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Rainbow riders on top of the World

A seventh successive win for Anna van der Breggen and a third victory for Julian Alaphilippe meant it was a day that belonged to the women's and men's world champions...
Cycling
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Today's top 10

Michael Woods and Warren Barguil completed the top five while Tom Pidcock, after that earlier crash, could only manage sixth place for Ineos Grenadiers, 11 seconds down on the winner from Deceuninck Quick-Step.
And this is how much that victory took it out of the Frenchman...

Victory for Julian Alaphilippe!

It's the world champion who takes a third victory in the Fleche Wallonne! Primoz Roglic made the first move top open up a large gap as the Frenchman followed ahead of the five-time winner Alejandro Valverde. As the Spanish veterna wilted, Alaphilippe closed the gap. But he still had it all to do after the final bend. Drawing level with the Slovenian, Roglic had a second wind. But a final surge was enough for Alaphilippe, who was brave enough in a week where photo finishes were the talk of town to ease up and celebrate going over the line...

0.5km to go - Kwiatkowski on the front

It's going to come down to the very last... Roglic has Valverde and Alaphilippe in his wheel but it's the Pole from Ineos who is taking it up for now.

1.5km to go - Lammertink caught

The Dutchman is caught just as the the pack hits the climb. Mikkel Honore and one of the Bahrain riders go clear, but it's short-lived. The pack has blown apart as they approach the flamme rouge...

3km to go - Favourites gather

The rainbow stripes of Julian Alaphilippe is near the front now but it's Dylan Teuns of Bahrain-Victorious who's riding second wheel behind a teammate. All the big guns are there as they rampage along the river ahead of the final climb. And here is a reminder of what is in store...
https://i.eurosport.com/2021/04/21/3118618.jpg

6km to go - Lone leader Lammertink

The last man standing from the break, Dutchman Maurits Lammertink, still has 10 seconds over the regrouped-yet-streamlined peloton after that flurry of activity. It's all going to come down to who's fastest up the Mur de Huy. Who's your money on? Take your pick from Pidcock, Roglic, Alaphilippe, Valverde et al. With Pidcock crashing earlier, Ineos may even play the Yates card...

9.5km to go - Carapaz counters!

Lammertink goes over the top with a tiny gap on that new chasing trio, who in turn have a slender lead over the pack, which is being paced by James Knox of Deceuninck Quick-Step. Then Richard Carapaz rolls the dice for Ineos Grenadiers, the Ecuadorian shuffling the pack with a searing attack which sounds the death-knell for that Wellens-Fraile-Van Wilder move.

11km to go - Wellens attacks!

Tim Wellens strikes out early ahead of the second and final ascent of the Côte du Chemin des Gueuses. He will be able to bridge over to teammate Moniquet, who is riding with Vervaeke after being dropped by lone leader Lammertink. Wellens pushes on and has Astana's Omar Fraile with him, as well as a Team DSM rider, Ilan Van Wilder.

14km to go - Strung out with two climbs to go

The dodgy road furniture off the back of the Ereffe is passed without any drama - largely thanks to some daring marshalling from one poor soul in a flourescent tabard - but the peloton has snaked out ahead of the penultimate climb. The quartet ahead are still combining well but it's just a matter of honour on home roads because, with Ineos now taking it up, their time out ahead will be over very soon.

Will the climbing record be broken today?

There's some strong uphill talent in the pack today so Alejandro Valverde's 2014 record from the Mur de Huy could be under pressure...

17km to go - Four left out ahead

It's the Lowlanders who have stole the show from this break with Belgians Moniquet, Vervaeke and Armee, and the Dutchman Lammertink starting to bicker as they approach the third-last climb - the Cote d'Ereffe. Howes has been caught after a day in the break largely disrupted by mechanical issues. Geoghegan Hart and Yates are back near the front for Ineos, who have power in numbers following that earlier scare for Pidcock.

21km to go - Howes dropped

The US champion Alex Howes has been distanced from what is now a four-man leading break. They're on a small lump ahead of the Cote d'Ereffe with the peloton now just 30 seconds down and breathing down their necks. Groupama and Bora have come to the front of the pack. It's going to be pretty brutal here on in.

25km to go - Duo caught, Pidcock back on

Rosa and Velasco are swallowed up by the peloton as Primoz Roglic comes to the front for Jumbo-Visma. The gap is just one minute now for the remaining five escapees. Pidcock is almost back in the peloton after Tao Geoghegan Hart dropped back to help pace back his leader.

Crash for Tom Pidcock!

A touch of wheels in the pack sees Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) go down along with a handful of others, including Valentin Madouas of Groupama. The in-form Pidcock takes a while to get going again, but he doesn't look too bashed up and he will hope to rejoin the fray. But that's a massive setback for the 21-year-old, one of the pre-race favourites.

