Well, he's won the first two, can Gilbert make it an Ardennes hat-trick in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday? Join us then to find out! Thanks for following.
Road race - Men
Flèche Wallonne - 20 April 2011
Flèche Wallonne – Follow this cycling race live with Eurosport. The action starts at 19:30 on 20 April 2011. Our live coverage lets you follow all the key moments as they happen.
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The top eight: 1. Philippe Gilbert; 2. Joaquim Rodriguez; 3. Samuel Sanchez; 4. Andy Schleck; 5. Igor Anton; 6. Jelle Vanendert, 7. Frank Schleck; 8. Javier Moreno.
Philippe Gilbert wins Flèche Wallonne!!! Rodiguez is second, though a good few bike lengths behind, and then there's another sizeable gap back to Samuel Sanchez in third!!!
Gilbert is looking good! He's simply pulling clear of Rodriguez!!! He's going to make it two wins in four days!!!
Gilbert moves to the front of the peloton alongside Hesjedal! Gilbert kicks for home frmo a long way out!! Rodriguez is 5 metres behind!!!
The favourites are beginning to jostle for position, Gilbert is well placed to the left!
Pineau and Marcato are cauight! Frank Schleck leads them up the Mur de Huy!
They go under the 1km banner with 11 seconds according to my on-screen graphics as Frank Schleck moves up onto the shoulder of Albasini at the front of the peloton!
Pineau and Marcato hit the bottom of the Mur de Huy! They have 14 seconds!!!
This pair are doing an excellent job of maintaining their lead! I don't think they're going to stay clear, but it's an excellent effort nonetheless, and they're giving themselves a chance! Gap still at 20 seconds!
Rabobank now take up the chase in the peloton for Robert Gesink. 20 seconds still the gap.
Marcato is losing Pineau's wheel. They have 20 seconds over the peloton, but will need more than that for the Mur.
Quickstep's Jerome Pineau tries an attack and is joined by Vacansoleil's Marco Marcato!
Di Luca moves to the front of the peloton now as they sweep past Devenyns, and they're only a matter of a few metres behind Lovkvist and Kiryienka now.
Dries Devenyns attacks from the peloton with 10km remaining. He may as well, as he's certainly not going to win a sprint on the Mur.
Kiryienka is sitting in behind Lovkvist, letting him do the work. The Belarussian has just looked back and seen the peloton bearing down on them. He knows it'll soon be over for them.
Katusha's Sergei Ivanov, an Amstel Gold winner of the past, now hits the front of the peloton working for his Katusha team-mate Joaquin Rodriguez.
Omega-Pharma Lotto are leading the chase in the peloton, and are 15 seconds behind Lovkvist and Kiryienka, who have both attacked from the group and are now making their way towards the Côte d'Ereffe.
Vasili Kiryienka is also in this pursuing group, who now have 15 seconds over the peloton, and who have caught the three leaders.
Omega Pharma-Lotto have now taken up the chase at the head of the peloton. They're only around 10 seconds behind the pursuing group, which ahs now caught Helminen.
Enrico Gasparotto attacks from the peloton, with Tejay van Garderen in his wheel. An interesting move. Alexandr Kolobnev is looking to bridge the gap to that group too, as is Gorka Verdugo. Thomas Lovkvist is in here too. This is an interesting group, but surely too strong for the rest of the peloton to allow to stay clear?
In fact Van Hecke has now staged something of a recovery, and has come motoring to the front, though it looks for all the world like these three (and of course Helminen) will be caught before long. The gap is now down to 1'00".
Helminen is struggling on the second passage of the Mur de Huy! He must maintain contact with the three others, otherwise he'll be caught very, very soon. Van Hecke is struggling too, and Paterski and Vantomme are beginning to move clear!
The leaders are beginning to suffer by the looks of things. Their lead is down to 2'30", while Biel Kadri is also just about to be caught. Plenty of counter-attacks are coming now, but they're all being neutralised. Everyone wants to be at the front as we approach the most important phase of the race.
Biel Kadri attacks from the peloton, but he's going to have real trouble staying clear for any length of time considering the pace they're going at.
Jens Voigt hits the front of the pack, followed by Paris-Roubaix winner Nick Nuyens as the pass the glorious Chateau d'Ahin. And it's beginning to take it's toll on a few riders...OH! CUNEGO HAS CRASHED! He's now chasing furiously along with the rest of the ENTIRE Lampre squad to get onto the back of the pack!
