70th Flèche Wallonne - PT
Belgium, April 19, 2006
Live Commentary by Jeff Jones with additional reporting from Anthony Tan
and Brecht Decaluwé
Live coverage starts: 13:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 16:00 CEST
By Anthony Tan in Charleroi
2005 champion Danilo Di Luca will face
stiff opposition in this year's Flèche Wallonne
Photo ©: AFP
Its literal translation, 'The Walloon Arrow', doesn't give too much away, but
given its location in the Belgian Ardennes, its shorter distance compared to
the other Spring Classics and comparatively less climbing, the 70th edition
of the men's Flèche Wallonne is likely to be moving in said formation until
one third of the way through the race.
At that point, and in the vein of the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday, riders
will tackle the first of three ascensions of the dreaded though legendary Mur
de Huy. The Mur's statistics need no further explanation: 1.3 kilometres in
length, an average gradient of 10% with sections up to 19%, and rising 130 metres
within this short distance.
Leaving the Stade du Pays de Charleroi at five past eleven Wednesday morning,
the 202 kilometre parcours heads northeast to Eghezee (km 37) then east to Huy
after 61.5 kilometres, reaching the summit of Mur de Huy four kilometres later.
From there, the peloton, most probably still intact, will complete a small,
30 kilometre clockwise route that sees them crest the Mur de Huy for a second
time after 95 kilometres via the Côte de Amay (km 81.5).
The second and final loop around the Belgian Ardennes will be the decisive
one; over the next 107 kilometres, the peloton takes on a lumpy, bumpy clockwise
parcours with four climbs en route - the Côte de Pailhe (km 132.5), Côte de
Hautebisse (km 154.5), Côte de Bohissau (km 173.5) and Côte de Ahin (km 191.0)
- before the race culminates on the 'Wall of Huy' for the third and final time.
Cyclingnews will be covering the 70th Flèche Wallonne live,
beginning at 14:00 local time (CEST)/08:00 EDT (USA East)/05:00 PDT (USA West)/22:00
AEST (Australia East).
Click here for the full preview.
Tap, tap, is this thing on? Yes,
it seems. We're back again in the cockpit of the Hindenburg V, which
has been specially modified for one handed flying. Riding isn't dangerous, crashing
is dangerous, to paraphrase Spike Milligan. Be that as it may, today we're anchored
again to the tennis court at the top of the Mur de Huy, where an estimated crowd
has come out to watch La Fleche Wallonne.
It's the first of the two
Ardennes classics, and it is a ProTour race. The men will be fighting it out
over 202 km, while the women do 106 km. Both races finish on top of the Mur,
a 1.3 km climb averaging 10 percent, but with sections of 19 percent in places.
It's pretty tough. The men actually do three passes of the Mur, while the women
just finish there.
It was sunny and warmish at the start in Charleroi
this morning, with temps in the mid-teens. Most riders were upbeat about their
chances, even if they didn't leave the comfort of their team buses until about
30 minutes to go. There were two non-starters: Manuele Mori (Saunier Duval)
and Frank Vandenbroucke (Unibet), who had a fever.
13:42 CEST 108km/94km to go
Koos Moerenhout fell
and abandoned before the official start, leaving Phonak with one less rider.
Vandenbroucke was replaced by Erwin Thijs.
There were blood tests
this morning: QuickStep, Davitamon-Lotto, Team Milram and Lampre - Fondital.
All 28 riders allowed to start.
Daniel Musiol (Milram) made the first
attack of the day, but it wasn't until around km 30 when José Luis Arrieta (Ag2R
Prevoyance) and Frédéric Finot (Française Des Jeux) got a clear gap. After 60
km, they had nearly 5 minutes. Finot punctured, but Arrieta waited for him,
and was first to the top of the Mur de Huy for the first time. Last year's winner
Danilo Di Luca led the peloton over the top, 4'25 behind.
de Amay (km 91), the peloton was at 7 minutes, then on the second ascent of
the Mur de Huy (km 95), it was 7'35 with Milram doing the chasing. The gap has
now been pegged back to 4'08 with 94 km to go. Discovery Channel is on the front.
Interesting abandons today: Wim van Huffel (Davitamon) and Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner).
