72rd La Flèche Wallonne - HIS
Belgium, April 22, 2009
Live report by Susan Westemeyer
Hello, and welcome back to Cyclingnews' continuing coverage of the Spring Classics! Today we have the middle race of the Ardennes Trilogy, the Fleche Wallonne – and that means the much dreaded Mur de Huy.
13:01 CEST 61km/134.5km to go
We have two leaders: Christophe Moreau (Agritubel) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Skil Shimano) have a whopping 15:20 minute lead on the peloton, which is more than 10 kms!
The sun is shining and it is getting up to 16°, a beautiful spring day here in Belgium. The riders started in sunshine last year, too, but ended up in a heavy rain. We don't expect a repeat of that today. Plus there is no wind today – hardly seems like Belgium, does it?
The race got underway promptly at 11:30 with 198 riders at the start. Preben Van Hecke of Topsport Vlaanderen was the first to take off, followed closely by Moreau. They were both caught again promptly, but at km 8, Moreau took off again, together with Beppu. They have been off on their escape flight ever since.
They have now crossed the Mur de Huy for the first time, with Moreau leading the way. The gap back to the peloton is now 15:30.
Today's race is only 195.5km long, but packs a punch. The main challenge is the Mur de Huy, or the wall in the Belgian city of Huy. It is 1.3km long and has an average gradient of 9.3 percent, with a max of 25 percent. And the lucky riders get to go over it a total of three times, with the last time being the finish – just what those tired legs want.
There are 23 different nations represented by 138 riders. Holland leads the way with 24. USA has 8.
The favourites today are the usual suspects: Cadel Evans, Damiano Cunego, Alejandro Valverde, Samual Sanchez. Actually, Evans could be facing competition from his Silence-Lotto teammate Philippe Gilbert. The Belgian team has only two wins so far this season, and Gilbert would desperately love to bring this one in.
Who do you think is going to win it today? Let us know in the Cyclingnews forum.
The peloton is now (finally!) approaching the Mur de Huy for the first time and is picking up the pace slightly, led by Saxo Bank, Lampre, Silence-Lotto and Caisse d'Epargne. They have brought the gap down by 30 seconds, so it is now 15 minutes.
There were a total of 31 doping controls before the race. Lampre, Astana, Milram and Barloworld were tested this morning, between the hours of 6:45 and 8:15. Medic Marc Vandevyvere reports all is okay.
The lead continues to plummet as the peloton hits the top of Mur de Huy, coming down to 14:45. Ok, so maybe "plummet" isn't really the right word.....
"We need a big result. We had second last year and we want to improve on that," said Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto). "We will see what we can do."
Do you feel as strong as last year? "I don't feel quite as strong, but we have a better team and we can rely on that. I think Cunego will be the man to beat."
Is the nice weather a good thing for you? "Normally, yes, but who knows."
"I love to win here," said Simon Gerrans (Cervélo TestTeam) to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown at the start in Charleroi. He animated the finale of Amstel Gold on Sunday.
"I think my condition is good. The guys will look after me. I think it all about conserving as much as I can until the last ascent of Huy. If I get there I will be right up there with them. Maybe a win is a bit to much to ask, but I will go for it."
It the Huy too steep for you? "I have never placed well here in the past, but I think I am much better shape this year. I can get up the climb, but it is hard to say how it will be for me."
What does Flèche Wallonne mean for you? "All of the Ardennes are really important, I like to focus on this time of year. I am motivated to do something important."
Last year's winner was Kim Kirchen of Team Highroad (as it was then called). He attacked in the last 175 metres in pouring rain to take the win. But this year he is just returning to racing after breaking his collarbone in the Tour of California, so it seems unlikely that he will be on the podium again today.
If he's not up to the job, the team will look to youngster Thomas Lövkvist. The Swede won the Monte Paschi Eroica earlier this year, and finished fifth overall in the Tour of California.
Let's not count out Davide Rebellin of Diquigiovanni, who has already won here twice in the past. He came down with a case of the flu recently, but is getting back to top form.