Helminen, Vantomme, Van Hecke and Paterski are now just 4'45" clear of the pack. They're working together well again after Helminen's brief attempt at an attack, then subsequent rethink.
An attack from the break! Matti Helminen strikes out on his own...but then seems to think better off it, and drops back in with the others. They MUST work together well if they're to stay clear of the peloton. If they start to attack eachother too early, then they'll certainly be caught.
6'30" the gap with 55 kilometres left. This really is going to be a close run thing.
Our leaders now hit the Côte de Bohisseau, a short climb of just 1.3km, but at a considerable average of 7.6%. It's on these climbs that the leaders lose most time, though they're doing a decent job of keeping the pace high on the descents and the flatter sections.
Well, the peloton are certainly favourites to bring this breakaway back, but it's not going to be easy, hence Sky have taken up the chase too. Meanwhile, we've just heard Marianne de Vos has won the women's Flèche-Wallonne ahead of Emma Johansson and Judith Arndt.
Suddenly a whole phalanx of Astana riders appear at the head of the pack to join the ranks of Saxo Bank and Trek-Leopard jerseys. Perhaps Vino will try his luck with a trademark attack with 10 or 15km to go.
The peloton are really strung out along the road now. There's perhaps a little panic among the big teams at just how well this quartet is working together out front. Trek and Saxo Bank are pushing things along at a punishing pace. 9'50" the gap now.
Trek-Leopard lead the pack up the Côte de Haut-Bois, 10'30" behind the pack. A gloriously sunny day in Wallonia, and perhaps even a tad warmer than the riders would ideally like it.
Very little in the way of action here, to be honest with you. Meanwhile, why don't you have a look at the final minute's action from Sunday's Amstel Gold race? In particular, pay attention to what happens at 16 seconds, and the look on Gilbert's face as he looks round to see who's following. Rodriguez is clearly on his absolute limit, but I still reckon Gilbert is only at 95%. He still has a little extra to give. And that after chasing Schleck for the final 5km. What do you reckon?
Patrickfigueiredo, Melek and Thomas are all on the money with Danilo di Luca. He's the only man racing today who has won this race before, back in 2005. Mario Aerts did indeed win here in 2002, but he's not racing today.
Van Hecke leads Helminen and Paterski over the top of the Côte de Peu d'Eau, though the gap has come down to just 12'00"
We're now hearing that Roche has been taken to hospital to have his hip looked at. As soon as we have any more news, we'll let you know.
A crash in the pack, and it's bad news for Irish cycling fans. Both Garmin's Dan Martin and Ag2r's Nicolas Roche are down, and have been forced to abandon! Roche appears to have hurt his hip.
I suppose I better show my cards too, so I'll go with Rodriguez to hold off Contador by a bike-length. Coming back to Richard's comment on Cunego, I admit it is possibly a little harsh to say he has had a "bizarre decline", but I can't think of any other riders who've burst onto the scene in such spectacular style at the tender age of 22, but then never make a grand tour podium again.
Right, now for your predictions: Richard says: "AC really wants to prove something & here's where he'll do it after last weeks puncture problems!", while Peter hedges his bets with both Contador and Rodriguez, though Bauke Mollema's an interesting shout. Patrickfigueiredo goes with Igor Anton, and Martin tips Sky's improving Aussie Simon Gerrans, along with Debbie (who is nevertheless rooting for the Schlecks. The delightfully named "the swordsman" backs Contador to win "on class".
The gap is beginning to come down now. From a maximum of 17'00" it has now been reduced to 14'25". By the way, apologies for the slowness of the comments coming through earlier. The site temporarily froze, so despite me merrily typing away, the comments suggested that the riders took a half hour break 10km in, before covering the next 30km in a matter of milliseconds. Which clearly wasn't the case.
Rabobank's Jelte Slagter leads the peloton over the top of the Mur now, with Alberto Contador and the Schleck brothers to the fore.
Right, time for you to pick your winners today. Will it be two in a row for Gilbert? Will Contador show his class? Will Rodriguez finally win in the Ardennes? Or will a dark horse emerge from the pack to win? Perhaps someone like Michael Albasini or Simon Gerrans? Post your predictions below, and I'll copy them into the live thread!
Preben Van Hecke was first over the Mur, followed by Matti Helminen, then Maciej Paterski, with Maxime Vantomme fourth.
Our leaders now hit the Mur de Huy for the first time with a gap of 17'00" over the pack. The Mur has a somewhat gentle start, though soon ramps up to a spectacular 18% in some sections!