Wim Van Huffel (Davitamon) is the
climbing prospect of Belgium, and is hoping to reach top form soon. "This is
the most important time of the year for me," he told Cyclingnews at the start.
"The Amstel Gold Race was not on my program, but I wanted to race there because
I was feeling good. Today, I'm starting here to do well. I'll skip Liège-Bastogne-Liège
because I'll do some more specific training for the Giro d'Italia."
That grand tour was the start of a great season last year for the Davitamon
rider: "My ambition is to finish into the top-10 [last year Van Huffel finished
11th]. The mountains are my terrain; I want to shine there."
trialing is not the speciality of the Belgian climber, but he's more bothered
with the team time trial: "I hope we don't lose too much time over there. Bert
Roesems is also starting the Giro, he will be of great support, Jufre will do
the same for me in the mountains."
13:48 CEST 110km/92km to go
Fothen, Jaksche, Davis, Garcia Acosta, Kessler, and Valjavec have launched a
counter attacked after the leading pair. And...Jens Voigt (CSC).
13:50 CEST 112km/90km to go
Kessler counter attacks
now, as the group has grown too big. The two leaders are rapidly coming back,
and are just 2'00 ahead of the peloton, which is splitting into echelons due
to the wind.
13:52 CEST 115km/87km to go
Kessler gets a nice
gap and is just 1'20 behind the two leaders. The peloton is another 12 seconds
13:57 CEST 117km/85km to go
Kessler is caught
by the front riders of the peloton, and the counter attacks start again. The
gap comes down to 0'53 to Arrieta and Finot. It's plummeting.
14:01 CEST 121km/81km to go
The lead pair aren't
going to survive much longer, as their gap is just 27 seconds. But, good effort
all the same. They got their publicity.
14:04 CEST 123km/79km to go
It's now 16 seconds
as the peloton bears down on the two lonely breakaways. Another attack from
T-Mobile stretches things out a bit, and it's gutter work as the wind makes
it hard to find shelter. Now a Lampre rider gets a gap. Commesso.
14:06 CEST 124km/78km to go
Commesso is caught
and the bunch is almost on top of the break. A Milram rider counters, and might
catch them first. No, it's just the peloton in general. Breakaway over.
CSC director Scott
Sunderland comments: "With 90kms to go the race has really started, the
speed in the group is growing. There seems to be a lot of side-wind, which is
causing more nervousness in the peloton. No team has taken control of the race
We spoke to Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto)
before the start today, and the Australian was pleased with how things are going.
CN: Which did you prefer - Fleche or Liege?
I think Fleche is a better race for me, but Liege is the bigger race and slightly
more prestigious, but they're both great races.
you consider yourself to be one of the favourites?
Yeah, both days, actually.
CN: Are you content with your form
over the last few weeks?
CE: Yeah, yeah... it's
been good, except my time trial in Pais Vasco was about one minute behind what
I had hoped for. Otherwise, it's been good progression, and this is really my
first test for the year - this week's to see how I'm really going.
14:10 CEST 127km/75km to go
The attacking continues
in the peloton, but no-one can get clear now. Gusev and Devolder are near the
front as a Lampre rider shoots off. He gets company though.
14:14 CEST 130km/72km to go
is the next rider to try to attack.
14:18 CEST 132km/70km to go
Posthuma has a bandage
on his right elbow, which is flapping in the breeze. Probably a result of a
crash in the Amstel Gold Race. He has a good 15 seconds.
have Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Wim Van Huffel (Davitamon-Lotto) left
the race, Luca Paolini (Liquigas) and José Antonio Garrido (Quick Step - Innergetic)
stopped on the second climb of the Mur de Huy.
14:19 CEST 133km/69km to go
Posthuma is just
about caught as they hit the cote de Pailhe by Mugerli and Voigt. The Dutchman
looks back and waits a bit.
14:23 CEST 135km/67km to go
Now it's Stijn Devolder
(Discovery) on the attack. He gets a little gap but is looking around for support.
The peloton is happy to give it to him.
An update on Koos Moerenhout, who
crashed on his head before the official start today. He was out cold for some
time and was taken to hospital. He has nothing broken, but it is unsure whether
he will start this weekend.
