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10th Women's Flèche Wallonne - CDM

Belgium, April 25, 2007

The Queens of the Mur de Huy

By Laura Weislo

Cooke won Ronde van Vlaanderen
Photo ©: AFP
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The women's Flèche Wallonne celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and for the Aluminium edition the ladies will once again follow the same roads as the men, although starting in Huy rather than Charleroi, eliminating the first 97 kilometres of the men's parcours. This leaves the women with the most challenging 104 kilometres of the route - a decidedly lumpy affair with eight named climbs including the decisive and brutal finishing climb - the Mur de Huy.

Some courses simply suit a riders' style, and the jagged profile of the women's Flèche Wallone seems to be tailor-made for two: World Cup leader Nicole Cooke (Raleigh Lifeforce Creation) and Italian Champion Fabiana Luperini (Menikini-Gysko) each have three wins atop the Mur de Huy, and each rider has their own strategy for conquering the vicious final climb.

The scrappy Brit won her three editions with patience - fighting her way onto the wheels of her attackers on the lower slopes, then outlasting the likes of Oenone Wood (2005), Judith Arndt (2006) and Sue Palmer-Komar (2003). Cooke is showing spectacular form this season, winning the first two World Cup races in Geelong and Flanders, the Geelong Tour, the GP Costa Etrusca and Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

Luperini's modus operandi is a ferocious attack further down the hill and the ability to hold the effort through the steepest section with 400m to go and all the way to the line. She used this to unseat Pia Sundstedt (1998) in the inaugural edition of the race, current T-mobile director Anna (Milward) Wilson (2001) and Lyne Bessette (2002). At 33 years of age, Luperini might be in the twilight of her career, but has shown that she still has the desire to win and the ability to go head-to-head with Cooke at the GP Costa Etrusca, where she finished second to Cooke.

While both Luperini and Cooke have strong teams riding in their support, they will have their work cut out for them from the Dutch team of World Champion Marianne Vos. Team DSB Bank showed in the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup that they have the firepower to attack, and the savvy to use team tactics to win, when Vos and team-mate Adrie Visser both made the winning break. Visser attacked and won, and Cooke, unwilling to bring Vos to the line, was left to fight for scraps. Vos is certainly a threat for the win, and has shown that she can attack on the bergs as well as sprint against the best when she got her own win in the Ronde van Gelderland, where she out-sprinted T-mobile powerhouse Ina Teutenberg.

Teutenberg's T-mobile team started out the year well with a few stage wins down-under, but have been shut out in the European races so far. They'll be looking for revenge, and the Mur de Huy could be the perfect place for someone like Judith Arndt or Oenone Wood to get it. They'll be fighting it out with Cooke's Raleigh Lifeforce team, Menikini-Gysko, Team Flexpoint, Equipe Nürnberger, the Bilga team and others to make the front group over the penultimate climb, the Côte de Ahin.

The climbs

Km 16.5, Côte de Pailhe (1.0 km, 4.3%)
Km 38.5, Côte de Peu d'Eau (2.5 km, 4.2%)
Km 44, Côte de Haut-Bois (1.4 km, 5.4%)
Km 54, Côte de Thon (1.2 km, 7.1%)
Km 62, Côte de Bonneville (1.1 km, 7.9%)
Km 74, Côte de Bohissau (3.4 km, 4%)
Km 89.5, Côte de Ahin (2.5 km, 6%)
Km 104, Mur de Huy (1.3 km, 9.3%)