25 teams have been invited to start in the 76th edition of the Flèche Wallonne, next April 18.
The following 18 teams have been selected in compliance with International Cycling Union rules:
AG2R LA MONDIALE (FRA)
ASTANA PRO TEAM (KAZ)
BMC RACING TEAM (USA)
EUSKALTEL – EUSKADI (ESP)
GREENEDGE CYCLING TEAM (AUS)
KATUSHA TEAM (RUS)
LAMPRE – ISD (ITA)
LOTTO BELISOL TEAM (BEL)
MOVISTAR TEAM (ESP)
OMEGA PHARMA-QUICKSTEP (BEL)
RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM (NED)
SKY PRO CYCLING (GBR)
TEAM SAXO BANK (DEN)
VACANSOLEIL-DCM PRO CYCLING TEAM (NED)
Seven other teams, invited by the organisers, will make up the field for the Flèche Wallonne
ACCENT JOBS – WILLEMS VERANDA’S (BEL)
COLOMBIA – COLDEPORTES (COL)
PROJECT 1T4I (NED)
SAUR – SOJASUN (FRA)
TEAM TYPE 1 – SANOFI (USA)
TOPSPORT VLAANDEREN – MERCATOR (BEL)
Already impressive last Sunday when he captured his second victory on the Amstel Gold Race, Philippe Gilbert (OLO) proved he was really the man of the moment.
On home soil, the Belgian made the best of the final climb up the Mur de Huy to claim his first ever Fleche Wallonne. Gilbert wins this 75th edition ahead of Rodriguez (KAT) and Sanchez (EUS).
It’s now official: 199 riders representing 25 teams will take off tomorrow for the 75th edition of the Fleche Wallonne.The start will be given at 11h20 cet, in front of the Stade du Pays de Charleroi for a 201km ride all the way to Huy and the famous climb up the Mur. Among the favourites battling it out for a first success on the Fleche Wallonne will be two of the three men on last years podium: Joachim Rodriguez (KAT) and Alberto Contador (SAX), while last year's winner Cadel Evans, injured will not be at the start. Also in title contention will be recent Amstel Gold Race winner Philippe Gilbert (OLO) and Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck (LEO) while Robert Gesink (RAB), Samuel Sanchez and Igor Anton (both EUS) will also be men to watch.
Leopard-Trek team director Kim Andersen, speaking to letour.fr, counts on the Fleche Wallonne to forget the slight disappointment of the Amstel Gold Race where the efforts of his leader Andy Schleck failed to pay off.“The team feels fine despite what happened last Sunday. We will of course ride this race to win it. We were rather unlucky on the Amstel but we didn’t really commit mistakes. The riders have nothing to be ashamed about. The difficulty of the Mur de Huy is to make sure you attack at the right moment. The finish is like a sprint but what a long and difficult sprint it is! Normally it’s made for very powerful and explosive riders. But Andy Schleck generally does rather well up the climb so maybe it’ll be his day.”
After an Amstel Gold Race where “Gilbert was just too strong”, team director Frans Maasen will be counting on his Rabobank team leader Robert Gesink to shine on the Fleche Wallonne.
“On the Amstel things didn’t go the way we wanted. We had three guys among the favourites but Gilbert was just too strong. But I’m satisfied with what we did. The leaders for this Fleche will be Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema. Gesink has always done well on the Fleche (4th in 2008). Even last year, he finished 14th although he was sick. It’s a race for him. We’ll ask him to stay quiet until the final explanation on the climb up the Mur de Huy. The Fleche is an honest race where the best rider is rewarded.”
Before the start of the Fleche Wallonne tomorrow morning, team FDJ’s Marc Madiot isn’t the most optimistic of managers. Plagued by injuries, the French squad will take off without Vaugrenard and Roy. The ambition is only to capture a good final place.
“My squad is amputated and we’ll be starting with a bit of an unexpected team. The leaders will be Pierrick Fedrigo and Gianni Meersman. Arnold Jeannesson, despite all his talent hasn’t yet proven that he was a team leader. But honestly, the Mur basically paralyses the race. It’s a hill race and all the teams just focus on controlling the race until the final climb. We have to be realistic; all we can afford is a good place…”
After a fine 5th spot at the Tour of Castilla and Leon, and despite suffering from a bronchitis while in Spain, Jerome Coppel takes on the Ardennes Classics full of confidence. The Frenchman from the Saur-Sojasun team mainly focuses on Liège-Bastogne-Liège that he will discover for the first time and will help his team mate Jonathan Hivert for the Fleche Wallonne.
“A professional rider has to be motivated before such beautiful races. I’m extra motivated because after Liège, I’ll be taking a first break in my season. It’ll be my second experience on the Flèche Wallonne. I don’t expect a great result because the finish up the Mur de Huy doesn’t really suit me, but it’ll depend on my shape. The team leader for the Fleche will be Hivert, he has a good opportunity to shine and I’ll be helping him out. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is more of a race for me, it suits my style of racing although it’ll be the first time I compete there…”
Joaquim Rodriguez in Mende, Tour de France 2010© Presse Sports
With current champion Cadel Evans out of the Flèche Wallonne, the favourite's role falls to last year’s runner-up, Spaniard Joaquim Rodríguez, who won the first stage of the Tour of the Basque Country, led the race until the final time trial, and also took second place in the Amstel Gold Race. He is tailor-cut for summit finishes.
