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La Flèche Wallonne 2012

Welcome to the Fleche Wallonne, the next step in the Ardennes Classics!

Fleche Wallonne! The middle part of the Ardennes trilogy! And that means the Muur de Huy three times! What fun!

The weather may well play a role here today, as we are expecting wind and rain. It is also not particularly warm, in fact much too cool for this time of year.

We are supposed to have 25 teams with eight riders each at the start today. That makes a total of 198, if we multiply right (about which we have our serious doubts). However, we know that at least one team sent only seven riders, so that throws the numbers off right there.

The neutralized start was supposed to have taken place 5 minutes ago.  The "real" start is supposed to be at 11:45 CET.

And they are indeed underway.

The weather is indeed doing its thing.  Rain and lots of wind at the start in Charleroi.

191km remaining from 194km

Three km of real racing now - and no one has gotten away yet!

Let's take a look at the course. It starts off from Charleroi and heads east. That's the easy (and flat) part.  But at km 70 there is a small bump in the road, the Muur de Huy.  More on that later. This sends the troops off on a 90 mile course with five more climbs before coming back to the Muur de Huy. Again. They then head off on a 31 km course, with only two more climbs before coming back to – you guessed it – finish atop the Muur de Huuy.

Philippe Gilbert dominated the Ardennes Classics last year and finished strong in Amstel on Sunday. We think he has a good chance today, and we aren't the only ones, his team BMC thinks so too. Even though Tour de France winner Cadel Evans had to beg off with a sinus infection, “we have a great group of riders to support Gilbert, and Van Avermaet is definitely ready to do some great riding this week,” team manager John Lelangue said on the team website.

It is now raining on the Muur de Huy.  Won't that be fun in the rain?

17km into the stage, 11 riders got away. And were almost immediately caught again by BMC.

Philippe Gilbert may not be the same “Phil Gil” from last year who won everything he put his mind too, but he has finally start to show signs that he is getting back into form. He looked good (not great, but good) in the finale of Amstel Gold, which made him feel better. Even he admitted, though, “I’m not yet 100 per cent.”
 

175km remaining from 194km

And with 19 km behind them, two more riders have decided to give it try: Kurt Hovelynck (Landbouwkrediet) and Gregory Habeux (Accent.Jobs-Willems Veranda's).

Let's see if they get away with it.

171km remaining from 194km

Nice try, but no go.  Now Daniele Ratto (Liquigas) and Mads Christiensen (Saxo Bank) have jumped and have 12 seconds on the field, letour.fr lets us know.

Oleg Chuzda of Accent.Jobs-Willems Veranda's tried to join the two leaders but was reeled back in.The gap is now 18 seconds.

165km remaining from 194km

A crash splits the field.  Unfortunately such happenings are to be expected on a rainy day. The gap is still 18 seconds from the two leaders to the first half of the chasing field.

Jure Kocjan of Team Type 1 was involved in that crash, and has abandoned.

Of those 25 teams in the race today, 18 are the WorldTour teams who are automatically included.  The seven wild-cards went to: Accent Jobs-Willems Verandas; Colombia-Coldeportes; Landbouwkrediet; Argos-Shimano; Saur-Sojasun; Team Type1-Sanofi; and Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator.

Ratto punctured and is now back in the field.  The field is still in two parts, with Katusha leading the first group in chase of Christensen, who is alone in the lead by 25 seconds.

And Rigobert Uran of Sky and Martin Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) were also involved in the crash, but as far as we know, are still racing.
 

Two more riders have jumped now:  Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Sjef De Wilde (Accent.Jobs-Willems Veranda's). They are 10 seconds behind Christensen, with the peloton another 20 seconds back.

Ah well, so much for all of that. Katusha led the chase and caught everyone.

Cadel Evans (BMC) is one of many not here today, as he is suffering from a sinus infection. (As fellow sufferers, he gets lots of sympathy from us.) He is looking to ride the Tour de Romandie instead, on his way to his defense of his TdF crown.
 

Lotto Belisol just isn't having much luck this year.  There has been another crash involving two of its rider, Gaeten Bille and Jurgen Van De Walle, with the latter having to abandon.

139km remaining from 194km

We have our next break attempt. Dirk Bellemakers of Landbouwkrediet has 10 seconds on a few chasers, with the field at 25 seconds.

Did you know that the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege used to be run on successive days? Ouch! Only seven riders have won both races in the same year, with Ferdi Kubler doing it twice. 

Marc Sergeant says that Van De Walle has withdrawn due to pain in his arm and ribs after his crash, according to sporza.