"I am feeling a lot better and I hope to have a good race today," said Rebellin (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) told Brown.
"I want to do something today and not just save myself for Sunday. I did not get in a lot of training last week due to the flu, so today will be a good test of my condition for Liège.
"However, Flèche is molto bello and an important race, and, again, a chance to test my condition."
Who has won here in the past? You might recognize some of the names: Eddy Merckx, Bernhard Hinault, Lance Armstrong....
One big name who is not here is Fränk Schleck. The Saxo Bank rider went down in a horrifying crash Sunday in Amstel Gold and was fortunate to come away with „only“ a concussion, which is of course, bad enough. His headaches continue and he found it best to skip today's race, and said that the upcoming Liege-Bastogne-Liege is in doubt.
But the Danish team still has Alexandr Kolobnev and Fränk's brother Andy to uphold the team honour and go for the glory.
Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown caught up with Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC) at the start, just outside of Charleroi's football pitch. The Italian finished fifth in Amstel Gold.
Is it a case of revenge today? "We will see, everyone expects something from me, but the reality is we need to look after the others: Evans, Gilbert... These guys that are more adapted to this race than me."
You will take your chances where you can get them? Not save something for Liège? "There are so few chances that you have to strike when you can -- today or Sunday. Sunday suits be better. We will see how it unfolds today, but I want to remain calm because I race better this way -- senza pressione."
"Damiano is ready to win now; we will work for him today and on Sunday," Enrico Gasparotto (Lampre-NGC) told Brown. "Today I will try to get into an escape."
You suggested the team needs more men at the front, in the race finale. Will the team ride different today than at Amstel? "We will remain closer to Cunego further to the finish. My teammates will lead us to the Mur de Huy and from there I will help Damiano.
"It is my first Flèche Wallonne and by the end of the race I hope to tell you 'I love Mur de Huy'."
13:49 CEST 94.5km/101km to go
Moreau and Beppu are once again heading to the Mur du Huy for the second time as their lead continues to slowly slip away, down to 12:35.
Robert Gesink would normally be a top favourite today. The Rabobank climber was fourth here last year and is coming off a third-place finish in Amstel. Just one problem: the 22-year-old came down with knee pains after Amstel. A tendon problem has been diagnosed and he has been told not to ride again until Thursday, but only if the pains are gone. This puts LBL into doubt for him. too, a blow for the Dutch team.
Moreau looks to be serious about this thing. He has dropped Beppu on the way up the Mur du Huy and went over the top 22 seconds ahead of the Japanese rider.
The women are racing today, too. Marianne Vos will look to defend her 2008 title and take her third win here. Other favourites include Nicole Cooke and World Cup leader Emma Johansson. Columbia's Judith Arndt has been on the podium the last four years straight but won't make it this year – a broken bone in her wrist is keeping her off the bike.
"Our team is very motivated for the Ardennes classics, we are concentrated for today," said Serguei Ivanov (Katusha), winner of Amstel Gold.
What to you think of Mur de Huy? "I live close by the climb, about 60km away. Almost every other day I go there for training. It is very steep and it will be a very difficult finish."
Is it too difficult for you? "Yes, but in my current condition anything is possible."
We talked to Katusha's Ben Swift about what Ivanov's victory on Sunday meant to the team. "It was very important to win Amstel. The team worked well and everyone did their job," the British youngster told Cyclingnews. "It means a lot because we are a new team and we are giving just as much as we get. Wednesday will hopefully go well. Everybody's morale is high so hopefully we can use that to our advantage."
"Our team is motivated, we have Nibali and Kreuziger, but also Agnoli, who is going really good," Liquigas team manager Roberto Amadio told Brown. "Kreuziger did a heck of a number in Amstel, it is a difficult course with all those turns and small roads, plus the climbs. It means he will go well today and then on to contest the Tour de Romandie."
14:06 CEST 105,5km/90.5km to go
After having dropped Beppu on the climb, Moreau subsequently waited for him and they are together again. The lead continues to come down, though, and it is now 11:25.
"I had good legs on Sunday and it will be even better for today," Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Slipstream) told Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews. "Despite a flat tyre at 900 metres out, I still did well last year. I want to have another chance this year."
