Live Coverage of La Flèche Wallonne - Elite Men
Hello and welcome to live coverage from the 2015 La Flèche Wallonne.
Thanks for joining our live coverage of Flèche Wallonne this afternoon. A full report and results will follow here and we'll have all the news and reaction from a dramatic day in Wallonia in due. Our next live coverage is on Sunday, from Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
“It was really a very hard day, with lots of crashes and lots of tension,” Valverde says as he waits for the podium ceremony. “I can’t remember such a tense day for a long time. It was a very hard climb, a good climb for me. I controlled the race a lot: I had Visconti in the break and then I decided to keep the rhythm steady and up the pace at the end. At 200 metres to go, I knew I was going to win, because I had the spark to give it a bit more.”
That's a third Fleche Wallonne win for Alejandro Valverde. He previously won in 2006 and then, after an eight-year gap that included a ban for his involvement in Operacion Puerto, added a second victory last year.
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step
3 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica GreenEdge
4 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha
6 Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
7 Sergio Luis Henao (Col) Team Sky
8 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team
9 Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team
10 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo
Joaquim Rodriguez and Dani Moreno were on the scene but never landed a blow - the Katusha duo have to settle for fourth and fifth.
Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) holds off Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) to take second place.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) wins Flèche Wallonne.
Valverde opens a small gap over Alaphilippe and Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) as the road flattens out....
Alejandro Valverde hits the front on the final ramp with 150 metres to go...
It's been a cautious ascent of the Mur de Huy, nobody wants to take it up early and we're set for a sprint at the summit.
Approaching the famous S-bends, nobody wants to launch an early attack. Valverde finds himself on the front but is keeping the pace as steady as he can.
Rui Costa takes up the pace-setting as the climb begins in earnest and Wellens' lead crumbles. The Belgian is brought back with 800 metres remaining.
1km remaining from 205.5km
Wellens enters the final kilometre and begins the ascent of the Mur de Huy with 14 seconds in hand on the bunch.
1.5km remaining from 205.5km
Lampre-Merida take up the pursuit but Wellens still has his lead intact and is motoring well...
2km remaining from 205.5km
Wellens carries a lead of 15 seconds into the last two kilometres.
The peloton has been reduced to just 30 or so riders, and they are on the point of sweeping Caruso back up again.
3.5km remaining from 205.5km
Wellens leads Caruso by six seconds and must have a handful more over the Movistar-led bunch.
4km remaining from 205.5km
Wellens has a decent lead over the peloton as he narrow avoids disaster at a traffic island. Caruso continues his lone pursuit while Movistar lead the main peloton.
5km remaining from 205.5km
Wellens powers down the smoothly-surfaced descent and Caruso is making little inroads into his lead.
5.5km remaining from 205.5km
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) leads over the summit as Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) punches clear of the bunch in lone pursuit.
5.7km remaining from 205.5km
Visconti and Leon Sanchez have been pegged back. After Nibali's move peters out, Tim Wellens punches clear and opens a small gap.
6km remaining from 205.5km
Vincenzo Nibali accelerates on the climb but he is pegged back by Roman Kreuziger and Julien Alaphilippe.
The climb is 2.1km at 5% and the two escapees are within sight of the bunch as they reach the midway point.
7km remaining from 205.5km
Luis Leon Sanchez and Visconti begin the climb with 17 seconds in hand on the Etixx-led bunch.
8km remaining from 205.5km
Etixx-QuickStep lead the charge on the approach to the penultimate ascent, the new addition of the Côte de Cherave. The gap is down to 20 seconds.
10km remaining from 205.5km
Samuel Sanchez (BMC), Bryan Coquard (Europcar) and three IAM Cycling riders also went down in the Froome crash. The bunch remains 23 seconds down on the two escapees.
Froome remounts slowly and begins pedalling again gingerly. The Sky man has torn his shorts and has cuts on his left side. We haven't seen a full replay of that crash, but it seems as if a couple of riders overshot a corner and Froome was among the six or seven who went down.
12km remaining from 205.5km
Another crash brings down a number of riders including Chris Froome (Sky), who stands up gingerly and stretches his back.
Tiago Machado, despite his earlier fall, has taken over the reins at the head of the bunch in support of Joaquim Rodriguez. They are 21 seconds down on the escapees.
13.5km remaining from 205.5km
Van Garderen and Vervaeke are brought back by the peloton, which is still 23 seconds down on Luis Leon Sanchez and Giovanni Visconti.
Etixx-QuickStep have been very prominent in leading the peloton. They have understandable trust in the prospects of world champion and Amstel Gold Race winner Michal Kwiatkowski.