We may actually have something now.  Bellemakers has been joined by Anthony Roux (FdJ). De Wilde  is giving chase and is at 40 seconds. The peloton has apparently decided to let them go, as the gap is now 2 minutes.

Looks like De Wilde won't catch up, as he is now 1:05 down.  The field is at 2:45

The riders are rapidly approaching Huy for the first time, and there are spells of heavy rain. Let's hope for the best.

Alex Howes of Garmin-Barracuda was one of the surprises of the Amstel Gold Race, and the 24-year-old American is here again today. He talked to Cyclingnews about it here.

Our two leaders have topped off Huy with 2:25 on de Wilde. The field is at 3:28. 

We have two more abandons, Steven Caethoven (Accent.Jobs) and Davy Commeyne (Landbouwkrediet).

Jens Voigt led the peloton over the top of Huy, with teammate Andy Schleck very close behind him.

I am handing off to Dan, who will now accompany you on all those climbs in the rain.

Outside the bar at the foot of the Mur of Huy – called ‘Au Pied du Mur’ funnily enough – the locals are already knocking back the glasses of Jupiler and waiting for BMC rider and national hero Phillip Gilbert to make their day. They might not get their wish, but they would have a raucous, beer-fuelled time anyway.

 

At the start of the Fleche Wallonne in Charleroi, Gilbert and BMC arrived last at the signing on and created a media scrum and there were even squeals from the not-so-yummy mummies behind the barriers. But, if Gilbert was the local favourite, that didn’t make him any more confident and he tried his best to duck the local media as heavy spots of rain fell from a cold, grey sky.

 

Sjef De Wilde has given up the chase. If only he'd held on for a bit longer and he'd have earned some valuable TV time.

Looking far more relaxed at the start this morning was Sky rider Lars-Peter Nordhaug, the man who became tangled up with Lampre’s Damiano Cunego in the final meters of the Amstel Gold as both tumbled to the Tarmac. “Yes, I was happy to have been in the finale of the Amstel, it was good for my morale, it meant my form was good. I wasn’t hurt though although since then all I’ve done, in terms of training, is a bit of work on the turbo trainer and a couple of short road rides.”

But if the 28-year-old Norwegian had any notions about playing his own card in the Fleche Wallonne, he was playing them down at the signing on. “The team’s tactics for today won’t change at all, it’s hard to predict the race of course, but I think (Rigoberto) Uran will be strong today,” said Nordhaug, suggesting that, although he had a good ride in the Amstel Gold, the Colombian was still the rider Sky would be looking to in Huy to perform.

 

And former world number one (and winner of the 1997 Fleche Wallonne) Laurent Jalabert, didn’t give any of the French riders a hope in hell – although we’re paraphrasing him a little. Jalabert, now an astute commentator for French TV, didn’t think that in-form Romain Bardet (AG2R)or Julien Simon (Saur Sojasun) had much of a chance. “Yes, of course Bardet put in a good ride at the Amstel, but the finish of the Fleche Wallonne will be too hard for him I think. The Fleche finale is a step up again from the Amstel Gold and, although Simon has won a couple of races this season, again, I think that this race is another level up. Of the other French riders possibly Jerome Coppel (Saur Sojasun) could pull something off, but the finish of this race is something ‘extra’.” As we said, he wasn’t holding his breath.

Quotes, courtesy of Kenny Pryde.

The gap is up to 3:40 but we're still a fair way off the next climb of the Côte de Peu d'Eau

Fleche has seen some memorable battles over the years, last year wasn't one of them with GIlbert having enough time to blow kisses to the crowd before crossing the line - but in this gallery we look back at some of the best moments from the last 16 years or so. Basically, if you're a fan of Bartoli or Armstrong, come this way.

The gap continues to grow. It's at 4:45

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) wins Stage 2 of the Giro dell Trentino

@inrng Wed, 18th Apr 2012 12:50:59

Sander Armee has jumped out of the bunch on a counter attack. Countdown to TV time or a genuine race tactic?

Lotto and Katusha have moved to the front of the bunch in order to keep the break in check. Both teams have riders with high aspirations for today.

Lotto and Katusha have moved to the front of the bunch in order to keep the break in check. Both teams have riders with high aspirations for today.

Two new climbs in the course this year, the idea being that riders who dont have the explosive power to win on the final climb, can break away earlier and try and build up a lead.

90km remaining from 194km

The gap has come down, it's at 3:51, with 90km to go.

Our man from Topsport is still between the bunch and the two riders in the break. Armee doesn't look to comfortable to be honest, mainly because Lotto have put their entire team on the front of the bunch.

