Kirchen Wins Fleche Wallonne
Kim Kirchen (High Road) is the first Luxembourger to win the Fleche Wallonne. Kirchen overtook Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) in the homestretch to win the hilly, 199-km ride from Charleroi to Huy in 4:35:29. Evans and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) finished second and third, respectively, and 0:01 and 0:02.
One hundred ninety-nine riders rolled out of Charleroi in clear, mild conditions. For most of the first two hours of racing, a fast pace discouraged attacks and reeled in those that occurred. At 84 km, however, Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r), Andy Schleck (CSC), and Alberto Fernandez de la Puebla Ramos (Saunier Duval) escaped. Fifteen other riders joined the trio, and the day's big break had formed.
With 85 km left, the break led the bunch by 3:00. Cofidis and Caisse d'Epargne began to chase. With 70 km remaining, the gap was down to 2:00. Rain began to fall, and riders crashed, among them Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel).
The leaders began to attack each other. With 45 km left, Nicki Sorensen and Schleck (both from CSC) attacked and took Jurgen van den Broeck (Silence) with them. They were 1:00 ahead of the peloton. The resulting combustion led to a leading quartet composed of Sorensen, van den Broeck, Efimkin, and Addy Engels (Quick Step). Schleck bonked out of the group.
With 30 km remaining, Maxine Monfort (Cofidis) attempted to bridge up to the leaders. He failed, but Daniele Righi (Lampre), Matt Lloyd (Silence), and Andriy Grivko (Milram) joined the break. Grivko attacked and forged a 15-second lead on the break, with the peloton at 0:45. Twenty km remained.
The peloton chased furiously. At the base of the day's penultimate climb, the Cote de Ahin, the break's remnants were reeled in. With 12 km left, the bunch caught Grivko.
Gustav Erik Larsson (CSC) immediately counterattacked, and German champion Fabian Wegmann joined him. Efimkin bridged up to the pair. Larsson crashed out of the break, but Efimkin and Wegmann forged a 24-second lead on the peloton. The pair attacked each other as they approached the Mur de Huy. Wegmann led Efimkin by 0:07 as they commenced climbing the Mur. The heads of state, however, were right behind the pair and overtook them on the climb.
With 400 m left, Evans attacked. Kirchen, however, passed the Australian with fewer than 200 m remaining and held on for the win.
Today's riders will meet again in Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Saturday. Who will prevail? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!