Fleche Wallonne -- the second of the Ardennes Classics!
Welcome back to Cyclingnews' continuing coverage of the Fleche Wallonne. The highlight today: three climbs of the Mur de Huy, including one last brutal climb up to the finish line after 205 difficult kilometers.
Fortunately the long cold European winter has finally decided to leave and while there may or may not be sun on the race today, at least the temperatures will be out of the deep-freeze and up into a more comfortable range.
The Mur de Huy features heavily today. There will be three climbs up it today, at kms 108.5 and 173.5, as well as the finish. How bad is it? The average gradient is nine percent, but with 500 meters to go, there is a stretch of 17%.
Here is a look at the climbs today:
Km 76.5 - Côte de Naninne - 2.6 km climb to 3.7 %
Km 90.0 - Côte de Groynne - 2.0 km climb to 3.5 %
Km 108.5 - Mur de Huy - 1.3 km climb to 9.3 %
Km 127.5 - Côte d'Ereffe - 2.1 km climb to 5.9 %
Km 146.0 - Côte de Peu d'Eau - 2.7 km climb to 3.9 %
Km 151.0 - Côte de Bellaire - 1.0 km climb to 6.8 %
Km 158.5 - Côte de Bohisseau - 1.3 km climb to 7.6 %
Km 161.5 - Côte de Bousalle - 1.7 km climb to 4.9 %
Km 173.5 - Mur de Huy - 1.3 km climb to 9.3 %
Km 190.0 - Côte d'Amay - 1.5 km climb to 6.7 %
Km 196.5 - Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet - 1.2 km climb to 7.5 %
Km 205.0 - Mur de Huy - 1.3 km climb to 9.3 %
The neutral start of the race is supposed to be any minute now. The sharp start will be at 12:05, so in about 15 minutes.
The Mur is almost always crucial in deciding the race, but so often the race has come down to a large group arriving at the base together, with the strongest legs winning. Cyclingnews' Barry Ryan has taken a look at things and analysed it all in his excellent race review.
The race has indeed officially started, but with only 196 riders. Daniele Pietropolli of team Lampre-Merida did not take to the start.
We have our first crash of the day. Thomas Rohregger of RadioShack-Leopard made pavement contact, but is up and going again. It would certainly be very nice if that was the only crash of the day, but we won't be that optmistic.
Here is a peek back at the winners of the last ten years:
2012 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha 194km in 4.45.41 (40.74 km/h)
2011 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 201km in 4.54.57 (40.888 km/h)
2010 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 195.5km in 4.39.24 (41.98 km/h)
2009 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 204km in 4.41.15 (41.56 km/h)
2008 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team High Road 199.5 km in 4.35.29 (43.45 km/h)
2007 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 202.5 km in 4.48.06 (42.173 km/h)
2006 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 202.0 km in 4.42.45 (42.865 km/h)
2005 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 201.5 km in 4.44.55 (42.43 km/h)
2004 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 199.5 km in 4.31.33 (44.08 km/h)
2003 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Team Saeco 198 km in 4.39.17 (42.86 km/h)
Only Rodriguez, Gilbert and Valverde are in the race today.
The sharp start was at 12:08. What, no escape group yet?
Who is riding today, anyway? If you are still not sure, check out the start list here.
200km remaining from 205km
They have been underway for a whole 5 km so far. And still all togeher!
Here is last year's top ten:
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
All are riding today except for Kiserlovski, Nibali and Van Den Broeck.
At last! After 7 km, Cedric Pineau of FDJ got tired of waiting and has taken off. He has only 12 seconds on the field at the moment, but it's a start!
193km remaining from 205km
That break is over. Pineau is back in the bunch.
Last year “Purito” Rodriguez stormed up the Mur de Hoy to take a stunning win, but even he admits he is not likely to repeat this year. The reason: a very nasty bruise suffered in a crash at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. His participation today was up in the air for a few days, but the Movistar rider decided to go ahead and ride, after the doctors cleared him, of course.
190km remaining from 205km
Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Beilson), Pirmin Lang (IAM) and Romain Sicard (Euskaltel) tried to get away, but the peloton decided not to let them.
