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71st Flèche Wallonne - PT

Belgium, April 25, 2007

Live schedule

This Wednesday Cyclingnews will be covering the 71st Flèche Wallonne live. Coverage begins around 13:00 local European time (CEST)/ 7:00 (USA East)/ 22:00 Australia (EST) - also on WAP-enabled mobile devices at http://live.cyclingnews.com/wap/

Live commentary by Hedwig Kröner

12:52 CEST   
Welcome back to the second event of the three Ardennes Classics, the Flèche Wallonne: Another hilly race in Southern Belgium, preparing the riders for the ultimate challenge, the Doyenne (oldest of these races) Liège-Bastogne-Liège this upcoming Sunday.

Flèche Wallonne is a classic, and this race's victory is honourable to say the least. The most feared ascent is the Mur de Huy, or the 'Wall of Huy.' Similar to the Cauberg in Amstel Gold, the riders will cover this 1300 metre beast three times, the final being the finish.

The weather today in Belgium is again excellent, as the riders departed at 11.25am in Charleroi under absolutely clear skies, with temperatures around 18° Celsius and expected to rise to the mid-20's during the day.

13:07 CEST   
Prior to the start, the UCI proceeded to 44 blood controls at the hotels of the following teams: Quick Step-Innergetic, Astana, Predictor-Lotto, Française des Jeux, Landbouwkrediet and Barloworld. All the riders controlled were declared fit to race.

But there was one non-starter this morning: Discovery Channel's Vladimir Gusev did not sign the departure sheet at the Charleroi stadium where the race took off.

13:09 CEST   
The attacks, as usual, went off as soon as the flag was lifted to commence competition. Freddy Bichot (Agritubel), Morris Possoni (Lampre) and British Paul Manning from Landbouwkrediet jumped away around km 4, but didn't manage to create a proper gap, as the bunch was already racing fast.

At km 18, another trio formed: Hugo Sabido (Barloworld, Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Manning, again, tried to take off together. And even though (or because?) they received to support of Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) and Didier Rous (Bouygues), the peloton led out by Rabobank riders reeled them in again four kilometres later.

Another breakaway attempt of Bichot, followed by Matthieu Sprick (Bouygues), Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank) and Christophe Edaleine (Crédit Agricole) failed again, until the Frenchman accelerated once more at km 40. This time, Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel), David Loosli (Lampre) and Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole) followed his move, and the four riders got a decent gap: four kilometres later, it was already exceeding two minutes.

After one hour of racing, the riders had covered 47 kilometres, and the four leader's advantage was still growing: 5 minutes after 48 km, and 6.50 mins at the first ascent of the Mur de Huy.

13:16 CEST    66km/136.5km to go
As the bunch climbs the Mur, the gap has slightly decreased to 5.50 minutes. The weather is still fine in Huy, as Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown and Shane Stokes report temperatures of about 25° and no wind.

13:24 CEST    72km/130.5km to go
The gap remains stable. The next climb the riders will tackle is the Côte d’Ereffe (2,2 km at 5,6 percent) at km 84.5. We will see when the racing will really start to be on, with the favourites' teams forcing the pace for the finale.

Spaniard Alejandro Valverde won last year's edition by moving on the penultimate climb, the Côte de Ahin four clicks away from the finish, with a group that contained Di Luca, Fränk Schleck, Karsten Kroon and Samuel Sánchez. He then put in the final blow to claim top honours on the Mur, finishing ahead of Sánchez and Kroon.

13:35 CEST   
But not only Caisse d'Epargne, many other teams have strong contenders in this race: Gerolsteiner is here with Amstel Gold winner Stefan Schumacher and 2004 Ardennes classics king Davide Rebellin (second at Amstel a few days ago), CSC will work for Fränk Schleck and Karsten Kroon, Astana has Matthias Kessler, Liquigas Danilo Di Luca and QucikStep relies on World Champion Paolo Bettini - not to forget local boy Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux)!

13:40 CEST    91km/111.5km to go
The four leaders - Freddy Bichot (Agritubel), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel), David Loosli (Lampre), Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole) - have covered 40.2 kilometres in the second hour of racing, which amounts to an overall average of 43,8 km/h since the start in Charleroi.

The race situation is still very stable with the breakaway currently at 5 minutes of the bunch.