Send in your predictions and thoughts for today to twitter.com/dnlbenson

Jelle Vanendert leads Lotto today. Second in Amstel, he's clearly on form. He was immense during last year's Tour de France when he won his stage, coming from no-where to shoot past the best riders in the world. He's not a bad shout for today's win.

83km remaining from 194km

84km to go, the gap at 3:14

RT @richiesteege: 3#leaders #LindaVillumsen #LucindaBrand #ClaraHughes 20s on the #bunch #FlecheWallonneFemmes

@_Pigeons_ Wed, 18th Apr 2012 13:22:22

RT @richiesteege: 3#leaders #LindaVillumsen #LucindaBrand #ClaraHughes 20s on the #bunch #FlecheWallonneFemmes

@_Pigeons_ Wed, 18th Apr 2012 13:22:22

Laurens ten Dam is riding at the back of the bunch. He and his Rabobank team need a result after a poor showing in Amstel. The bunch are about to tackle the second climb of the race, the gap continuing to drop, it's at 2:59.

@dnlbenson really hopes joaquim rodriguez gets up today. Needs a lot of help from his team though.

@TommyBick Wed, 18th Apr 2012 13:26:27

Think Sergio Henao could be a surprise package to-day @dnlbenson

@chestnut38 Wed, 18th Apr 2012 13:26:42

Saxo Bank have committed some of their riders to the chase.

Here's Saxo Bank's team:

* 231 Chris Anker Sørensen (Den)
* 232 Mads Christensen (Den)
* 233 Karsten Kroon (Ned)
* 234 Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por)
* 235 Bruno Pires (Por)
* 236 Nicki Sørensen (Den)
* 237 David Tanner (Aus)
* 238 Troels Ronning Vinther (Den)

Armee, still sandwiched between the bunch and the break. He won't catch the break but he's still pushing on ahead.

The two leaders are on the Côte de Haut-Bois, 1600m in length with an average of 4.6 per cent.

Katusha have taken charge of the chase but Lotto aren't far from the front

There are cross winds picking up a bit now, and that's why the pace has increased slightly at the front of the bunch.

Armee is 2:50 back on the two leaders and he's starting to struggle.

Super stoked to pass this pink jersey onto Mathias who was 7th on the stage and new leader! Team was amazing today, especially @timmyrroe...

@taylorphinney Wed, 18th Apr 2012 13:41:55

Ryder Hesjedal and Gilbert at the back of the bunch. Not sure if the Canadian has much of a chance today. He prefers slightly longer climbs and with the Giro being his main focus, he may not have the form that carried him to second in Amstel in 2010.

64km remaining from 194km

2:40 to Armee, 4:20 to the bunch with 64km to go.

Final kms of Flèche Wallonne: @marianne_vos, @evelyn_stevens, Clara Hughes, @LVillumsen & Lucinda Brand lead, via @Bartoli84 & @richiesteege

@_Pigeons_ Wed, 18th Apr 2012 13:49:23

Roux has cramp and needs to stretch. Bellemakers sits up and waits and the duo are back together again.

55km remaining from 194km

Armee can't make any inroads, the gap to the leading pair stuck around the 2:40 mark.

55km remaining from 194km

Armee can't make any inroads, the gap to the leading pair stuck around the 2:40 mark.

The winds seem to have died down as well, with the bunch spread all over the road. Katusha try and inject a bit of pace in order to keep the chase alive.

The two leaders have started the Côte de Groynne

50km to go , the race has been pretty cagey so far with the break never having more than an 8 minute lead, and the bunch reluctant to do too much chasing. It's not real surprise though, the Ardennes all end up in uphill sprints.

A couple of Astana riders have moved up towards the front of the bunch, perhaps the only interesting development in the last few kms.

Here's their team for today's race:

 

* 141 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita)
* 142 Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz)
* 143 Francesco Gavazzi (Ita)
* 144 Andriy Grivko (Ukr)
* 145 Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz)
* 146 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro)
* 147 Evgeni Petrov (Rus)
* 148 Simone Ponzi (Ita)

Riblon is being dropped by the bunch, a few others also struggling.

Armee is about to be caught by the main field.

45km remaining from 194km

45km to go, the gap down to 2:52

Armee is still out there about 20 meters ahead of the bunch.

And he's caught.

Roux unclips his feet and shakes out his legs, still suffering from cramp is the Frenchman.

And we've got an attack. Andy Schleck has jumped away with a Katusha rider stuck to his wheel.

The rider with him is Yury Trofimov

38km remaining from 194km

Dmitriy Fofonov (Astana) has made it over to the Schleck group. That's a dangerous trio

The Schleck move means BMC have to do a lot of the chase work.

