes over. Then Ljungqvist. Vinokourov is well placed near the front.

15:26 CEST    188.5km/13km to go
Voigt will hit the Cote de Ahin with just over a minute of his lead, it looks like. The roads haven't got any drier and it's quite cold and wet now.

The chase has gotten a bit more organised on the big roads. Murn is in action again. Obviously Phonak is not riding for him today!

15:27 CEST    189.5km/12km to go
The bunch pegs the gap back to 49 seconds at the foot of the Ahin. 12 km to go. This will be hard for Voigt.

15:28 CEST    189.5km/12km to go
Voigt is losing time rapidly, as Stangelj drives off the front of the peloton with a Landbouwkrediet rider in tow - Bert De Waele. 39 seconds.

15:29 CEST    190.5km/11km to go
A Credit Agricole rider comes up to De Waele and Stangelj, and passes them. It's Andrey Kashechkin. Voigt now has only 28 seconds. He's gone, it looks like.

15:30 CEST    190.5km/11km to go
Kashechkin can see Voigt 15 seconds ahead of him as he gets to 1km from the summit. The others have dropped back to the peloton.

Voigt looks behind.

15:31 CEST   
Kashechkin is strong as he closes the gap to Voigt, steadily. He has about 10 seconds on the peloton.

15:32 CEST    191km/10.5km to go
Plenty of attacking in the peloton now as Vino shows himself near the front with Di Luca, Kessler, Celestino and Cunego. A Liberty rider has managed to get a gap.

Andrey Kashechkin is still in pursuit of Voigt.

15:33 CEST   
Vino attacks! Kirchen goes with him.

15:33 CEST    191.5km/10km to go
The Liberty rider is Vicioso. He is chasing Voigt and Kashechkin, with Vino and Kirchen behind him.

15:35 CEST    192.5km/9km to go
Vino and Kirchen are back, as is Vicioso. But it's still Voigt in the lead - he hasn't been caught by Kashechkin yet. The gaps are small though: Voigt has 15 seconds on Kashechkin with 9 km to go. He has been away since km 50.

15:35 CEST    193.5km/8km to go
Voigt continues to hammer away in front, holding 16 seconds lead on Andrey Kashechkin and 23 over the peloton. A Euskaltel rider is in pursuit now.

15:36 CEST    194km/7.5km to go
Vasseur counters from the peloton with Dekker on his wheel. It's very wet here, and very dangerous. Vasseur likes it.

15:37 CEST    194.5km/7km to go
Vasseur's move has the peloton in one long line, but Kashechkin is now caught. Still Jens Voigt in front with 17 seconds!!

15:38 CEST    195.5km/6km to go
The peloton is fairly large at the moment - maybe 60-70 riders. They're descending 16 seconds behind Jens Voigt, who is flying down towards Huy. Just one more climb. Easy.

15:39 CEST    196.5km/5km to go
Voigt takes the hairpin and is nearly at the foot of the descent. He only has 14 seconds. He's going to need more than that.

15:40 CEST   
Voigt goes under 5 km with just 9 seconds on a group of four chasers. Kashechkin , Vasseur, Pineau and Moos are there, with the peloton a few seconds behind.

15:41 CEST    197.5km/4km to go
It's Chavanel, not Pineau. They catch Voigt, and there are five leaders. Voigt hooks onto the back.

15:41 CEST   
And it's Pereiro, not Moos :-)

15:42 CEST    198.5km/3km to go
The leaders: Jens Voigt (CSC), Kashechkin, Vasseur, Chavanel and Pereiro. Lampre is leading the peloton about 10 seconds behind, and then the rest of the favourites are massing in preparation for the Mur. Evans can be seen near the front for Lotto.

15:44 CEST    200.5km/1km to go
A Liquigas rider ups the tempo as Pereiro drives. Chavanel was in the break, not Vasseur. So it was Jens Voigt (CSC), Kashechkin, Pineau, Chavanel and Pereiro.

The bunch is together at the foot of the Mur. 1 km to go.

15:44 CEST   
The leaders fight for position in front - maybe 25 riders in contention. Lampre still driving it with 1km to go. Now the climb gets harder.

15:45 CEST   
Vinokourov is well placed as the climb steepens. Evans is there on the left hand side, and Di Luca is in front too. Rebellin and Freire are there, as are Sinkewitz, Celestino and Valverde.

15:46 CEST    201km/0.5km to go
Freire, Rebellin and Vino are the front three, then Di Luca right behind with Sinkewitz and Celestino. Merckx is in about 15th.

15:47 CEST    201.5km/0km to go
Sinkewitz takes over in front with Di Luca there. The Italian looks good, but Rebellin is ready. Freire still there and Vino.

Now it's Kirchen accelerating, but Di Luca drives and drives all the way and wins La Flèche Wallonne!!!!! Kirchen second, ahead of Rebellin. How about that? Di Luca wins his third ProTour race of the season and takes the lead in the ProTour classification. Can he do the triple in LBL?

Thanks for following today's Flèche Wallonne with us on Cyclingnews. Stay tuned for our Tour de Georgia coverage soon on live.cyclingnews.com.


1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas - Bianchi            4.44.55
2 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Fassa Bortolo 
3 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 
4 David Etxebarria Alkorta (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team 
5 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank 
6 Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team 
7 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Quickstep 
8 Aitor Osa Eizaguirre (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne 
9 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon - Lotto

ProTour standings

1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas - Bianchi               130 pts
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step                           112 
3 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank                            94
4 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                93
5 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner                     86

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