13:49 CEST   
The leaders are now climbing the Mur in Huy for the second time. Freddy Bichot might want to be first again at the top, as there is also a mountain prize to score today.

A word on the situation around Unibet.com: Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown and Shane Stokes reported this morning from the start in Charleroi that the Belgian team was refused the start by race organiser ASO, even though a court ruling made on Monday evening would have allowed the squad to participate in the event.

According to the ruling made by a court in Liège, the ProTour team had the right to start in the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, because European law topped Belgian law in this instance. The court decided that if ASO refused the team its entry, it would have to pay 5 million Euros for each race day. Nevertheless, the Unibet.com riders remained in their hotels as the race took off shortly after 11am.

More about this - and updates on the situations around Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis - will be posted in a few minutes in our Latest Edition of Cycling News.

14:02 CEST   
Bichot did take all the points at the summit of the climb, again... The bunch has now also passed this point, and crossed the later finish line to continue on the route around Huy.

Thorsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner) was leading the pack, with the leader's advantage down to 4.30 minutes.

14:04 CEST   
Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown went up to Gerolsteiner's team bus at the start in Charleroi this morning, and asked 'Schumi' what his thoughts were leading up to Flèche Wallonne. "I'm calm heading into this race and Liège because it was my goal to be on the podium in one of those races, and I did so with Amstel Gold," the German said. "I think with this condition we [Gerolsteiner] have to try to do our best to, once again, we hope to have good results in the next races.

"We have a great team for all these races; with Davide [Rebellin] and me, first and second in Amstel. The next races are not so different but we will see. OK, there are also many other riders. Fabian (Wegmann) is also in great condition and is considered our joker.

"When you have the finish on the top of the Mur de Huy it is tough, even with a great team. You have to be the strongest with a climb like the Mur; the strongest rider will be evident.

"Davide has been giving me some tips, he really knows these races. Friday, I will do the last 70 km of Liège for training. It will be my first time in the race so the training will be important."

14:12 CEST    119.5km/83km to go
Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff Credit Systems) has attacked out of the bunch just before the Côte de Pailhe (1 km at 4,3 percent), and is now trying to bridge up to the leaders. He is 2.47 mins behind the four-men group, with the bunch at 3.45.

14:15 CEST   
Gerolsteiner and Caisse d'Epargne are doing the work at the front of the bunch.

Igor Astarloa (Milram) was complaining about his form this morning. "My legs are not very good in these days," he told Cyclingnews. "After the País Vasco I was a little sick and I had a cough. My condition is not so well. For today, I don't know, we will see how it goes on the course. It will be very difficult to stay with the favourites because it is such a difficult course. And, the other reason is that I am currently not going very well.

"After País Vasco I did not feel well, but in Amstel I actually went better than what I thought I could do. Today I will help the others in the team, like Mirko Celestino."

14:24 CEST    127.5km/75km to go
Rovny doesn't seem to make a lot of progress in the chase. He's still 2.50 away from the leaders, while the bunch trails at 3.25.

It's a very green countryside at this time of year in Southern Belgium, with rolling hills covered of forests and fields making the warm weather a real treat for the riders.

Rovny gets caught again by the bunch - didn't make it.

14:33 CEST    132.5km/70km to go
The peloton continues the chase, and it's bearing fruit: only 2.30 minutes separate the bunch from the break now.

Axel Merckx (T-Mobile) told Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes this morning, "Pais Vasco wasn't too good but we will see how it goes today, and in Liège. Liège is probably a better race for me. It has always been a target for me, always a pretty important part of the season for me. If I have a good showing at these races it is important... not just for the team, but for me personally, also.

"But, you know, some years it works, some years it doesn't work. It is just part of sport and cycling - you have good days and bad days."

But Merckx was happy that he reached his final season within the peloton. "There is a time to start, a time to go and I feel that I am ready to retire now, enjoy my family and start a new part of my life," he added.

14:36 CEST    135.5km/67km to go
And as we write this, the son of Belgian legend Eddy Merckx attacks out of the bunch! Now, the peloton breaks into pieces as many riders try to bridge up to him.

14:37 CEST   
The peloton is now strung out as the race really gets moving. The break is merely 1.30 mins away, and many riders fell this could be the time to make a difference.

14:41 CEST   
Gerolsteiner's Tim Klinger collided with Oscar Freire (Rabobank) - both are fine though. The Spaniard immediately got a wheel change, while the German took a bit longer.

