By Brecht Decaluwé
With a devastating acceleration in the final 200 metres, Team High Road's Kim Kirchen jumped away from Cadel Evans and Damiano Cunego on the horrendously steep Mur de Huy to become the first Luxemburger to win La Flèche Wallonne. When Cyclingnews spoke with Kirchen at the Amstel Gold Race just a few days prior, the 29 year-old was actually hoping for bad weather this Wednesday, and his wish came true as the initial sunny skies gave way to a heavy downpour which made racing conditions extremely unpleasant.
"I hope it will rain a little bit during the last hour. I've always won my big races in the rain," were Kirchen's words last Sunday.
Bad weather or not, the Team High Road rider was undoubtedly in great shape after his two sprint wins at the Vuelta al País Vasco two weeks ago, but almost ruined his chances by selecting the wrong gear in the finale. "I thought it was too big a gear, I went up the last 300 metres in 53x21," he explained afterwards.
"But I was stronger than three years ago – when I also waited until almost the last possible moment to attack. That time, in 2005, I finished second, but on this occasion I've taken the most beautiful victory of my career. Often I've left it too late to win, and after attacking I kept on thinking I would get caught, but it didn't happen."
Kirchen explained that he spent much of the race shadowing two-time winner Davide Rebellin, knowing that the Gerolsteiner rider was likely conserving his energy better than anyone. "He's always good at calculating how to win a race like Flèche," said Kirchen. "On a wet day like today knowing the final climb, where to position yourself on it and where to attack was crucial. It's important when it's dry, but on a wet day like Wednesday, past experience of a race like Flèche was vital."
And despite being the first rider from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to win La Flèche Wallonne, a race first run in 1936, Kirchen insisted that he doesn't concern himself too much with cycling history. "I didn't know that, I'm not somebody who looks at the record books a lot, but being the first rider from Luxembourg to win Flèche does make me feel proud."
For the full results, report & photos from Flèche Wallonne, click here.