What did Axel Merckx just say to you at the sign in? "He wished me good luck and has brought a group of Canadians over here to support me. There are lots of reasons to do well today."
Who are the other riders we can watch from Garmin for today? "Most are here for the first time and I will be leading them with my experience. The more we have for the Mur de Huy the merrier."
14:11 CEST 111.1km/84.4km to go
Now the peloton is over the Mur de Huy.
Who won here last year? Kim Kirchen (High Road) was one second ahead of Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and two seconds ahead of Lampre's Damiano Cunego.
In 2007, Davide Rebellin of Team Gerolsteiner took his second victory here ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Danilo De Luca.
14:19 CEST 103km/92.5km to go
The lead is now down to 10:20.
"I had the same virus as Ballan, cytomegalovirus," Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) told Brown. "I did not even know, I kept racing. It is passing now and I feel better. I still have my up and down days."
Do you count yourself in as a favourite? "Yes. I was not able to do anything Sunday, but I think in Flèche and Liege I will be able to do something better. A win? I hope so."
It's a little unclear as to who the Silence-Lotto captain is here today, since both Cadel Evans and Philippe Gilbert have declared their intentions to win. However, here is one indicator: the captain's number has gone to Evans.
14:27 CEST 117.5km/78km to go
Once again, Moreau has dropped Beppu and is pulling away from him -- 30 seconds now -- with the peloton only 8:21 back.
"Barloworld does not have any of the big race favourites, so we will have to look to see how we are all doing towards the win," Chris Froome (Barloworld) told Brown.
"My legs felt the other day in Italy, at the GP Arona. I seem to have had the legs. I am no sure about the Mur though, it is more of a punchers type of climb."
Are you more confident this year? You won the stage at Giro del Capo. "I think so. I know what I am getting myself into, where last year I was going blindly into these races."
14:34 CEST 125.5km/70km to go
Moreau has pulled away significantly, two minutes ahead of Beppu and the peloton is just under seven minutes back.
The field is still riding fairly relaxedly, taking up the whole road and taking their time in tracking down the two escapees.
A Saxo Bank rider leads the peloton. It is number 211, who is Fränk Schleck, according to the official start list -- but he is not riding today and we don't have an updated start list.
Team Milram hopes that German champion Fabian Wegmann will be recovered from whatever it was he came down with last weekend that weakened him in Amstel Gold. He had to stop in the middle of the race and throw up, and although he felt better, he ran out of gas near the end. He says he doesn't know if he ate something bad, or what, but that he is feeling much better today.
The team will also look to Christian Knees, who finished 11th in Amstel. The team's two top names, Linus Gerdemann and Gerald Ciolek, aren't riding here.
14:43 CEST 132.5km/63km to go
Janus Basnov of Denmark tells us that 211 for Saxo Bank is Lasse Bochman. Thanks!
Meanwhile, Beppu is 3.40 behind Moreau, with the peloton at 6.38.
Moreau determinedly makes his way on this sunny Belgian spring day.
Who is leading the peloton right now? We see a Lampre rider in first place, followed by a Euskaltel and a Saxo Banker. No real organized chase at this point.
But we do see some of those florescent pea-green Liquigas jerseys all moving towards the front. The lead is now down to 6.05.
14:52 CEST 137.5km/58km to go
Caisse d'Epargne has moved to the head of the peloton and picked up the pace significantly.
Christophe Moreau is no kid – he is 37 years old. He rode for Festina from 1995 to 2005, Credit Agricole 2002-2005, and Ag2r 2006-2007 before joining Agritubel last season.
He won a stage of the Tour de France in 2001, and has also won the Dauphine Libere twice. Moreau was one of those involved in the Festina affair at the 1998 Tour de France and served a six-month suspension after confessing to having used EPO.
14:56 CEST 139.5km/56km to go
The peloton now has Beppu in its sights and will catch him any minute now. He looks over his shoulder to see that getting closer and closer.
They are all going up a climb now, so most teams have gathered around their captain to protect him on the way up. Caisse d'Epargne continues to lead the way.