14:43 CEST   
Marco Pinotti of T-Mobile also told Cyclingnews this morning that he hoped that "my legs go well today. In my last races I had great results. Today, I am here to help the leaders, Patrik Sinkewitz and Michael Rogers.

"From here I will go to Romandie, working to building up my form for the Giro d'Italia. I will race hard in a few Romandie stages and in the time trial stage, to test my new positioning. From there, I will go straight to the Giro. I am very pleased with how this period is going.

"Today, Gerolsteiner will control the race today for Rebellin, but there will also be a strong Valverde. Then for Liège, on Sunday, there will be Paolo Bettini as a favourite.

14:44 CEST   
David Loosli of the leaders has sat up and got dropped. The bunch is very close now, only 30 seconds away.

14:47 CEST   
CSC's Bobby Julich also told us that his form was good at the moment. "I feel better than I did at Pais Vasco. I am happy to be up here in Belgium, in beautiful weather! I prefer sunny conditions so this is good.

"For these races here, my plan is to contribute to the team and see how it goes. I am not really focusing on the spring this year. Of course, I would like to do well... these are two beautiful races that I always wanted to do well in. We will see, we will see."

14:49 CEST    143.5km/59km to go
Only two riders are still trying to preserve their 40 second lead: Freddy Bichot (Agritubel) and Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel). The other two have been swallowed by the bunch, where Caisse d'Epargne is now controlling the pace.

14:51 CEST   
Another attack comes out of the bunch, while Bichot has trouble following his companion on a small climb in a forest. He's cooked.

14:54 CEST    147.5km/55km to go
Verdugo is now alone in front, and has a minute over the peloton. A Chocolade Jacques rider, Benny De Schrooder, is in his pursuit, while Bichot got dropped.

15:03 CEST    153.5km/49km to go
Benny De Schrooder (Chocolade Jacques) has joined Freddy Bichot (Agritubel), but Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel) is still 55 seconds up the road, and the bunch trails only 15 seconds behind them.

They're now in the Côte de Thon (1,2 km at 7,1 percent).

15:07 CEST   
Pieter Mertens (Predictor-Lotto) is also with the sandwiched-in chasers.

The bunch is strung out on the climb, and they're not far away at all from the trio pursuing the leader.

15:08 CEST   
Pieter Mertens (Predictor-Lotto) is also with the sandwiched-in chasers.

The bunch is strung out on the climb, and they're not far away at all from the trio pursuing the leader.

15:12 CEST   
A group of around 12 riders has now formed in pursuit of the leader, but they're still being followed closely by the bunch behind. All of the groups are within one minute.

15:14 CEST   
Bobby Julich also commented on who the favourites were for today's race. "The guys who were in the front at Amstel have to be the main favourites today, but this race always switches it up a little bit," he told Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes. "Hopefully, Karsten Kroon will be as good as he was here last year, but I think a lot of the same characters will be in the front as were up there in the Amstel.

"Fränk [Schleck] is here but we don't know how he feels so we haven't really put any real expectations on him. He really did crash hard. He is being treated multiple times per day for his ribs. I think he badly bruised them, I don't think he broke them, but then again how many times do they say they are just bruised and then you find a couple of weeks later that they are actually broken?

"We have a team here that is motivated and are looking forward to the race. Fränk is here today to see how he gets on, but at the same time he is a fighter... I think you saw that in Amstel Gold. He got off the mat [the ground] and finished in the top ten. That was pretty impressive. So if I have the feeling that if he is anywhere near the front, he is going to give it a dig."

15:16 CEST    161.5km/41km to go
Thomas Lövkvist (FDJ), Michael Rogers (T-Mobile), Andy Schleck (CSC) are in this chase group, out of which Cédric Vasseur (QuickStep) just attacked.

15:17 CEST   
An update from the women's race: Marianne Vos has won on the Mur de Huy!

15:24 CEST    168.5km/34km to go
Meanwhile, Gorka Verdugo has been caught, and Philippe Gilbert (FDJ) has taken the place of Cédric Vasseur (QuickStep) in the front of the race. There are about 15 riders close behind him, and the peloton strung out in pursuit.

15:27 CEST    169.5km/33km to go
Gilbert gives it everything, crosses a roundabout through the middle... The bunch has caught the chase group, and is about 35 seconds behind the leader now.