185km remaining from 205km
Well, at least there are attempts now to get away. Gilles Devilliers of Crelan-Euphony is the next to give it a go, with Lang coming along with him.
The two now have a 20 second gap on the field.
25km remaining from 205km
The gap is now up to 1:05. But some reports say that it is not Devilliers, but instead Matteo Bono of Lampre.
Letour says Devilliers, so we will stick with him. Jurgen van Goolen (Accent Jobs-Wanty) is behind them at 55 seconds, with the field a further 20 seconds behind him.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Jerome Pineau may think he is riding his 13th Fleche Wallonne, but letour.fr says no, it is only his 12th. That ties him with Nicki Sorensen of Saxo-Tinkoff.
174km remaining from 205km
Looks like this might turn into something. The two leaders now have 1:05 on van Goolen and 2:10 on the field.
Jakob Fuglsang has moved to Astana after an unhappy 2012 with RadioShack, and a good performance in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race gives hope. His main goal this year, however, is the Tour de France.
Three minutes now for the two leaders, with van Goolen still dangling alone at about a minute back.
Not surprisingly, this race has been most often won by Belgians – 38 times, as a matter of fact. Then we have 18 Italians, 8 French, 3 Spanish, two each Swiss and Danish, followed by one each German, Dutch, US, Luxembourg and Australia.
170km remaining from 205km
Congratulations to van Goolen, who finally caught the two in front of him. That will make life a lot easier for him! The trio has 4:30 over the field now.
Two Belgians and two Italians have each won the race three times: Marcel Kint (1943, 1944, 1945), Eddy Merckx (1967, 1970, 1972), Moreno Argentin (1990, 1991, 1994), and Davide Rebellin (2004, 2007, 2009).
What does the great Michele Bartoli think of the “The Mur”? It is “the toughest climb” in the Ardennes," is what he says. “For me, the Fleche boils down to the Mur and nothing more.”
156km remaining from 205km
This trio is working well together, as they have built up a gap of over six minutes!
154km remaining from 205km
Let's make that gap 7:25 now!
Michel Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) was fourth Sunday in Amstel, but says he is under no pressure in today's race or L-B-L on Sunday. “My big goal in each race I’m doing here and everywhere else is to gain experience, see what happens, work with the team as a unit, and hopefully a good result will come too.”
Today's winner will take home €16,000, which is, by the way, significantly more than the winner of the womens' race. Second today is worth €8000, and third is €4000. The men will win a total of €40,000.
Oops! Why did we say that Rodriguez is with Movistar? We know better than that! Of course he is riding for Katusha. Apologies all around!
154km remaining from 205km
It has finally dawned on the peloton that they need to react -- the gap has moved up to 9:15. That was enough to kick Sky and BMC into moving to the head of the field to start a chase.
The climbs have financial rewards, as well. The first rider over each of them is awarded €250. For twelve climbs, that makes a total of €3000.
Peter Sagan has had a spectacular year so far, but Amstel Gold was far from his best race. Today he will tackle the Fleche for the first time in his young career, but after that, it is definitely time for a break for the Cannondale rider.
Alberto Contador is another one whose main goal this year is the Tour de France, but he too is here today, even if it sounds like he might rather not be. “Saxo-Tinkoff wanted me to be there and of course they are races everybody likes to do, even if when you’re building up for the Tour de France it’s perhaps better not to [race them]. But it’s only another week of racing, so I’ll try to do as well as possible.”
Our leading trio is tackling the day's first climb, the Cote de Naninne. The gap has dropped a few seconds, to 9:05.
Devilliers is the first over the first climb, as the gap has now dropped to 8:55.
Let's take a look at these three riders in the lead. Devilliers is a 28 year-old Belgian. He rode for the Continental team Storez-Ledecq Matriaux in 2007, and was a trainee with Acqua & Sapone in 20008. In 2010 he rode for Lotto-Bodysol, for Wallonie Bruxelles-Credit Agricrole in 2011, and Landbouwkrediet last year. He is still looking for his first pro victory.
Time for me to get some lunch and turn things over to Dan Benson.
Next year’s FW will start in a different part of Belgium. Cyclingnews understands that a start is due to take place further south, in the region (not the country) of Luxembourg.
