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).
First attack pays off
Immediately from the start, Maciej Paterski (LIQ) managed to take off, joined a few kilometres later by three other escapees: Maxime Vantomme (KAT), Matti Helminen (LAN) and Preben Van Hecke (TSV). After 43kms, the leading four could enjoy a maximum 17’10 advantage over a pack not that concerned by the breakaway.
At the top of the first climb up the Mur de Huy (km 70), the front men, led out by Van Hecke, could still enjoy a 15’30 advantage over a pack where the Schleck brothers and Alberto Contador looked rather comfortable in the front positions.
Bad day for Ireland
A few kilometres later, a crash occurred in the pack, washing away Irish hopes as Nicolas Roche (ALM) and Daniel Martin (GRM) hit the ground and were forced to quit the race. While Preben Van Hecke carried on clinching the most climbers’ points at the top of all the hills, the chasing pack led by teams Saxo Bank, Leopard-Trek and Sky continued moving closer. The gap was to go from 7’ at the top of the Côte de Groynne to 5’40 at the top of the Côte de Bohisseau.
With just under 40 kilometres to go, Frenchman Blel Kadri was the first to give it a go, taking off on a counter-attack. But his effort was finally pointless as he was rapidly caught by the pack.
10 in the lead
The pace continued increasing as the riders moved closer to the second climb up the Mur de Huy. Van Hecke again made it first at the top of the Mur, earning enough points to win the best climbers jersey. With 15kms to go and after Helminen was dropped, the front three were caught by Kolobnev (KAT), Gasparotto (AST), Verdugo (EUS), Van Garderen (THR), Kyrienka (MOV), Golas (VCD) and Lovkvist (SKY).
Kyrienka and Lovkvist again managed to break away while their former companions were caught by a pack led by the Omega Pharma team of Philippe Gilbert. But the front men’s advantage never reached over 20” and they were caught with 8 kilometres to go. It was then Pineau (QST) and Marcato’s (VCD) turn to give it a go. With five kilometres to go, the leading duet could enjoy a 20” advantage.
They managed to hang on to their lead in the first metres of the final climb up the Mur de Huy but were caught with just under one kilometre to go. The big battle between favourites could really start. With 300m to go, fairly far from the finish line on such a demanding climb, Philippe Gilbert (OLO) flew off, never to be caught. The Belgian, already a winner of the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday conquers his first victory on the Fleche Wallonne, beating Joaquin Rodriguez (KAT) and Samuel Sanchez (EUS) to the line. Gilbert even becomes the first rider to win the Amstel-Fleche Brabançonne-Fleche Wallonne treble. His next goal: Liège-Bastogne-Liège, his home race.
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Tactically how did the race go?
Already on the second climb up the Mur de Huy I was in second position but I knew that it didn’t mean a lot because last year I was in the same position. After the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />
How do your rate this victory ?
It’s both a huge pleasure and a huge surprise. I suffered so much in the past on the Mur de Huy that I didn’t think I had what it takes to win the Fleche. But it’s a great feeling to win. After attacking, I had enough of an advantage to enjoy the moment and the atmosphere. It was like being in the middle of a football stadium.
Does this win put you extra pressure before Liège-Bastogne-Liège?
Today is an incredible moment but it doesn’t change anything for Sunday. I was already a favourite for Liège. And winning here or finishing second of tenth doesn’t change anything. I have a lot of confidence in my team. But now the main idea is to think about victory but not be too confident because that can cost you a race. Anyhow, in Liège, the best man wins.
People are starting to compare you with Bettini?
Well it’s always a pleasure to be compared to a man like Paolo Bettini who was one of the best Classics’ riders ever with Bartoli. But I just want to stay focused on my career and we’ll see to whom I’m compared at the end of my career. If things continue the way they’re going, I know I can manage a great record.
Impressive Philippe Gilbert (OLO). After taking off early, the Belgian wins this 75th edition of the Fleche Wallonne. Joaquim Rodriguez (KAT) finishes second. Samuel Sanchez (EUS) is third.
With 400m to go, off goes Phiippe Gilbert. Fantastic. No one can keep up !
While all the main favourites are well present. Philippe Gilbert leads the pack.
Pineau and Marcato are caught by the pack. Fuglsang leads the pack in the final climb.
Final kilometre for the leading two. Their lead: 15". Probably not good enough.