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Saeco dominate Fleche-Wallone
Astarloa wins, Shefer third
What a day for Team Saeco on the wall of Huy. For the first time in the 76 year history of the race, a Spanish rider won, with Igor Astarloa taking the glory at the summit for Saeco after a long run of placings in the all the 2003 classics.
After Mirko Celestinoís second place at Milan-San Remo, Dario Pieriís second at Paris-Roubaix and Danilo Di Lucaís third at the Amstel Gold Race, Saeco have finally got the big win they deserved.
"We deserve this," was directuer sportif Guido Bontempi's first reaction.
"We prepared our tactics meticulously for the race and then followed them perfectly. The lads were great!"
The Saeco team rode a perfect race. Di Luca, Celestino and Astarloa were designated team leaders with the Spanish rider destined to join any dangerous moves which went early before being up there for the finale.
It has become a habit seeing the red Saeco jersey at the head of the race and after the first time over the Muur of Huy, Astarloa did not hesitate to join a break of 15 riders which would decide the race. The giant rider from Kazakhstan Alexander Shefer went with him in a great move which saw him also finish on the podium.
When the 15 rider break went clear, the rest of the team closed the bunch down, stopping the chaise lead mainly by the Fassa Bortolo and Lotto teams. The riders carefully controlled all the moves and even when Rumsas tried a counter attack, Fabio Sacchi quickly chased him down.
Astarloa decided the race on the Cote díAhin. He was clear with fellow Basque rider Aitor Osa but did not lose his cool even though he knew Osa was a better climber. Igor was the strongest on the day and so after climbing the early part of the Huy side by side, he jumped away with 200 metres to go to win alone. When he crossed the line he was greeted by his team mates who celebrated his success.
The words of Danilo Di Luca perfectly summed up the spirit of the team. "We raced perfectly. Iím happy for the team and for Astarloa. He deserved to win. Iím happy as well because I felt great and easily won the bunch sprint. I feel in form and canít wait for Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday. Saeco will be in the action there as well."
Astarloa overjoyed after his win at Fleche-Wallone
"A fantastic team ride for a dream come true"
"I always knew I was a rider for the big classics: Now Iíve shown it. Even if Spanish cycling is all about stage racing, I think I can have an important career. When I was an amateur nobody wanted to sign me in Spain and so I went to Italy. I rode with Bruno Leali for a year and then Giuseppe Martinelli gave me a chance to turn professional."
Even just minutes after his biggest ever win, Igor Astarloa is the same happy and stylish champion he is every day of his life.
"Italia is my second home and I spend a lot of time near Lake Garda where Iíve got lots of friends. This win is for them."
For the first time in the history of Fleche-Wallone, a Spanish riders joins the list of prestigious winners.
"Iím proud that Iím the first Spaniard to win. For me itís like winning a World Cup race. Iíve shown I can do well in big races in the world Cup after my second places at last yearís San Sebastian and at Hamburg, and with my fourth place overall. Iíve been riding well all year. I could have done better than tenth even on Sunday at the Amstel gold Race but I had cramps in the sprint."
The win at Fleche-Wallone is Astarloaís fifth and most prestigious win. It is the ninth for the Saeco team which in reality deserves many more after their great form.
"Weíre a really good group of riders. Weíre really united a team and are all motivated, Astarloa reveals.
"We decided the race yet again at Fleche-Wallone. Shefer was great and everybody did their bit. I know Osa really well, we live 20 kilometres away from each other in Spain. I knew heís a good climber but I felt really strong."
Tonight Astarloa will be in Italy for a family reasons but will head back to Belgium on Friday ready for Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
ĒWeíll be in the action there as well so that we can end this great spring for Saeco in style," Astarloa promised.
Huy, Belgium, April 23, 2003