Joost Posthuma is one of the classy
young riders of the Rabobank team. In the Amstel Gold Race, we saw him doing
a lot of work for the team. Cyclingnews asked Posthuma if he will have
to do the same work today: "Maybe, I think about my own result more today. But
I don't know how I recuperated from Sunday's race. I did some relaxing training
rides but we'll have to see how good I am today."
Posthuma had some
descent results in the early season, so was he bothered about working for the
team? "I'm not annoyed about that really; if you're in a team with big favourites
like Michael Boogerd and Oscar Freire, you can't expect that they work for you.
In the races before the AGR, I could ride my own race, so I'm not bothered at
all. At least, I survived the team selection; being able to ride these races
is already very nice for me."
After Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Posthuma
takes a break to come back in the Tour of Catalunya, focusing on the Tour de
14:28 CEST 139km/63km to go
Now it's Oscar Freire
on the go, being joined by a Phonak rider. Alex Moos.
Vladimir Gusev (Discovery)
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
14:30 CEST 141km/61km to go
Vladimir Gusev is
one of the strongest men in the Discovery Channel team. Cyclingnews asked
him how he was looking forward to today's race: "Today is more like a training
for Sunday's race, as that one is far more important than this one; in Liège
I'll ride à bloc of course. After Sunday, I'm having a holiday before coming
back to the Dauphiné Libéré and of course the Tour de France."
attacks after Freire and Moos, and gets another Rabobank for company: Alex Kolobnev.
And Laurens ten Dam from Unibet.
14:32 CEST 142km/60km to go
Moos and Freire
get 17 seconds as Garzelli reacts, followed by several others. David Etxebarria
is there too.
The leaders have 19 seconds
over chase group, who have been caught by the peloton. Up front, Freire
and Moos keep their heads down, trying to extend their gap again
Frederik Willems (Chocolade
Jacques) has a go, jumping away from the peloton. A Unibet and a CSC rider
join him. The rest are pretty stretched out behind, with gaps opening
up. However that group eases back on a drag and the bunch comes back to
Triple world champ Oscar Freire
is known predominantly as a sprinter, but the Spaniard can also climb
pretty strongly too, when he is on form. For proof of that, think back
to his win at the 2004 worlds in Verona. The last lap of that race saw
the hammer really go down on the climbs, but the Spaniard was equal to
all of the accelerations.
The gap is down to 14 seconds,
although the peloton has bunched up slightly. It goes back out to 16 seconds.
14:43 CEST 150km/52km to go
They are on
a fast descent now, with the gap rising to 23 seconds. Freire's on the
front, giving it socks.
CSC DS Scott
Sunderland: "As far as our team CSC is concerned, it looks fine. We
have a rider in every break. Basso punctured earlier in the race, before
the first passage of the Muur; I saw Luttenberger and Sastre wait for
him and bring him back to the peloton. I know that Ivan is in very good
shape, everything is going well so far in the build-up to the Giro. He's
here to train, but he's got no problems with working for (e.g.) Karsten
or Fränk today. Ivan is more than willing to do that."
14:46 CEST 152km/50km to go
The main bunch
has eased back considerably, with the gap now jumping up to 57 seconds.
That's give the leading two a little more breathing space. The roads are
fairly friendly to breakaway riders, twisting and turning as they do and
keeping them out of sight.
Freire's on the front as they go
up yet another drag, grinding a big gear and looking strong.
14:51 CEST 154km/48km to go
the danger and send their guys to the front. Di Luca should be there,
waiting for his moment to strike. He's been a little quieter this year
than last, as he is aiming for a big ride in the Giro. He certainly showed
his strength there last year and believes that by timing his form a little
better, he can win the race.
For those of you who are wondering
what 'giving it socks' means, it's like giving it full gas. Giving it
welly is another version, if you are interested.
Steffen Wesemann was one of
the strongest men in the Amstel Gold Race. The former German, now Swiss
licensed rider, hasn't got really high expectations for this race. "Last
year, I rode the race for the first time, and I think I just made it to
the finish line," the T-Mobile rider laughed to Cyclingnews. Actually,
'Wese' finished 102th at 11'09" behind winner Danilo Di Luca.