The Katusha rider's consistent performances earned him the top place in the world ranking at the end of last season. He finished eighth in the general classification in his first participation in the Tour de France after dropping one place following the time trial (held in Pauillac on the penultimate day), as he often does. His main asset was his explosiveness, which he used to overtake Alberto Contador and take the win at the top of the Laurent Jalabert climb in Mende (12th stage). Even though he loses some ground on drawn-out ascents up big mountains, he is almost invincible on short climbs: the steeper, the better. This is why the Mur de Huy is his stomping ground.
A second place in Liège caught Katusha's eye
Rodríguez’s breakthrough came in 2008, when he finished all three of the Ardennes classics (Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège) in 8th place while wearing the Spanish national champion jersey. "Looking back on my professional career as a whole", he says, "winning the national championship is my proudest achievement. Yet Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the race I dream of, even though I am aware that the Flèche Wallonne suits me even better." His second place in the 2009 Doyenne, just behind Andy Schleck, threw the doors of Katusha wide open for him, who had ridden exclusively for Spanish teams since he became a professional in 2001. "I worked for my leaders and learned a lot from them", he explains. After nine seasons in the shadow of others, he bloomed in the Russian team, which is under pressure to perform well in the Ardennes classics following Filippo Pozzato's string of failures. Alexandr Kolobnev and Sergei Ivanov will do their best to propel Rodríguez to the win.
After finishing what was a jam-packed 2010 season, the 31-year-old rider spent a more peaceful winter with his children Pablo (3 years) and Elsa (9 months). He wanted to ease back into racing, but his plans were disrupted when he suffered muscle problems and caught the flu after the Tirreno-Adriatico. "I was scared!", says the volcanic Catalan rider, who went twice to Italy to train on the slopes of the Etna (Sicily) in preparation for the Giro d'Italia and ended up on a road which was closed for snow. "Once, I was hardly able to leave the hotel", he continues. "I was getting quite concerned after all these hitches. It was the first time since I had become a rider that a season had started with so many problems. But everything fell back into place at the Tour of the Basque Country. I needed to win in order to feel like a rider again. Now I feel really at ease."
Joaquim: in Catalan, with an M!
Joaquim is also in tip-top shape, with commentators at the Tour of the Basque Country saying he is leaner than ever. That is why no-one should be surprised to see him rocket up the Mur de Huy. His nickname "Purito" has made this 1.69 m tall rider very popular in Spain. "It makes me likeable", says Joaquim Rodríguez Oliver (his full name), who insists that his given name be written with a final M (the Catalan version) instead of an N (the Spanish one). His nickname means "small cigar" and harks back to his first days as a professional rider in ONCE. He was attending his first training camp when the stars of the team, Abraham Olano, Igor González de Galdeano, Joseba Beloki and Carlos Sastre, stepped up the pace on a climb and he came across to them while making a smoking gesture. That evening, they made him smoke a real cigar as a hazing ritual, and the nickname stuck.
© Presse Sports
Last year’s winner in the rainbow jersey, the Australian leader of the BMC team has had to abandon hopes of defending his title, due to a knee injury picked up after a training accident.
Ten days ago, Cadel Evans suffered a fall during training near to his home in Switzerland. The news was kept confidential, but precautions required to preserve the rest of his season have led the BMC team to announce his withdrawal from the Ardennes classics. “Normally, I thought I’d be back by now, but I had a check-up on Tuesday and the injury has proven to be more of an obstacle than we first thought, so it’s a bit premature to return to racing” explained Cadel Evans. “I had wanted to be a helper for Greg Van Avermaet at Amstel Gold and on a good level for the Flèche Wallonne. But this won’t be a long-term problem, especially for my preparation for the Tour. It’s just a little hiccup along the way.”
Mur de Huy© Presse Sports
The 201-kilometre-long Flèche Wallonne consistently comes to a close with a brutal and spectacular clash where the best punchers in the peloton will have to go down to their last ounce of energy.
Defying gravity on the slopes of the Mur de Huy, each of them will have to keep an eye on rivals vying for the same goal. It is a conundrum in the sense that they will have to give it their all while at the same time carefully measuring their efforts. In 2010, it was Cadel Evans who found the best balance between too much and too little. He was no stranger to the top spots of the race, having previously finished 5th in 2009, 2nd in 2008, and 9th in 2005. If he wants to defend his title, the former World Champion will have to see off a series of climbers on the Chemin des Chapelles. Last year, the Spanish hosts were the most numerous among the top places, with Joaquim Rodríguez, Alberto Contador and Igor Antón on Evans’ heels (in this same order). The Italian contingent will also be ready to pounce on the win, with Damiano Cunego, who has already been twice on the race’s podium, and Ivan Basso. Right in the middle of a week in which he is used to shining, Andy Schleck will be joined by his brother Fränk on the favourites list. If they are to take home the only Ardennes classic missing from the family palmarès, they will need to keep an eye on Philippe Gilbert (another avid collector of these races), Karsten Kroon, Alexandr Kolobnev, Tony Martin, Pierrick Fédrigo, Rémy Di Gregorio and Robert Gesink, among others.