@dnlbenson #tdf + statistics + periodictable = Wonderful art print. No really. Be grateful for a RT. Thanks http://t.co/hwemzBa1

@onasixpence Wed, 18th Apr 2012 14:32:51

Schleck is doing most of the work in the counter attack, with Lotto now moving up and helping BMC with the chase.

We're about to go up the Mur for the second time and the bunch will need to keep the Schleck group in check .

The Schleck group has been neutralized.

The bunch hit the climb, around 44 seconds down on the break.

Nibali very near the front on the climb, Gilbert drifts back slightly.

Bellemakers takes the top of the climb, he's been first to every single climb so far today.

Horner puts in a dig and comes over 3rd.

30km remaining from 194km

30km to go, the gap is down to 30 second. It was well over a minute before the start of the Mur.

Rojas leads a small break off the front of the bunch but it all comes back together.

The bunch has broken up since the second time up the Mur, with groups all over the road.

Costa, Trofimov and one other rider are clear of the bunch, but only by a few seconds.

That move has been brought back but Tom Slagter and Visconti have broken clear.

Lotto still doing all the chasing. There's a crash back in the bunch with one rider down.

21km remaining from 194km

Visconti and Tom Slagter continue to work, they've got the early break at 14 seconds.

All the big hitters are waiting for the final climb up the Mur.

Visconti is perhaps setting something up for Valverde but if he gets his own chance he'll take it.

Katusha and  Lotto, the teams which have done most of the work so far today, continue to set the pace in the bunch.

18km remaining from 194km

18km to go, dark skies above the finish and the final climb. It looks like Visconti and Tom Slagter are about 100 meters clear of the bunch. It's all coming back together.

The two breaks are about to come together.

Lotto still driving the pace.

It looks like Frank Schleck has a puncture.

Iglinskiy attacks!

With Frank Schleck back with the team car.

Visconti and Slagter have dropped the other pair but the gap is 4 seconds.

And it's all back together. 13km to go.

Riders looking at each other, the perfect time to attack, and Rabobank again launch a rider up the road. Easily closed by Rojas in this instance.

Heavy rain now. BMC is near the front of the bunch, looking nervous.

Kiryienka gets a gap, a Katusha magnet stuck to his back wheel. Lotto and BMC haven't attacked once, but they've worked to keep things together.

And all back together, with 9km to go and onto the Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet and Iglinskiy attacks.

And all back together, with 9km to go and onto the Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet and Iglinskiy attacks.

Hesjedal is trying to close the gap but the entire bunch is coming along too.

An attack now from Garmin.

Katusha bring it all back together again.

And Sky attack

It may be Nordhaug, and Hesjdal is going with him.

It may be Nordhaug, and Hesjdal is going with him.

They've got a gap too. Can Katusha bring this one back?

Gilbert is still there.

Hesjedal driving the pace, they've got just  6 seconds.

They need to bunch to sit up and hesitate if this move is going to make it.

The gap is up to 8 seconds.

Katusha aren't easing up though.

It's a long flat run in until the climb. Gilbert is right at the back of the bunch.

5km remaining from 194km

5km to go, the gap at 9 seconds. They need at least double that.

11 seconds.

12 seconds. If they can get to 20, 25 seconds then this pair have a chance.

12 seconds now, with 3km to go.

Katusha need help on the front.

Nearly onto the climb.

And we're onto the climb.

Nordhaug is suffering. The gap is 13 seconds, it's going out.

Hesjedal looks back, he can see the chasing bunch . The Canadian goes alone

Nordhaug responds. .

And now the Sky rider leads

Katusha lead the chase.

Albasini, Nibali, Gilbert all there

The leaders caught.

The Canadian goes again though.

Alabasini, and Rodriguez move up and catch him.

And Rodriguez attacks.

And Rodriguez attacks.

He's got a gap.

Gilbert tries to chase with Nibali.

And Rodriguez takes it.

It looks like Albasini took second, and Gilbert third.

Rodriguez, twice second here, was simply too strong for everyone else. He held back, waited for the Hesjedal move to come back and then simply rode away. Gilbert and Albasini tried everything to bring Rodriguez back but it wasn't enough. A similar finish to last year, Rodriguez has plenty of time to wave and blow kisses before he crossed the line.

1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 4:45:41
2 Michael Albasini (Swi) GreenEdge Cycling Team 0:00:04
3 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
4 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
5 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team 0:00:07
6 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:09
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
9 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
10 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:00:11
11 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana Pro Team
12 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
13 Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
14 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling
15 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team

Thanks for joining us today. You can find full results, photos and a report, right here.

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