Talking about tactics, Wesemann knows that T-Mobile doesn't want the bunch
to arrive at the Mur de Huy: "I don't think we can beat the likes of Di
Luca and Bettini in a sprint uphill. We'll do our best to get into a break
to have a good result."
Wesemann had some health problems before
the classics and doesn't know what to expect. "Two times, I was sick,
so it was already a surprise that I could do so well in a race of 250km
[the Amstel Gold Race]."
It wasn't a disappointment to finish
second: "No, not really, because it's already a huge performance to be
on the podium. To win or to come second is more a factor of luck, I think."
14:54 CEST 156km/46km to go
to be doing most of the work up front. The two have a minute and 6 seconds
over Thierry Marichal (Cofidis), who has attacked. Di Luca's guys are
on the front of the peloton, though, so he's unlikely to get too far.
Unlike the past years, Pietro
Caucchioli is skipping the Giro d'Italia to focus on the Tour de France.
The Ardennes classics are still on his program tough: "Today, I'm riding
at 90% of my capacity so actually, I'm not expecting that much of this
race. The finish in Huy doesn't fit me that well, but maybe I can slip
into a break and be the strongest man over there. But still, you never
know how things will unfold," the Credit Agricole rider told Cyclingnews.
14:59 CEST 160km/42km to go
Moos and Freire
are grinding up a steep section of road, legs straining with the gradient.
Ouch. Behind, Marichal has been caught.
The road flattens
out slightly and the two leaders ramp up the speed again. They are 1 minute
and 19 clear, so the gap continues to open. Liquigas continue to drive
the chase behind.
15:03 CEST 161km/41km to go
1'16 of a lead
now. Nicole has just won the women's Flèche Wallonne, taking her third
victory in the race and equalling Fabiana Luperini's record.
We caught up with Francesco
Bellotti (Credit Agricole) before the start today.
How's your preparation coming along for the Giro?
For now, everything's okay. But right now, I hope to do something in this
race, rather than think about the Giro.
CN: Today, what
is the team plan?
FB: Ah, I don't know (smiles)...
there's a lot of good teams and a lot of good riders.
Can you tell me how your team-mate Saul Raisin is doing after his accident?
FB: He's better now, but it's impossible to say exactly
how much; we all hope that everything is okay.
Francesco, ciao, buona fortuna!
15:08 CEST 166km/36km to go
Moos and Freire
continue to work well together. They are 1'15 ahead, although the real
attacking has yet to happen behind. They'll need a bigger cushion to stay
away to the end, methinks. Should they manage to do so, Freire's explosive
power should serve him well.
They have another eight kilometres
or so to go before the Côte de Bohissau. It will be interesting to see
what happens in the peloton here. For now, Liquigas continue to lead,
keeping the gap at a manageable level
The brothers Allan & Scott
Davis were both at the start in Charleroi this morning, when we cornered
CN: Could today be your day Alby? It's an explosive
finish and if you're on your game, it could suit you?
Yeah, it's the first time I've ridden here but the course suits me if
I'm on my day, suits my characteristics - so I'll have a go, mate! (smiles)
We've also got a couple of other team-mates, two who finished in the top
10 last year, so we're not a bad team... we've just got to play our cards.
CN: Would you say this race comes down to natural selection?
AD: Yeah, it's a race of attrition.
But is it tough enough to create a winning selection before the finish?
AD: Oh yeah, I think so; the last couple of climbs
before the finish, there could be a selective group happen before the
Huy - maybe the last two climbs before, I reckon. We'll see what happens.
CN: It must be cool racing with your bro today? Is this your first
time at Fleche, too, Scott?
SD: Yeah, first
CN: So how are you feeling?
Oh... so far, so good! (laughs) No, I actually got the call-up - I wasn't
supposed to do these races, because I've got Romandie coming up next week
and then going to the Giro, but can't knock back these Classic races,
they're maybe once in a lifetime [opportunity] - and I'll take the opportunity
with both hands! (smiles)
CN: What has your team told
you about what's going to happen today?