Should Philippe Gilbert (BMC) win today he will be the third reigning World Champion to do so. Previous riders who won Fleche wearing rainbow stripes are Cadel Evans in 2010 and Claude Criquielion in 1986. Criquielion also won Fleche in 1989.
Together with Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and defending champion Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is one of three past winners of Fleche today, but he doesn’t rate his chances in 2013. Or at least that’s the impression he wishes to give. “I’m not going to win, Nairo [Quintana - Movistar team-mate] is,” he told Cyclingnews with a big grin. “There’s no secret to winning here, anyway: be really well-placed on the Mur and have good legs.”
112km remaining from 205km
With 112 kilometres to go the gap has been reduced by around half a minute, and now stands at 8'25.
At 32, Van Goolen is the oldest and most experienced of the three riders in the break. He turned pro in 2002 and has put in time with Domo-Farm Frites, Quick Step, Discovery Channel, Team CSC, and Omega Pharma-Lotto. In 2011 he won a stage at the Route du Sud. He has also ridden the Vuelta a Espana three times in his career.
The three leaders have just crested the Côte de Groynne. Their advantage is fluctuating between 8 and 9 minutes still, with little concerted effort from the peloton to chase. With the first climb up the Muur within the next 15 km that will all change though.
Richie Porte (Sky) has never raced Fleche before but the Paris-Nice winner and former Giro leader is convinced that there are “Three guys for Sky who could be up there on the podium. It’s a question of getting to the foot of the climb in good position.”
Apart from himself and Sergio Henao, both podium finishers in the Tour of the Basque Country, “Rigoberto [Uran] has got some good form so with three of us it’ll be good to have different options.” Asked if Sky needed a victory in the Classics, Porte said “everybody needs a victory, even Saxo do after winning Amstel. It’d be nice to win but I don’t think it’s going to be crucial.”
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) had no visible signs of injury at the start of the Fleche Wallone, but the large bruise lurking high on his left thigh thanks to his Amstel crash has yet to disappear and he was definitely playing down his chances on Wednesday morning. “I’m getting better but I’m not at 100 percent yet,” Rodriguez said. “And you’ve got to be really strong here to win, there are a lot of big names here. I really have no idea if I’m up for the win but at the very least I will try.”
Lampre-Merida will be basing their Fleche Wallonne strategy around two leaders, the Coppi y Bartoli winner Diego Ulissi and Damiano Cunego. “Diego finished ninth on the Mur last year and he’s determined to do better this time round,” Maurizio Piovani told Belgian newspaper La Dermnier Heure. “And we’ve got two leaders because Damiano Cunego” - 43rd in Amstel - “has already proved he’s got what it takes at Flehce with third places in 2008 and 2009.”
Onto the Mur de Huy for the three leaders, with their advantage now down to 7;15 over the peloton.
93km remaining from 205km
The gap might seem substantial at the moment but we'll see it drop significantly within the next 20-30km before it levels off and the danger is nullified. The race within the race will be about positioning for the next climb up the Mur de Huy.
For the first time since 1945, no Belgian rider has yet won a Classic throughout the entire spring - with the honourable exception of the GP Pino Cerami, taken by Jonas Van Genechten (Lotto-Bellisol). His team-mate Jelle Vanendert, fourth in Fleche last year and second in Amstel, is one of those called to set the record straight today.
Vanendert finished 12th in FW 2007, as a neo-pro, and was a key figure for Philippe Gilbert on the same climb in 2011.
“If you’re fourth in the Mur de Huy, you can win it,” he told Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure, “obviously this climb suits a rider like Joaquim Rodriguez but on a good day I can win too.”
Sick earlier this spring, Vanendert placed 13th in Amstel, “which really gave me a big boost to my morale, because there wasn’t much difference between 13th and second that day, particularly as this new finish doesn’t suit me so much. My condition is good and I want at least a top 10 in Fleche. But naturally I hope to do better!”
Rohregger and Montaguti have both abandoned the race.
De Gendt and Marcato lead the peloton up the climb 6'15 back on the leaders.
78km remaining from 205km
With 78 km remaining the gap is now down to 4'55.
