The first of two Belgian Ardennes classics, La Flèche Wallonne (the Walloon Arrow) is held mid-week between the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. At one time, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège were run on successive days as "Le Weekend Ardennais" (both races are organised by Amaury Sport Organisation). Only six riders have achieved the "Ardennes double" by winning both races in the same year: Ferdi Kubler twice (in 1951 and 1952), Stan Ockers (1955), Eddy Merckx (1972), Moreno Argentin (1991) Davide Rebellin (2004) and Alejandro Valverde (2006).
La Flèche Wallonne was created to boost the sales of a newspaper Les Sports during the 1930s and was first run in 1936. While perhaps not as revered as one of the Classic 'Monuments', the race is widely regarded as a Classic, and features on the UCI ProTour.
Like many cycle race events, the course has altered considerably over the years, both in route and length. The event was first run on roads from Tournai to Liège (growing from 236km to 300km - its longest ever distance - in 1938), after which Mons became the starting point. From 1948, the race started at Charleroi; from 1960 the event ran in the opposite direction, starting at Liège and finishing at Charleroi (or, from 1965, Marcinelle). Some years have seen the event start and finish in the same place: Verviers (1974-1978) or Huy (1983-1985). From 1986, the race started in Spa and finished in Huy. Since 1990, the race distance has not exceeded 210km.
Today, the 199.5km event starts in Charleroi and heads east to Huy, where the riders do three laps of a tough circuit including the steep Mur de Huy (The wall of Huy) climb, with several sections steeper than 15%. The finish is at the top of the Mur after the third ascent.
Only three riders have won the race three times, two of them Belgians. Indeed, Belgian riders dominated the early years of the event, winning the first 11 editions of the race, and more than half of the editions in total (36 victories up to and including 2005). Italians have won the event 15 times. (courtesy Wikipedia)
T Mobile Calling
The Ardennes Classic season continues for the T-Mobile Team on Wednesday April 25 with with the 71st edition of the Semi-Classic Flèche Wallonne. Twenty-four teams are competing in the 202.5 parcours that includes a total of 11 climbs from Charleroi eastwards to Huy.
T-Mobile’s team of eight riders will be led by Patrik Sinkewitz and Kim Kirchen from Luxembourg. Sinkewitz was fifth in 2006, while Kirchen landed a place on the podium the previous year. In a dynamite finale the 28-year-old was beaten by Italian pro Danilo di Luca.
"I’ve proved that the undulating terrain and the short climbs are best suited for me“, said Kirchen, who came 14th in the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday and is still hoping for a podium win.
"It will be difficult but we’ll try from the start to ride with aggression to get our top riders well-placed in the finale“, stressed Sporting Director Valerio Piva.
The Italian will be taking charge of this ninth ProTour race of the season: "The terrain of Fleche, but also at this Sunday’s Lüttich-Bastogne-Lüttich race, is more suited for the climbing specialists in the team."
Also participating in the T-Mobile Team on Wednesday are Michael Barry (Canada), the two Australians Scott Davis and Michael Rogers, Axel Merckx from Belgium, Marco Pinotti (Italy) as well as allrounder Thomas Ziegler.
The highlight of the Walloon Arrow, like every year, is the dreaded though legendary Mur de Huy. The Mur's statistics speak for themselves: 1.3 kilometres in length, an average gradient of 10% and rising 130 metres. Riders have to tackled the Mur three times during the race including the final climb.
Piva: "The finale really stretches the riders to their limits. You can be leading for the whole race only to throw it all away at the finish.”
T Mobile Team:
Michael Barry (31/Canada), Scott Davis (28/Australia), Kim Kirchen (28/Luxembourg), Axel Merckx (34/Belgium), Marco Pinotti (31/Italy), Michael Rogers (27/Australia), Patrik Sinkewitz (26), Thomas Ziegler (26).
Team Barloworld are hoping to continue their run of good results this week as they ride the prestigious Ardennes classics in Belgium (Flèche Wallone on Wednesday and Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday). Team Manager Claudio Corti wants the riders to be in the action in both races just like they were in Italy in March in the Milan-Sanremo classic.
"We have to give 105% in these races. We've got to honour our special invitation to both races from organizers ASO so that we can increase our chances of getting an invitation to the 2007 Tour de France," directeur sportif Alberto Volpi , who will lead the team in Belgium, said.
"Despite injury problems for Siutsou and Caccia, we've got a good team and can be in the thick of the action during the decisive moments of the races with Efimkin, Cardenas and Cheula, while the other riders will hopefully put themselves in the spotlight by getting in early attacks. Our team spirit will be the same as in the other races so far this year: we'll ride united and be focused on getting a result, despite facing the best riders in the world in these kind of races."
The team will be lead by Alex Efimkin who has already won four races this year, including overall success in the Giro del Capo in South Africa and the Settimana Lombarda in Italy. He is suited to the hilly courses of the Ardennes races, while the experience of Felix Cardenas will also be important. With Siutsou out due to injury, the team will also include Pedro Arreitunandia, Gianpaolo Cheula, Ryan Cox, Paolo Longo Borghini, Hugo Sabido and Mauricio Soler.