15km remaining from 205.5km
Visconti and Luis Leon Sanchez are still combining well and they have 24 seconds in hand on the peloton. The van Garderen group continues to give chase but the bucnh is closing slowly on them.
17.5km remaining from 205.5km
Van Garderen has been joined by young talent Louis Vervaecke (Lotto-Soudal) on the climb. They've picked off Baugnies and they're chasing the two leaders, just 15 seconds down. The bunch is at 23 seconds.
De Gendt and Baugnies have also been dropped from the leading group, which is now made up of just Sanchez and Visconti.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC) accelerates off the front of the bunch on the lower slopes of the Ereffe and opens a small gap.
19.5km remaining from 205.5km
The Luis Leon Sanchez-Giovanni Visconti group hits the Ereffe with 30 seconds in hand on the bunch. Daniele Ratto is dropped as soon as the road begins to climb.
21km remaining from 205.5km
Visconti and Leon Sanchez are combining very well indeed, and they've stretched their lead out to 29 seconds over the peloton on the fast downhill ahead of the Côte d'Ereffe.
Luis Leon Sanchez and Giovanni Visconti are being forced to do all the work in the break and they do so without complaint. They want to keep the pressure on to force Katusha, Etixx et al to burn up a lot of their matches ahead of the Mur de Huy.
Michal Kwiatkowski is looking very comfortable indeed as he sits on the wheel of Michal Golas. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is also well-placed and the Sicilian could well be tempted to sow panic by slipping away ahead of the Mur de Huy.
Visconti and Leon Sanchez have bridged across the leaders. There are five riders at the head of the race once again, 21 seconds up on the Katusha and Etixx-led peloton.
25km remaining from 205.5km
There are two climbs before the final ascent of the Mur de Huy - the Côte d'Ereffe with 16.5km to go and then the new ascent of the Côte de Cherave with 5.5km to go.
Katusha and Etixx-QuickStep give chase in a bid to shut down this move from Visconti and Luis Leon Sanchez, who have 25 seconds in hand on the bunch.
After the descent of the Mur de Huy, Thomas De Gendt and Jerome Baugnies are left out in front from the early break, while Visconti and Leon Sanchez are chasing just behind, having picked up Daniele Ratto.
It's Luis Leon Sanchez who has gone up the road for Astana, and he has been joined by Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and they have a small gap over the peloton.
There are no attacks in the main peloton on the way up the Mur de Huy as they crest the summit 40 seconds down on the escapee. An Astana rider takes a flyer off the front just as the road begins to drop but Etixx-QuickStep surely won't allow him to go far.
29km remaining from 205.5km
Baugnies leads over the top of the Mur de Huy with a small gap over Ratto, De Gendt and Feillu. The bunch, meanwhile, is just 41 seconds behind.
The five escapees hit the slopes of the Mur de Huy with 50 seconds in hand on the peloton, and they fragment as soon as the gradient begins to bite. Vanspreybouck is distanced on the climb, where Baugnies sets the tempo.
And, as sure as night follows day, another crash in the bunch on the approach to the Mur de Huy. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal) is among the fallers and his race could very well be over as he sits on the pavement and watches the convoy go past. Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha) also fell and seems in some discomfort.
33km remaining from 205.5km
The pace is soaring in the peloton, which is strung into a long line ahead on the fast run-in to the second ascent of the Mur de Huy. A delegation from Lampre-Merida are trying to marshal Rui Costa into position ahead of the climb.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) sits tucked towards the head of the peloton, alongside world champion Michal Kwiatkowski.
38km remaining from 205.5km
The break's lead, meanwhile, is now down to 1:45 and steadily dropping on this long run-in to the second ascent of the Mur de Huy.
41km remaining from 205.5km
Another crash in the main peloton sees Lars Petter Nordhaug, Wouter Poels (Sky), Ben King (Garmin-Cannondale), Amael Moinard (BMC) and Anthony Roux (FDJ) among the fallers. Roux seems the worst-affected; all of the others remount and give chase.
43km remaining from 205.5km
Plenty of teams are eager to keep this race under control - Katusha, Movistar, Etixx-QuickStep and Sky - and, as ever at Fleche Wallonne, the selection so far has been at the back rather than the front of the race.
Movistar and Katusha are back in command at the head of the peloton, and they have picked off Honig and Teunissen. 2:10 is the gap to the five surviving escapees.
47km remaining from 205.5km
Meanwhile the peloton is on the Côte de Bohissau (2.4km at 5.5%), a little under 20km away from the second ascent of the Mur de Huy. They are 2:27 down on the break.
