Recently on Cyclingnews.com

Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

9th Women's Flèche Wallonne - CDM

Belgium, April 19, 2006

Field wide open as Cooke attempts to equal Luperini's record

By Anthony Tan in Charleroi, Belgium

2005 women's Flèche Wallonne champion Nicole Cooke will be back to defend her title
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

Running in tandem with the men's race this Sunday, the women's Flèche Wallonne looks to be an equally open affair. While only in its ninth year, La Flèche Wallonne Femmes has already produced a triple champion in Fabiana Luperini (1998, 2001-02) and one double winner in Nicole Cooke, who took her second title last year in convincing fashion over the Nürnberger duo of Oenone Wood and Judith Arndt. In 2006, the Welsh wonder comes back in an attempt to defend her title and equal Luperini's record, but a deep field of contenders suggests she won't have it all her own way.

Rather than starting in Charleroi, the women's peloton will start and finish in Huy, essentially riding the final 106 kilometre loop of the men's Flèche. So before reaching the foot of the invariably leg-breaking, race-deciding Mur de Huy, the same four climbs will be faced, namely the Côte de Pailhe (km 36.5), Côte de Hautebisse (km 58.5), Côte de Bohissau (km 77.0) and Côte de Ahin (km 95.0).

Certainly, one can wait, sit back and enjoy the ride, but as history shows, it doesn't always have to be that way. In 2004, Frenchwoman Sonia Huguet and Germany's Hanka Kupfernagel attacked with six kilometres to go and held off the field all the way to the line, with the former coming out on top to claim her biggest ever career victory. It was an enterprising move that caught the peloton off-guard, and similar initiative will be required if the race is to finish that way again.

So far, the opening three rounds of the women's World Cup have seen three convincing wins, with Ina Teutenberg triumphing Down Under in Melbourne, Sarah Ulmer becoming an even bigger hometown hero in Wellington, New Zealand, and most recently, Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel a worthy winner on the cobbles of Flanders. But what makes this year's women's Flèche interesting is that no one rider or team has dominated proceedings, even though Teutenberg enjoys a healthy 45 point lead over Melchers-Van Poppel and Ulmer, with Japan's always-consistent Miho Oki two points further back.

On this famous, chapel-lined ascent, who will the crowd be screaming for?

Well, past winners Cooke (Univega), Luperini (Top Girls Fassa Bortolo) and Kupfernagel (German National Team) are back. Standing in their way, however, is undoubtedly a trio of formidable trios: Oenone Wood, Trixi Worrack, and Regina Schleicher (all Nürnberger); Loes Gunnewijk, Susanne Ljungskog, and Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (Buitenpoort-Flexpoint); and Cooke, Priska Doppmann and Christiane Soeder (Univega).

And maybe not standing in their way but standing a chance are: Anette Beutler (Elk Haus Nö), Kathy Watt (Lotto-Belisol Ladies Team), Edwige Pitel (Bianchi Aliverti Kookai), Svetlana Bubnenkova (Fenixs-Colnago), Sigrid Corneo and Olivia Gollan (Nobili Rubinetterie Menikini Cogeas), Commonwealth Games champion Natalie Bates and Suzanne De Goede (AA-Drink), Nicole Brandli and Zoulfia Zabirova (Bigla), and Teutenberg's T-Mobile team-mates Magali Le Floch and Judith Arndt.


note: all amounts in Euro
1st                          1.000,00
2nd                            750,00
3rd                            500,00
4th                            300,00
5th                            250,00
6th                            225,00
7th                            200,00
8th                            175,00
9th                            150,00
10th                           125,00
11th                           100,00
12th                           100,00
13th                           100,00
14th                           100,00
15th                           100,00
16th                            75,00
17th                            75,00
18th                            75,00
19th                            75,00
20th                            75,00
Total                         4450,00