The 197-rider peloton gathered in Charleroi for the start of the 74th Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday as the Classics shift back into Belgium for the first time in a fortnight following Paris-Roubaix and t It was appropriate that the race began just south of the home of the European Union (Brussels) as Spain's cycling stars attracted the most attention at the start of the French-organised, Belgian race.
The commotion at the start caused by the presence of Alberto Contador (Astana) was matched only by the cheers that rang out as Amstel Gold Race winner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) strode onto the stage. Held in the Walloon region of Belgium, Fleche and Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege form a home-coming for the 27-year-old Wallonne cycling star. World champion Cadel Evans (BMC) was also popular, as was Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and was another local hero Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia).
Amstel's start list was severely impacted by the effects of the Icelandic volcano, but with teams and riders adapting to current travel restrictions, most of the scheduled field was able to get the race underway just before 11:30a.m. CET. Some of the Cofidis riders who competed in Turkey failed to make it and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia) stayed on after Amstel Gold Race to complete their rosters. Bradley Wiggins was on hand to ensure that Team Sky commenced the race with their full list of eight riders. Sky were one of the teams most representative of the shift in rosters that occurs at this time of the year, with Wiggins, Thomas Lövkvist, Steve Cummings and Chris Froome all starting their first major Classic of the season.
While team selections had been adapted for the Ardennes, so had the gear selections of the riders in the field. Philippe Gilbert was obviously feeling strong as he opted for a 41/25 low-range combination, while his former teammate and World Champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) had preferenced a more conventional 39/25. The BMC mechanic told Cyclingnews that some of the less experienced members of the team would be running 39/27 to cope with the 9.3 per cent gradient of the Mur de Huy. We will find out who had the right gear selection and the legs to turn it later today.
Cyclingnews' live coverage of the race has already began from atop the Mur de Huy and there will be full coverage and interviews after the race.