Gilbert appears to have been taken down when the peloton compressed to avoid cars parked on the roadside. The Belgian has realised that he has no hope of regaining contact and, with Liege-Bastogne-Liege in mind, he has abandoned Fleche Wallonne.
Gilbert remounts and begins pedalling gingerly but it seems as though his Fleche Wallonne challenge has come to an end. Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare) was another faller, and he was abandoned. Julian Arredondo (Trek) came down too, though the Colombian was the quickest to remount.
The second approach to the Mur de Huy and another crash - Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is among the fallers. The Belgian sits with his legs stretched out before him on the roadside and he has cuts and scrapes on his right side, with his jersey and shorts torn.
Reinier Honig (Roompot) and Mike Teunissen (LottoNL-Jumbo) are chasing in the no man's land between the bunch and the break.
There are five riders left in the break as they approach the Mur de Huy for the second time with 3:15 in hand: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Seche), Jerome Baugnies (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Daniele Ratto (UnitedHealthcare) and Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise).
Etixx-QuickStep join the pace-making with world champion Michal Kwiatkowski sitting comfortably in second wheel. A number of riders are being dumped out the back of the bunch by this forcing, though Dan Martin is still safely aboard.
British champion Pete Kennaugh leads the peloton on the Beillaire and his brisk pace has shaved the break's lead back to 3:33.
Reinier Honig (Roompot) is also unceremoniously dumped out the back of the break thanks to De Gendt's pressing.
57km remaining from 205.5km
Once on the Cote de Bellaire, Mike Teunissen is finally and definitively shaken loose from the break under the weight of Thomas De Gendt's forcing.
The pace ratchets upwards in the peloton as they scramble for positions ahead of the approach the foot of the Cote de Bellaire.
Dan Martin sits in last position in the main peloton, just behind Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge). He doesn't seem to be showing visible discomfort but he must still be feeling the effects of that crash ahead of the first ascent of the Mur de Huy.
60km remaining from 205.5km
That brief impasse has seen the break's lead drop to below five minutes, as Peter Kennaugh injects some pace into the front of the peloton for Team Sky.
There seems to be a bit of disagreement among the seven escapees over the pace-making and they briefly fan across the road to discuss matters in greater detail. They don't seemed to have reached any particular resolution but their uneasy alliance continues for now.
63km remaining from 205.5km
Let's hope the new addition of the Côte de Cherave helps to enliven the finale of this Fleche Wallonne, because so far - Dan Martin's crash notwithstanding - the race has been running rigorously to the traditional script. The escapees have a lead of a little over five minutes, with Katusha and Movistar controlling matters tightly on the front.
Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) has won the women's Fleche Wallonne, soloing to victory ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten and Megan Guarnier.
Dan Martin is still near the back of the peloton, surrounded by Cannondale-Garmin teammates. It's not clear how badly he was injured in that earlier fall, but he remains in the hunt for now after finishing 6th, 4th and 2nd in the past three years atop the Mur de Huy.
The peloton is around 15 kilometres from the next climb, the Côte de Bellaire (1km at 6.3%). Katusha marshal affairs at the front of the bunch in support of Joaquim Rodriguez. The gap to the break is stable at 5:52.
75km remaining from 205.5km
Team Sky move up to the front over the Ereffe, with Philip Deignan, Pete Kennaugh and Nicolas Roche all prominent. Their leader Chris Froome is one of several Grand Tour contenders riding Flèche Wallonne today with the Tour de France in mind.
“Flèche Wallonne is am important race but it’s also important for me to see the parcours for the Tour de France. It’s going to be an important stage for the Tour and it’s good to take a look at it now and do a bit of a dry run,” Froome said at the start.
“We’ve got a very strong team here and if I can help my teammates then that would be great. Kwiatkowski is going very well at the moment, Alejandro Valverde is also going well and those are the guys that you’re going have to watch today.”
77km remaining from 205.5km
The break hits the slopes of the Côte d'Ereffe (2.1km at 5%), where the impressions of the Mur de Huy are being borne out. Thomas De Gendt is once again the strongman forcing the pace, while Mike Teunissen is struggling to keep up.
80km remaining from 205.5km
Dan Martin is safely back aboard the main peloton, which is now ambling along at a decent pace thanks to the impetus of Movistar.
At the Giro del Trentino, meanwhile, Richie Porte (Sky) has moved into the overall leadafter taking victory on stage two
84km remaining from 205.5km
Dan Martin reportedly crossed the summit of the Mur de Huy a minute down on the peloton, with two Cannondale-Garmin teammates for company.