Really like Allan said. It's a race of attrition and there's a few climbs
just before the Huy where the action normally starts and where the big
guns will come out before going into the Huy flat-stick. It's whoever's
got the legs.
CN: Have you ridden the Mur de Huy before?
CN: I guess you don't
get anything like that in Bundy?
and Scott laughing) We have trouble getting a hill, let alone a steep
one! But I've heard all these rumours and what have you, so we'll wait
CN: Alby, do you think the wind could play
a factor in deciding today's race?
say there's a bit of wind straight after the start; with any wind, you've
always got to be right up the front - you never know when it's going to
split. There's a chance, mate.
15:12 CEST 171km/31km to go
are now on the climb, with Moos and Freire taking equal turns. The gap
is up to 1'24
15:14 CEST 172km/30km to go
(CSC) puts the hammer down on the climb, causing carnage at the back of
the peloton. Some very tired legs there. Lüttenberger is matched by Liquigas,
though, who all look to be strong at this point.
Acosta (Caisse D’Epargne-Illes Balears) has been dropped. Adios...
Bettini and Astarloa (Barloworld) now kick hard on the climb.
15:16 CEST 173km/29km to go
Riders in the
front: Voeckler, Schleck, Bettini, Kroon, Di Luca, Astarloa, Kessler,
Nibali. Lots of others are being shelled. Bettini is going again, he's
looking good. Andrey Kashechkin is chasing as they near the top.
15:19 CEST 173km/29km to go
stretched out as they crest the summit, but there is still a long line
of riders. No chase group has got clear, as yet. Up front, the two leaders
are just 39 second clear.
Nibali and Di Luca are at the front
of the peloton, with Gil (Saunier Duval) just ahead.
Freire has a look back (not
a good sign) but then knuckles down again. The peloton is down to about
50 riders, with Kashechkin driving it. Schleck is there, Di Luca, Bettini,
Astarloa, Leukemans and others
The women's race has finished,
and for the third time it's Nicole Cooke (Univega) who was first to the
top of the Mur de Huy. Second place went to Judith Arndt, third went to
Trixi Worrack and fourth to Oenone Wood (both Nürnberger).
15:23 CEST 177km/25km to go
two now just have 19 seconds... Not long now.
We interviewed Karsten Kroon
before the start today as well.
CN: It seems like your
team can do no wrong; your confidence levels must be sky-high?
KK: Yeah, we're in a winning mood, and everything we
win now is extra - the Classics season for us is already a success.
CN: What are you hoping for today? You've performed so well in
Amstel - surely you're hoping for a good performance here today as well?
KK: I'm hoping to go for the win today. But in the
end, the Mur de Huy is such a hard finish, it's everybody for himself,
and the strongest rider will win there - and I hope that will be me today.
CN: How well do you know these roads around the Ardennes?
KK: I know the Ardennes really well; Liege I know really
well, but actually this race I've only done it once before, so I don't
know it that well. I know the finish, and I know I can do well.
15:27 CEST 179km/23km to go
Valverde are leading, with Voeckler also near the front of the chase group.
Belgian champ Baguet now takes the lead, setting things up for Bettini.
Freire and Moos do what they can to hang on although with the Huy being
as steep as it is, they'd need a sizeable cushion.
15:29 CEST 182km/20km to go
in the large chase group include Ivan Basso (CSC) and Chris Horner (Davitamon
It has become slightly overcast, with roads damp
in some places. There is a lot of activity at the front of the peloton.
The riders are passing near
what looks to be a nuclear power station. A three headed chicken watches
them go by.
15:33 CEST 185km/17km to go
champions are on the front, with Juan Manuel Garate (Spain) and Serge
Baguet (Belgium) driving it for Bettini.
The leaders are doing
a good job of staying out there. They still have 23" and are fully committed.
15:36 CEST 188km/14km to go
feeling good, because the team have also sent Bram Tankink to the front.
Liquigas have sat back for now. Ryan Cox (Barloworld) is in the group,
as is Thomas Dekker (Rabobank). In fact, there are many riders still up
here. The Côte de Ahin should help reduce things before the final wall
15:39 CEST 190km/12km to go
are on the hill...Freire is strong, distancing Moos slightly. Behind,
Tankink has tanked after his work for Bettini.