The leaders are now on the slopes of the Côte d'Ereffe
The three leaders continue to work together but the gap continues to come down. It's at 3'38 now with 73km remaining. Sky and BMC have moved the front but there's no sign of Katusha. With Rodriguez not 100 per cent following his crash in Amstel Gold, the Russian team aren't expected to control the race.
BMC are stamping their authority on the race, with their entire team leading the peloton now.
Astana with their numerous leaders for the race, have started to move towards the front but it's still BMC, who are still looking for a win in the classics, who continue to control the pace on the front of the peloton.
Movistar, for Valverde, have also put a man on the front as well.
66km remaining from 205km
The lead is under 3 minutes for the first time though now, at 2'56.
More teams are starting to show their hands with Cannondale moving Peter Sagan closer to the front of the peloton. The lead has stabilised at just over 2 minutes and will likely stay there until the next time up the Mur.
Marentes has a crash at the back of the peloton but he's up and running again after a quick remount.
54km remaining from 205km
The break has just over a minute on the peloton now with 54 km remaining.
The peloton aren't waiting for the catch though and a counter attack has been launched by RadioShack. Barde for AG2R is also up there. The group consists of around 10 riders. Lagutin is there too.
No confirmation of the other riders in the group yet but they only have 60 metres or so. The peloton are strung out behind and it doesn't look at the counter attack will be given much freedom.
Lang and his breakaway companions have 22 seconds on the peloton.
48km remaining from 205km
48 kilometres to go and there's no let up in pace.
Cannondale are losing riders off the back of the peloton but Sagan is still in the mix. It will be interesting to see how he goes today. With Amstel in his legs he should go a little bit better than he did last weekend. Will the finishing climb be too much for him though?
Blanco launch an attack and it's followed by a rider from AG2R. The break has been caught though, so it's all over for them.
Bardet and Ten Dam are the two riders on the attack now.
This little move will cause a number of teams to chase. They can't allow a rider like Ten Dam to have too much room on this course. The Blanco rider and Bardet are working well together though with a lead approaching 200 meters.
It's caused Burghardt and his BMC comrades to move back to the front of the peloton and tap out a steady but not blistering pace.
ORICA GreenEdge attack from the bunch and the move is marked by two other riders. This time the peloton aren't so lenient and they immediately line out and start to chase.
Bardet and Ten Dam have 30 seconds with 42 km to go.
The attack from GreenEdge has moved the peloton into life again and for Ten Dam and Badret that's bad news, their gap down to 16 seconds.
Both of the leaders are riding flat out and sharing the workload but against the entire BMC team they're not going to get too far.
What they are doing though is weakening Gilbert's squad.
39km remaining from 205km
The duo have managed to pull out a few more seconds, their advantage up to 24 seconds.
Gilbert still has a number of teammates with him though but Sky are also coming to the front as well. With Henao, Porte and Uran they have a number of cards to play with at the finish.
32km remaining from 205km
Ten Dam and Bardet have just 12 seconds on the field, and the peloton have the leading pair in their sights.
The leaders are now on the lower slopes of the Mur as Hesjedal has a mechanical. He gets help from Thomas Dekker but it's going to take a big effort for the Giro winner to come back from there.
Last year he was part of a late break with Nordhaug that almost paid off.
Bardet is about to swept up on the climb with Ten Dam pushing on alone. All the main favourites are near the front of the peloton, Valverde, Rodriguez, Gilbert. with BMC posting a lone rider on the front.
Uran is on the front too, Moreno as well as the peloton crests the top of the climb with 30 km to go.
Hesjedal is working his way through the peloton but he's paid a lot for that effort.
Ten Dam has stayed clear and he's been joined by Geschke from Argos Shimano.
Hesjedal is still just off the back of the peloton though. Garmin will need to rely on Daniel Martin for a result today it seems.
Monfort tries an attack and it's marked by Lotto and Garmin.
BMC again move up to the front of the peloton and start to shut down the move.
Ten Dam looks over his shoulder and can see that the peloton are closing rapidly.
Gilbert is still left with five teammates around him. Rodriguez has three as well, while Valverde has two.
Sagan is in the middle of the pack at the moment but he still has help should he need or ask for it.
The two leaders are descending at the moment and have 15 seconds with 22km to go.