28km to go - Brief dig from Wellens

When the pack comes back together there's a testing-the-waters attack from Tim Wellens of Lotto-Soudal. It comes to nothing as Daryl Impey of Israel StartUp Nation takes up the pacing duties behind. Mertens is caught from the break, while that chasing duo of Rosa and Velasco are doing their best to rejoin the five leaders, who have 1'30".

32km to go - The bell sounds

Eight becomes five as three men are dropped from the break as it crests the summit of the Mur de Huy as the bell sounds out to herald the final lap. It was Mertens who fell back first, followed by Velasco and Rosa. Behind, a handful of riders go clear after an attack from Simon Geschke of Cofidis. Tao Geoghegan Hart and Mauri Vansevenant are among the riders who reacted to the German's acceleration. It's starting to kick off...

40km to go - Ag2R-Citroen take it up

The peloton has picked things up as they roar along a wider stretch of road following the Côte du Chemin des Gueuses. Howes, meanwhile, is back with the leaders, and back on his Cannondale, with the gap hovering around the two-minute mark. It's the Ag2R team of Benoit Cosnefroy who's taken the baton behind. Second ascent of the Mur de Huy coming right up.
A reminder of the eight leaders: Alex Howes (EF Education-Nippo), Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto-Soudal), Sander Armée (Team Qhubeka Assos), Maurits Lammertink (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Julian Mertens (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Diego Rosa (Arkéa-Samsic), Louis Vervaeke (Alpecin-Fenix), Simone Velasco (Gazprom-Rusvelo).

50km to go - Higuita hits the deck

The Colombian national champion Sergio Higuita takes a knock to the knee after a touch of wheels brings him down along with a few others towards the back of the pack. There's an issue with his bike, too, and he has an interminable wait for the EF Education First service car. The gap is two minutes for the break.
It's been a nightmare passage for EF. Howes is still on a neutral service bike after another issue with his steed on the Cote d'Ereffe and then, once the peloton came over that same climb, Higuita had his spill. And it now looks like Higuita is unable to continue. That's the team's Plan A out of the equation.

Gilbert's Ardennes grand slam

It's been a while since Philippe Gilbert won on the Mur de Huy, but just over a decade ago the stars alignned for the Lotto Soudal veteran... For 10 days in the spring of 2011, Gilbert was invincible. Having won Brabantse Pijl, the Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne, he held his arms aloft in Liege at the race most dear to his heart. A decade on, Felix Lowe recalls a mesmerising run on home roads with the brilliant Belgian.

62km to go - Pidcock relaxed

So calm and collected is Tom Pidcock, the man of the moment is able to do this climb while chewing on his sunglasses... That either reflects his supreme confidence or shows that the peloton is taking this first ascent of the Mur de Huy in a relative relaxed manner. The gap still comes down to 2'25" as they all come over the top and through the finish area for the first of three occasions. Howes is still chasing back after his issues.

64km to go - Break onto the Mur

The eight leaders creep onto the Mur de Huy with a gap of 2'55". Poor Alex Howes is tailed off early on. The American has been struggling with some gearing issues for a while now. With the EF Education-Nippo climb further back and looking after the team's leaders, Howes had to call on the neutral service car for assistance. But it's clearly not sorted and it seems like he will need a new wheel - which is hardly ideal on a climb to steep.
Here's a superb profile of this twisting and arduous ascent:
https://i.eurosport.com/2021/04/21/3118618.jpg

Mur de Huy ahead!

Eurosport and GCN commentator José Been has a day off and she's chosen to watch the race in person - to see the Fleche in the flesh, so to speak. Here's a photo she's taken of the double-digit climb that the riders are now approaching for the first time...

70km to go - Calm before the storm

The teams of the big favourites are starting to jostle for positions ahead of the first of three ascents of the Mur de Huy on the finishing circuit. Movistar have been joined by Ineos, BikeExchange, Bahrain-Victorious, Jumbo-Visma and Ag2R-Citroen. Behind, the peloton has strung out on an exposed section of road. The leaders now have 3'15" to play with.

Meanwhile, in Italy, Moscon doubles up...

Ineos Grenadiers picked up another win in the Tour of the Alps with the much maligned Italian Gianni Moscon striking for a second time in three days with this smart finish ahead of Bora's Felix Grossschartner in stage 3. Britain's Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) retained the leader's jersey.

78km to go - four minutes for leaders

Captain America, Alex Howes, has a gearing problem at the start of the Cote de Gives and he needs to chase back on to join the leaders. Their gap is down to four minutes now after an increase in pace in the pack. It's still Movistar on the front when the field sweeps onto the narrow climb, with the tapering of the road causing a bottle neck the kind of which catches out the Ecuadorian champion Jonathan Caicedo, who is forced to upclip and come to a standstill on two separate occasions. Make that three!