Moos has goooooooooooooooooone.
So just one rider left. Basso nears the front of the chase, with Bettini
also hovering around.
15:42 CEST 190km/12km to go
been caught. Gil (Saunier Duval) has got a gap on the front group which
Kessler (T-Mobile) has put in a serious acceleration
and ripped clear with Astarloa for company. Bettini was on their wheel
but for some reason he swung off the road, nearly hitting a parked car.
He gets back up to the leading two, as does Valverde.
15:43 CEST 192km/10km to go
a dozen riders get up to the leading four. Valverde attacks, taking Kessler
and Astarloa with him. Great racing!
15:44 CEST 193km/9km to go
Basso is leading
the small chase group, with team-mates Kroon and Schleck both there. Bettini
has gone back to them now.
There is a lot of jumping around.
Valverde's group has been caught.
15:46 CEST 194km/8km to go
Di Luca is also
up there, keeping quiet for now. He looks under a bit of pressure, but
you should know never to trust a Killer...
the pace again. This front group is jumping around a lot, with each attack
causing a slight gap which the others then close.
15:49 CEST 196km/6km to go
The front group
now is: Di Luca (Liquigas), Schleck (CSC), Bettini (Quick.Step), Sinkewitz
(T-Mobile), Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Etxebarria (Liberty), Samuel
Sanchez (Euskaltel). Basso is amongst those who has slipped back.
Fast descent for the leaders, as they speed towards the Mur de Huy. They
have been caught, making it 15-20 riders up front.
15:51 CEST 198km/4km to go
The front riders
are: Di Luca (Liquigas), Schleck Basso, Kroon (CSC), Bettini (Quick.Step),
Sinkewitz Kessler (T-Mobile), Valverde, Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne),
Etxebarria (Liberty), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), Marzoli (Lampre), Bertagnolli
(Cofidis), Astarloa (Barloworld), Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Leukemans (Davitamon),
Koldo Gil (Saunier)
15:52 CEST 199km/3km to go
to the Huy now, this is going to be good... Bettini gets close to a motorbike,
nudging it with his hand as a 'gentle' reminder. Leukemans attacks, getting
a nice lead.
15:53 CEST 200.5km/1.5km to go
is still leading, looking good. Basso is leading the chase behind.
15:54 CEST 200.9km/1.1km to go
is now on the climb, digging in. Liquigas are coming to the front.
Gil has attacked and is trying
to get across. Sanchez flies across to him. Astarloa is also up there.
Astarloa has a gap, he won this race in 2003...
A lot of riders are in a lot
of pain...this is steep. Astarloa is leading, but looking back....ouch....
He, too, is goooooooooone.
Etxebarria leads, Sanchez,
Valverde are there. Valverde goes for it...
He does it! Perfectly timed
by the explosive Spaniard. Sanchez takes second, with Kroon third.
Great win by Valverde, who
timed his move to perfection. He was comfortably clear at the end. Sanchez
got by Kroon with about 20 metres to go. Schleck was fourth, with Sinkewitz
That completes some great racing
here in the Ardennes. Moos and Freire made a good go of it but were undone
by the tough run-in and the work of the Liquigas team. Di Luca got sixth
in the end; not as good as last year, but suggestive that his form is
on the rise before the Giro.
Valverde was interviewed at the
finish, saying that this was a very important victory for him. He was
clearly strongest at the end, having time to put his arms in the air and
roll across the line while Sanchez and Kroon scrapped it out for second.
That completes our coverage
of the 70th Flèche Wallonne. We gotta go because the Hindenberg V is losing
hot air (a disfigured chicken just flew into the side of it, ripping the
canvas). We should have it patched in time for Liège – Bastogne - Liège
but, before then, don't forget to tune into our live coverage of the Tour
de Georgia on live9.cyclingnews.com, in a couple of hours.
1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 4.42.47
2 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
3 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team CSC
4 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC
5 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) T-Mobile Team
6 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas
7 David Etxebarria Alkorta (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team
8 Koldo Gil Perez (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir
9 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) T-Mobile Team
10 Matthias Kessler (Ger) T-Mobile Team