14:57 CEST 141.5km/54km to go
Moreau now gets the word that the pelotom is now 5.30 behind him.
Right now the peloton is spread out all over a nice wide two lane road. Soon though they will turn off onto a much narrower way over the fields -- room for only three or four abreast, rather than seven or eight.
They make that turn, and things slow down noticeably. A bad time to be caught near the back if you want to be near the front in the end.
And at the very end is a BBox Bouygues Telecom rider who is loaded down with water bottles.
A motorcycle zips by Moreau as he makes his way through a forest section, surrounded by trees covered with the beautiful light green leaves of early spring.
15:04 CEST 145.5km/50km to go
Addy Engels of QuickStep is back at the team car loading up on water bottles for his teammates. And one for himself, too, presumably.
The gap is now 4.50.
The race is decided! Marianne Vos won the women's Fleche Wallonne, for the third time in a row. Second was Emma Johansson, with Claudia Häussler third.
15:07 CEST 148.5km/47km to go
Euskaltel, Ag2r, Caisse d'Epargne, Lampre lead the peloton, which once again isn't moving all too fast at the moment.
We now see the Columbia yellow for just about the first time today.
15:11 CEST 150.5km/45km to go
The gap has now dropped to under 4 minutes, as Moreau works his way up the Cote du Thon.
15:13 CEST 151.5km/44km to go
The peloton is still quite large, and it doesn't look as if anyone has dropped off the back. It is moving quickly and the lead is dropping constantly.
Tony Martin of Columbia has now moved up to lead the chase.
15:15 CEST 152.5km/43km to go
An attack out of the field! A Saxo Bank rider goes for it -- it is Chris Anker Sorenson. Others give chase as they make their way up a very steep climb.
A group of about 15 has pulled away from the peloton. At the other end of the field we can find Kim Kirchen and, surprisingly, Cadel Evans.
15:19 CEST 154.5km/41km to go
Moreau's lead is dropping, and is now just over two minutes. The chasing group is not well-organized and the field is catching it. But a few riders are trying to get and/or stay away -- we see a Bouyges rider with about a five second lead.
15:24 CEST 159.5km/36km to go
Moreau's lead is now under two minutes. Another group of 20 or so has gotten away from the peloton, and has a 24 second lead. Two Lampres, Martin of Columbia, Wegmann of Milram, are the only ones we can pick out quickly.
Michael, who is with the US Navy in Sicily, wants to know the meaning of all the times. Here ya go: when we say Moreau is leading, the chaser are at XX and the field at YY, that means the field is YY behind Moreau. Hm, that sounds clear as mud to me....
15:29 CEST 161.5km/34km to go
The defending champion is giving up his chances today for good. Kirchen is definitely falling off the back. No surprise, considering he is still coming back from an injury.
15:33 CEST 165.5km/30km to go
In the break, we have: Martin and Montfort (Columbia), Gasparotto and Gavazzi (Lampre), Agnoli (Liquigas), Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne), Roche (Ag2r), Gautier and Rolland (Bouygues), Martinez and Verdugo (Euskaltel), Bazayev and Murayev (Astana), Wegmann (Milram), Duque (Cofidis) and Fuglsang and C. Sorenson (Saxo Bank).
As it currently stands, Moreau is 22 seconds ahead of this group, which is 1.11 ahead of the peloton.
The chase group is not organized and is too big and too dangerous so the peloton is on the verge of catching it. A handful of riders keep on trying.
15:36 CEST 167.5km/28km to go
Meanwhile Moreau doggedly holds on to his 47 second lead and tries to ignore the happenings behind him.
15:38 CEST 169.5km/26km to go
The peloton has caught all of the group, and is strung out single file as it flies along.
Everyone is now going up the Cote Côte de Bohisseau (1.3km @ 7.6%). Four or five riders, led by a Saxo Bank rider, get a minimal lead.
15:42 CEST 171.5km/24km to go
Things are almost over for Moreau. He will be gobbled up any second now. It was a long flight for the Frenchman.