Vansenevant the dark horse for Deceuninck

While double winner Julian Alaphilippe is obviously among the favourites, many reckon it's his young teammate Mauri Vansevenant who could cause an upset on the Mur de Huy. The 21-year-old Belgian rode an aggressive Amstel Gold last weekend and a big win is surely on the cards. Whether that will be today is another question.
Alaphilippe was just off the back of the pack with an issue with his radio, dealt with quickly following a trip to the team car. Ahead of today's race, the Frenchman said: "I'm not in the same shape as my last time in the Flèche because I did the Flanders classics. So I tried to manage my shape as best as I can. On paper, it’s a race that suits me very well. I love it. I did it four times, I was always on the podium. This year I don’t know if I can make it but I’m very motivated to give my best. The ideal scenario for us is that Mauri and I are at the front for the final lap and the final ascent of the Mûr de Huy. On such a difficult climb, the legs do the talking."

Pidcock, Roglic, Alaphilippe among the favourites

Given his form, Tom Pidcock is clearly a name to watch today - especially when you consider how well he fared earlier in the season on his debut Milan-San Remo. With Wout van Aert taking a break today, Primoz Roglic will try his luck for Jumbo-Visma, while Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck Quick-Step) will hope to get his season back on track with a third win in this race.
Other big-name riders to consider: Michael Woods (Israel StartUp Nation), Warren Barguil (Arkea Samsic), Sergio Higuita (EF Education-Nippo), Mauri Vansevenant (Deceuninck Quick-Step), Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2R-Citroen), Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Jelle Vanendert (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Victorious), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech), Philippe Gilbert and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

95km to go - Dunbar pacing for Ineos

Eddie Dunbar, the young buck from Ireland, is on the front for Ineos Grenadiers, helping pave the way for their neo-pro classics sensation Tom Pidcock. The 21-year-old Briton won De Brabantse Pijl at the start of "Ardennes Week" before losing out to Wout van Aert in a photo-finish on Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. He's clearly in tip-top form and he'll be hoping to put on a show today before taking a break from road cycling until the Austria Tour in June and then the Vuelta in August.
The leaders are approaching the top of the Cote du Haut-Bois with the gap just now just under five minutes. A super-strong Ineos team also includes Richard Carapaz, Michal Kwiatkowski and British trio Tao Geoghegan Hart, Luke Rowe and the in-form Adam Yates.

100km to go - Movistar on the front

With the Cote de Groyne coming up, the Movistar team of five-time Fleche champion Alejandro Valverde have come to the front of the pack to control things and keep the break's progress in check. The gap is 5'20" so nothing to be too concerned about just yet. Valverde's last four wins came in successive years between 2014 and 2017 until Julian Alaphilippe (twice) and Marc Hirschi (last year) took his crown. But the Swiss's absence and the world champion's middling form could well reopen the door to the 40-year-old Spanish veteran...

Pogacar and defending champion Hirschi ruled out

The big news ahead of the men's race today was the enforced withdrawal of UAE-Team Emirates on Covid-19 grounds. Italy's Diego Ulissi and another staff member test positive then negative ahead of Wednesday's race, which meant the entire team had to be pulled as a precaution. As a result, we will not see the defending champion Marc Hirschi in action today, nor will we see his stellar teammate Tadej Pogacar engage his Slovenian compatriot Primoz Roglic in the next chapter of their ongoing duel. It's a big shame and very frustrating for the Tour champion, as you can see in his tweet below...

Seventh heaven for Van der Breggen

In the women's race earlier today, the Dutch world champion Anna van der Breggen won for a seventh successive time on the Mur de Huy, catching lone attacker Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) early on the climb after attacking from a select breakaway. Poland's Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) was the only rider who could stick with her, until a final kick saw the Team SD Worx superstar ride clear to secure another landmark victory.

‘Rename it Ronde Van Der Breggen!’ – World champion claims seventh straight La Fleche Wallonne win

115km to go - Eight men clear

Those eight leaders are: Diego Rosa (Arkea-Samsic), Alex Howes (EF-Education Nippo), Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto Soudal), Louis Vervaeke (Alpecin-Fenix), Sander Armee (Qhubeka Assos), Maurits Lammertink (Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux), Simone Velasco (Gazprom - RusVelo) and Julian Mertens (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise). They're approaching the next climb with the gap swelling above the five-minute mark.

Joining the race live...

Hello there, welcome. It's showtime in the Ardennes. We have eight riders up the road with a gap of five minutes on the peloton. There's around 125km remaining of the 193km race with the first of 12 categorised climbs done and dusted. Three of those are ascents of the infamous Mur de Huy, where the race will be decided. We'll bring you the names of the escapees, plus some details from the women's race, in two ticks. Here's the profile:
https://i.eurosport.com/2021/04/21/3118562.jpg

Tightest finish ever?

Tom Pidcock returns to racing after his near-miss with victory at Amstel Gold Race over the weekend, which saw the Brit just lose out to Wout van Aert.
With neither Van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel competing, he will fancy his chances today.

'It’s a close one!' – Van Aert beats Pidcock by tightest of margins

How to watch the event

Fleche Wallonne 2021 is live on Eurosport.
You can watch live and ad-free on the Eurosport App and eurosport.co.uk. Download the Eurosport app now for iOS and Android.
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