Main contenders (as of April 12, 2011)
AG2R La Mondiale: Roche (IRE), Gadret (FRA); BMC Racing Team: Evans (AUS), Kroon (NET); Cofidis, le Crédit en Ligne: Moncoutié (FRA), Taaramäe (EST); Euskaltel-Euskadi: Antón, S. Sánchez (SPA); FDJ: Fédrigo, Geslin (FRA); HTC-High Road: Martin (GER), van Garderen (USA); Katusha Team: Di Luca (ITA), Rodríguez (SPA), Ivanov, Kolobnev (RUS); Lampre-ISD: Cunego (ITA); Liquigas-Cannondale: Basso (ITA); Landbouwkrediet: B. Scheirlinckx (BEL); Movistar Team: Kiryienka (BLR), López García (SPA); Omega Pharma-Lotto: Gilbert, Van Den Broeck (BEL); Pro Team Astana: Di Gregorio (FRA), Vinokourov (KAZ); Quick Step Cycling Team: Pineau (FRA); Rabobank Cycling Team: Gesink, Mollema (NET), L. L. Sánchez (SPA); Saur-Sojasun: Coppel, Hivert (FRA); Saxo Bank-Sungard: Contador (SPA); Skil-Shimano: Geschke (GER); Sky Procycling: Gerrans (AUS), Lövkvist (SWE); Team Garmin-Cervélo: Hesjedal (CAN), Le Mével (FRA), Vande Velde (USA); Team Leopard-Trek: A. Schleck, F. Schleck (LUX); Team RadioShack: Brajkovič (SLO), Horner (USA); Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator: Steurs (BEL); Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team: De Gendt, Devolder (BEL); Veranda’s Willems-Accent: S. Scheirlinckx (BEL)
25 teams have been invited to start in the 75th edition of the Flèche Wallonne, which will take riders across 198 km between Charleroi and the Mur de Huy next April 20.
Cadel Evans, who took one of his most beautiful wins when he was the first to reach the summit while clad in the World Champion’s jersey, will try and mount a successful title defence. Mario Aerts is the other former winner (2002) taking part in the race, although he may have lowered his expectations. Other riders will be ready to dig deep to snatch the win from the Australian, including some who have missed victory by a narrow margin in the past. This is the case of Ivan Basso, Karsten Kroon, Samuel Sánchez, Andy Schleck, Joaquim Rodríguez and Damiano Cunego.
Main contenders (as of 3rd March)
AG2R La Mondiale : Roche (Irl), Gadret (Fra) ; BMC Racing Team : Evans (Aus), Kroon (Hol) ; Euskaltel-Euskadi : S.Sanchez (Esp) ; HTC-HighRoad : Martin (All), Van Garderen (Usa) ; Katusha Team : Rodriguez (Esp), Kolobnev, Ivanov (Rus) ; Landbouwkrediet : Dewaele (Bel) ; Lampre-ISD : Cunego (Ita) ; Liquigas-Cannondale : Basso (Ita) ; Team Leopard-Trek : A.Schleck, F.Schleck (Lux) ; Movistar Team : Intxausti (Esp) ; Omega Pharma-Lotto : Gilbert, Van den Broeck, Aerts (Bel) ; Pro Team Astana : Vinokourov (Kaz) ; Quick Step Cycling Team : Devenyns (Bel) ; Rabobank Cycling Team : Gesink (Hol), LL.Sanchez (Esp); Saxo Bank Sungard : N.Sorensen (Dan) ; Sky Procycling : Gerrans (Aus) ; Team Garmin-Cervélo : Hesjedal (Can), Le Mével (Fra), Vande Velde (Usa) ; Team RadioShack : Brajkovic (Slo) ; Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team : Hoogerland (Bel) ; Cofidis, le crédit en ligne : Moncoutié (Fra) ; FDJ : Fédrigo, Casar (Fra) ; TopSport Vlaanderen - Mercator : Baugnies (Bel) ; Saur-Sojasun : Coppel, Hivert (Fra) ; Skil-Shimano : Geschke (All) ; Veranda’s Willems Accent : Scheirlinckx (Bel)
On the podium in 2008 and in the top 5 last year after probably taking off too early in the final climb up the Mur de Huy, World Champion Cadel Evans (BMC) made the best of his experience on the Belgian Classic to claim victory.After five men enjoyed a long 120km breakaway, the favourites took command of the race and decision time came in the final hill up to the line. While Contador probably lacked of experience despite being at the height of expectations as he led the way in the final kilometre, Evans took his time and caught up with the Spaniard to eventually cross the line ahead of Rodriguez.