15:32 CEST    171.5km/31km to go
Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Matthias Kessler (Astana) and Alexander Efimkin (Barloworld) have formed a trio in pursuit of Gilbert, but are now being caught again by the bunch.

15:32 CEST   
And Gilbert is caught, too... peloton together.

15:37 CEST   
With 28 kms still to go, the peloton (or what's left of it) is together. This will surely change soon, but at the moment the riders are on a flat stretch. Liquigas leads the charge.

15:39 CEST   
Update from the women's race: Nicole Cooke got second, Judith Arndt third behind the winner, Marianne Vos.

15:42 CEST    177.5km/25km to go
The Côte de Ahin (2,5 km at 6 percent) in about 7 kilometres will probably split the bunch... but wait, Serguei Ivanov (Astana) has attacked. And Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues) is in his pursuit. But now the Frenchman sits up.

15:44 CEST    180.5km/22km to go
World Champ Paolo Bettini is at the very end of the bunch, while Caisse d'Epargne now has four riders in front, leading the charge. Ivanov can't be very far away.

15:46 CEST   
Ivanov powers away in aero position, but will it be enough? The last, hardest climbs are coming up soon.

15:48 CEST    185.5km/17km to go
And Bettini finally got dropped from the bunch. He looks like he's not feeling well, talking to his DS in the car.

Ivanov has 30 seconds.

15:48 CEST    185.5km/17km to go
And Bettini finally got dropped from the bunch. He looks like he's not feeling well, talking to his DS in the car.

Ivanov has 30 seconds.

15:51 CEST   
The riders are in the Côte d'Ahin now. Ivanov rides up the climb sitting on the saddle. Juan José Cobo (Saunier Duval) is trying to bridge up to him.

15:52 CEST   
Ivanov is hurting, finally gets out of the saddle. The gap remains at 30 seconds, quite surprising!

15:54 CEST   
Cobo has caught Ivanov now, the Spaniard takes the lead. the bunch is 20 seconds behind, with Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) now in front, testing his rivals.

The finale is on!!

15:57 CEST    188.5km/14km to go
The favourites lead the strung-out bunch to Ivanov and Cobo: Kirchen, Di Luca, Rodriguez are there, and have joined the two. Several other little groups are forming behind them.

15:59 CEST    191.5km/11km to go
But the chasers are only a few seconds away, no gaps can be created in this flattish part of the parcours.

Valverde, Popovych, Dekker, and Moreni are chasing close by.

16:02 CEST    193.5km/9km to go
Rodriguez attacks off the front! Kirchen, Di Luca and Valverde try to bridge up again. All of them are flat out now, but Valverde won't work, of course. Di Luca looks back...

16:05 CEST    196.5km/6km to go
Ivanov, Cobo, Dekker and Moreni are time-trialling in a descent, looking to catch the leaders, but the maximum gap between the front and the bunch is only 18 seconds. Valverde is in this group, now, too.

16:06 CEST    197.5km/5km to go
Rodriguez still in front. But the last climb is coming up shortly...

16:08 CEST    199.5km/3km to go
The two chase groups are together now, while Rodriguez still gives it everything.

16:09 CEST   
But the bunch is only 15 seconds away... AG2R sets the pace there, Simon Gerrans leading out.

Rodriguez seems cooked. But there's Valverde to take over soon...

16:11 CEST   
Last kilometre! Rebellin is in fourth position, Kessler leads. Valverde is there, too.

16:12 CEST   
Valverde is in fifth position, but Rebellin and Kessler create a gap. The two will fight it out, it looks like...

16:12 CEST   
Rebellin takes off in the final 50 metres, and wins!

16:13 CEST   
Valverde second, Di Luca third.

16:14 CEST   
What a great victory for Rebellin, and the second Ardennes win for Gerolsteiner!

16:19 CEST   
Thanks for tuning in again to our Live coverage; join us again next Sunday for the Doyenne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège - is Gerolsteiner again out for a triple, like in 2004? We shall see.

Provisional Results

1 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner           
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne    
3 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas                
4 Matthias Kessler (Ger) Astana                
5 Riccardo Riccò (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir    
6 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r Prévoyance      
7 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                 
8 John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r Prévoyance            
9 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank                 
10 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Lampre-Fondital