Field wide open as Cooke attempts to equal Luperini's record
By Anthony Tan in Charleroi
Running in tandem with the men's race this Sunday, the women's Flèche Wallonne looks to be an equally open affair. While only in its ninth year, La Flèche Wallonne Femmes has already produced a triple champion in Fabiana Luperini (1998, 2001-02) and one double winner in Nicole Cooke, who took her second title last year in convincing fashion over the Nürnberger duo of Oenone Wood and Judith Arndt. In 2006, the Welsh wonder comes back in an attempt to defend her title and equal Luperini's record, but a deep field of contenders suggests she won't have it all her own way.
Rather than starting in Charleroi, the women's peloton will start and finish in Huy, essentially riding the final 106 kilometre loop of the men's Flèche. So before reaching the foot of the invariably leg-breaking, race-deciding Mur de Huy, the same four climbs will be faced, namely the Côte de Pailhe (km 36.5), Côte de Hautebisse (km 58.5), Côte de Bohissau (km 77.0) and Côte de Ahin (km 95.0).
Certainly, one can wait, sit back and enjoy the ride, but as history shows, it doesn't always have to be that way. In 2004, Frenchwoman Sonia Huguet and Germany's Hanka Kupfernagel attacked with six kilometres to go and held off the field all the way to the line, with the former coming out on top to claim her biggest ever career victory. It was an enterprising move that caught the peloton off-guard, and similar initiative will be required if the race is to finish that way again.
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