More problems for Garmin and this time it's Daniel Martin who needs a wheel. A teammate swaps out with him but again it's a disaster for Garmin with both their two leaders suffering mechanicals in the closing stages of the race.
20km remaining from 205km
BMC continue to plough on at the front with Gilbert sitting in 5th wheel. The last time a world champion won this race while in the rainbow jersey was in 2010 when Cadel Evans won, coincidentally he was in BMC colours that day too.
Martin is coming back through the team cars and is about to make contact with the peloton again.
The leaders push on and now have 22 seconds but BMC are being joined by Cannondale. It's crunch time. Saxo Bank also come to the front as well.
Saxo have Contador in their ranks, who has made the podium here before.
15km remaining from 205km
Moreno is drifting near the back of the peloton, Moser too, as BMC are out in full force on the front of the peloton now. Ten Dan and Geschke are still plugging away though.
Richie Porte has been dropped. That's a bit of a surprise. He's got Michael Matthews for company though.
Attacks from the peloton on the crest of that last climb.
And now the leaders just have 5 seconds on the bunch.
Saxo Bank Tinkoff are just behind the BMC train and they're planning to get their leaders into position for the Mur.
The chase group is 5 seconds of the leaders with the bunch at 12. Lagutin is in the counter attack but it's all going to come back together before the climb.
We'll have four leaders shortly.
10km remaining from 205km
Just 10km to go and the leaders have 10 seconds. Cannondale are playing a more prominent role now and Ten Dan and Geschke are still out there. The counter attack was caught.
The penultimate climb and the leaders have just 5 seconds.
And it's all over as Weening attacks and goes passed the leaders.
It's not Weening, it's Meier.
And Andy Schleck has been dropped.
The peloton are strung out on the climb now with Pineau on the front at the moment .
Gilbert has two Astana riders on his wheel at the moment.
Pineau continues to wind things up
8km to go.
The cameras pan back to Schleck, who is trying to fight his way back.
Astana give the pace a little throttle on the front and it gets rid of the Omega rider and now Katusha start to mount their challenge on the front. As we all know it's all going to come down to this final climb.
Schleck has made it into a chase group.
But Saxo Bank are now on the front of the peloton as the sprint into the foot of the climb begins.
Golas then takes over and Valverde starts to move up towards the front of the peloton.
It's all together, the peloton will swing onto the lower slopes of the Mur in the next few minutes.
2.6km to go, the descent to the foot of the climb begins.
if youre out of the top 30 riders, your race is over from here.
The peloton funnels out and Astana are on the front. Sagan is there Rodriguez too.
They swing left and the climb starts.
Grivko takes it up.
Gilbert is third wheel
Now Blanco push to the front with Mollema.
Gilbert is second wheel.
Attack from Bentancur
No one goes with him
Gilbert leads the chase
He has 20 meters
Gilbert looks around, Anton and Henao are there
They're all waiting to hit gilbert
But Betancur is still alone
Now Gilbert jumps, Sagan is with him
More goes through and is going to take the win
He hit them perfectly, allowing Gilbert to chase and when Sagan cracked the Katusha rider kicked, and was simply too fast for Gilbert
Betancur was caught by Moreno with around 50 meters to go. The Spaniard had been dangling off the back of the peloton with around 15 km to go.
Henao was there in the finish but he lost contact with Gilert with about 150 to go. He fought back though and we're just waiting for the confirmation of the top three.
Henao came around Gilbert with 100 to go and he's made the podium.
Dan Martin was 4th. Gilbert took it upon himself to do all the work on the lower slopes and the rest of the field waited for him to attack. When he did, the World Champion simply didnt have the kick and he merely set up the other riders to launch their moves. It looks like the Belgian was outside of the top ten.
A strong ride from Dan Martin who came back from that late mechanical to compete for a podium place. He just came up short though.
1 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha
2 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling
3 Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) AG2R La Mondiale
4 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp
5 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
6 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
8 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
9 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team
10 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
So Katusha seal their second win in the race in two years.
You can read our race report, results and see all our race images from today, right here.
And don't forget to tune in on Sunday for our complete live coverage from Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Thanks for joining us today.
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