Damiano CUNEGO: I keep mentioning his name among the favourites for these races, despite Cunego's bizarre decline in recent years. At the Giro in 2004 he looked to be the most talented young rider since Jan Ullrich, though aside from a fine season in 2008 (wins at Amstel Gold & Tour of Lombardy, 2nd place at world championships) he hasn't fulfilled that potential. Nevertheless, his natural ability as a climber still makes him a contender here.
Igor ANTON: Third place at Castilla y Leon shows that the Euskaltel leader is on form, and could well go better than his fourth place here last year. At 28, Anton is now entering his prime, and last year's Vuelta saw him reach a new level, where he won two stages and was leading the race before a heavy crash on stage 14 forced him to retire.
The gap out to the lead quartet has edged up to 16'50", though it seems to have stabilised at that mark. We can probably expect to see it edge down from this point on, and certainly once that hit the Mur for the first time at the 70km mark.
Andy SCHLECK: The Mur suits him far better than the Cauberg, but his long lanky frame is best suited to the longer climbs of the grand tours, rather than the short but violent efforts required here. He could try an attack on the Côte d'Ereffe 11km short of the finish, though is likely to have trouble holding off the inevitable reactions of the Katusha and Saxo Bank teams on the descent and subsequent flat section ahead of the Mur if he does so.
Alberto CONTADOR: He says he's not feeling 100%, and that a cold is sapping his strength, but any time Contador starts a bike race, he's a threat at the very least (remember the Giro back in 2008 when he pretty much rocked up after three weeks lying on the beach to win the whole thing?). He possesses the devastating acceleration that the likes of Schleck and Hesjedal lack, and will be satisfied with nothing less than a win.
Just to come back to Xavier Tondo, I had presumed the Movistar man wasn't starting after his efforts in Castilla y Leon, though apparently it's a kidney infection that has kept him out of action.
16'30" is the latest gap! Surely it can't be too long before the likes of Lotto and Saxo Bank hit the front and stop the gap from becoming a danger.
Joaquim RODRIGUEZ: Second here last year, and second behind Gilbert last Sunday, it's something of a mystery how a big win in one of the classics has so far evaded the Spaniard. It would be difficult to imagine a more ideal course for his slender 57kg frame, and his comments after Amstel show how hungry he is for victory. In his favour, he'll have the support of a strong Katusha squad who are positively aching for a win to justify their generous budget.
Okay, time for our usual look at the favourites, after which you, my dear readers, will put your heads on the line and pick your winner. First up: Philippe GILBERT. Is the a better "puncheur" in the peloton, as the French would say? Surely not. For the second year in a row, he destroyed the field at Amstel Gold on Sunday, but the Mur could well prove just a little too steep for him once again. Sixth last year, 11 seconds behind Evans.
The peloton are taking it pretty easy here today, in contrast to the way the other Spring classics have been contested this season. As a result, Paterski, Vantomme, Helminen and Van Hecke now have a healthy 10'00" lead.
First trivia question of the day (no googling allowed): Only one rider competing today has won this race before. Who is he?
Just a little bit more about the parcours today - it's an undulating first 70 kilometres, before we hit the Mur de Huy for the first time. There are then eight further short, sharp climbs typical of the Ardennes, including the Mur de Huy for a second time, before the riders attack the Mur for the third and final time, atop which will be the finish line.
Well, it took an age for us to get a successful breakaway at Amstel Gold last Sunday, but our four escapees have already built up a lead of 4'00" on the peloton! First time lucky!
Maciej Paterski, a Polish rider on the Liquigas team, attacks soon after the start, and is immediately joined by a couple of Belgians - Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Maxime Vantomme (Katusha) - as well as Finland's Matti Helminen (Landbouwkrediet).
Well, Cadel may not be here, but making his first appearance in the classics this season (and leaving Spain for the first time in seemingly ages) is a certain Mr Contador. The Saxo Bank man was third here last year behind Evans and Joaquin Rodriguez, and will no doubt be hungry for victory after experiencing the unfamiliar feeling of not winning his last stage race, the Tour of Castilla y Leon, thanks to a series of untimely punctures.
A couple of notable absentees today: the defending champion Cadel Evans' knee injury that he picked up in training has kept him out of today's race, while recent Castilla y Leon winner Xavier Tondo is given a rest.
The race commissar's flag drops on the N29 towards Farciennes, and we're now underway in earnest!
The official start was given at 10:20 this morning in the centre of the Belgian town of Charleroi, and in around about five hours, by which time the peloton will have covered the 201km parcours, we'll be crowning our winner atop the infamous Mur de Huy.
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