The group has now grown to eight or so, and they have really only a very minimal lead over the peloton.
Saxo Bank and Columbia go again. Looks like Kolobnev and -- no, not Columbia, but Astana.
15:45 CEST 173.5km/22km to go
Iglinsky is the Astana rider. Three more riders are tryng to join them. The peloton looks like a lot of little bunches at the moment.
Very nervous and unsettled race at the moment. Groups forming and dissolving and re-forming.Another rider take off in the lead -- is that Diquigivoanni? Yes. We think it is Jose Serpa.
Where are the favourites? We can't spot Valverde and his distinctive bike, for example.
15:49 CEST 175.5km/20km to go
This looks good for Rebellin, with a teammate up the road. Serpa is building up a respectable gap.
The Colombian mountain climber continues to fly through the beautiful green Belgian countryside. Behind him, Caisse d'Epargne continues to lead things -- so Valverde must be in there somewhere.
15:52 CEST 178.5km/17km to go
17 km to go and a 17 second lead for Serpa.
The peloton is single file again. The riders know that the decisive move has not yet been made and no one wants to be caught not paying attention or in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A Cofidis rider tries to get away, followed by three other riders -- all within spitting distance of the peloton.
The Cofidis ride is Taaramae, but now he is caught again.
15:55 CEST 180.5km/15km to go
Four in front including Taamarae. Moreau is now at the very back.
15:56 CEST 181.5km/14km to go
Rabobank has now two riders doing the lead work. THey have caught the other four and, oops, just caught Serpa too.
Time for things to really get lively now...
15:57 CEST 182.5km/13km to go
They head up the Cote du Ahin, the next-to-last climb. Botcharov of Katusha is the first to jump.
AGain, three riders give chase, joined by few others. All are within seconds of each other.
Botcharov is caught. Three riders are a few metres ahead now.
16:00 CEST 183.5km/12km to go
All together. Gasparatto takes two others riders with him a few metres ahead.
Pfannberger of Katusha is also in that trio, which now has a few meters lead and has now just become a quartet.
More riders come up from behind to join the group. They are six now.
We just spotted Valverde near the front of the peloton. The leading group is in a state of flux, constantly changing.
16:05 CEST 187.5km/8km to go
Two Caisse d'Epargne riders give chase. Three in front, three chasing -- hard to keep track of who is where at the moment.
The six riders have come together and are about 30 seconds ahead of the peloton. Martin leads the chase, with Valverde fourth behind him.
16:07 CEST 188.5km/7km to go
Let's make that a six second lead.
The six leaders are Tiralongo (Lampre), Scarponi (Diquigiovanni) , Kreuziger (Liquigas), Rdriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Pfannberger (Katusha) and Kroon (Saxo Bank).
Columbia continues to lead the chase. Evans, Cunego and Valverde are all still in good position, as is Lövkvist.
16:10 CEST 192.5km/3km to go
The escapees are caught. Once again this year, the Mur de Huy will decide the winner.
Gilbert of Silence-Lotto now in second behind a teammate. The pace is very high.
16:11 CEST 193.5km/2km to go
The riders fly through Huy on their way to the Wall.
All the names are near the front now,with Columbia again in the lead.
16:12 CEST 194.5km/1km to go
And up they go! Lotto again in the front.
This is steep... and they aren't at the worst part yet.
An Agritubel rider goes out -- David Lelay.
Wegmann, Rebellin, Valverde, all together --but Lelay has a three second lead. Evans goes.
They catch Lelay. Evans leads Andy Schleck and Rebellin.
Rebellin jumps to the lead
Rebellin takes his third Fleche Wallonne by a few metres, and rejoices, but looks very tired.
Andy Schleck takes second for Saxo Bank.
Third went to Damiano Cunego and fourth to Samuel Sanchez. They both passed Evans in the final metres, with the Australian coming in fifth, followed by Lövkvist.
Thanks for joining us today. We'll be back on Sunday with Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Catch us then!
1 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
3 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - N.G.C.
4 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto
6 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Team Columbia-Highroad
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
8 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Cervelo Test Team