Meanwhile the bunch negotiates the Mur de Huy at a steady pace, with Katusha continuing to control affairs despite Machado's crash. 5:45 the gap.
Tiago Machado (Katusha) touched wheels with Martin and brought him down with him. The pace was not particularly high in the peloton at the time of the crash but a number of riders were unable to avoid getting held up.
A crash at the front of the peloton as they approach the foot of the Mur de Huy. Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) is down and he seems in some discomfort as he attempts to remount.
Mike Teunissen (LottoNL-Jumbo) was briefly dislodged near the summit but the Dutchman is safely aboard the break once again as the descent begins.
Thomas De Gendt leads the break up the steepest section of the Mur de Huy, but the Belgian is maintaining a sensible pace that should ensure the escapees all remain on board come the summit.
90km remaining from 205.5km
The pace is nudging upwards ever so slightly in the main peloton. The gap is down to a shade over six minutes as the break reaches the foot of the Mur de Huy for the first time.
A trio of riders fall towards the rear of the peloton, Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Ben King (Cannondale-Garmin) among them, but none of the fallers appear to be injured. Wellens is being guided back to the bunch by his teammate Pim Ligthart.
A platoon of Katusha riders lead the peloton, while representatives from Movistar and Astana maintain a watching brief.
100km remaining from 205.5km
Our seven escapees are a little under 12 kilometres away from the first of the race's three ascents of the Mur de Huy, where the softening up process will begin in earnest.
And we're nearly at the half-way point in the race with the gap at 6'35.
The climbs come thick and fast now, with the Côte de Bohissau just 2km away. De Gendt, and Feillu trade turns on the front while Movistar and Katusha continue to set the pace on the front of the peloton.
111.5km remaining from 205.5km
94km covered and the break have crested the top of the Côte de Bellaire. All seven riders are still together, with the peloton at 7'05.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) is one of the big favourites for victory today. It has been a world wind few days for the World Champion after taking victory at Amstel Gold on Sunday and he was tentative about his chances at the start.
“I have a lot of emotion after winning Amstel on Sunday, so it has been difficult to concentrate. Since Monday, I’ve been really focussed on today’s race, so let’s hope it’s enough to do something today. I don’t know if I’ve recovered but we’ll see how it goes,” said Kwiatkowski.
Despite the addition of a new climb, Kwiatkowski expects that it will still come down to the final ascent of the day. “I don’t expect any movements from the favourites but I think that the group on the Mur de Huy will be more selective but I think that everyone will be saving their legs for the Mur de Huy.”
At the start this morning, CN's Sadhbh O'Shea took this photo gallery.
Vanspeybrouck, of course, was a talented junior and U23 rider, picking up a couple of national cross titles before turning pro. He's never kicked on since then but he's a solid domestique for Topsport and this is his eight season with the Belgian team.
The leading seven riders are approaching the Côte de Bellaire. In West-Flanders, born and raised, Vanspeybrouck leads them towards the 1km test.
Meanwhile, the break have responded and opened up the gap - it's back at 7'45.
Sixth, fourth and second in the last three years, Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) was in an upbeat mood at the start of Fleche Wallonne, jokingly saying that rather than first over the finish line “it could be 0 as well!”
More seriously, Martin observed that “they say you need experience to win this race and hopefully I’ve got it now, every year I’ve got a little bit closer.”
“They legs are good I think but it’s feeling a bit hard to recover from Amstel, it’s the first time I’ve really finished that race in the front , it’s been a pretty heavy hangover from that race, so we’ll have to see - although of course it’s the same for everybody.”
Regarding the new climb, he predicts “a smaller group at the foot of the Mur and doing those two climbs in the space of ten minutes is a big effort. It makes a big difference, so you might see guys going for it on the Mur early and then not being able to continue their effort. It’s changed it completely, and maybe they’ll misjudge it. But that experience I’ve talked about before, it doesn’t count so much.” So is the new route good for him or not? Another smile and “ask me afterwards, I’ll tell you later”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) could equal the record of Merckx, Argentin and Rebellin today and take a third victory in Fleche Wallonne.
“Bueno, I’m in great shape and the team as well, but it’s a very complicated challenge,” he said cautiously.
“It’s difficult, we’ll have to try. And that climb will make a big difference.”
After his strong rider in Amstel Gold Race, Astana’s Nibali is gunning for an equally impressive performance in Fleche Wallonne. Nibali said “Today is a very hard race and a difficult final kilometre, so I’ll try to do well with my team. It’s the same stage as the Tour, too, so it’s important to see it for that reason too.”
“This is one of the shortest of the big Classics, so that makes a difference too, and we’ve got a good line-up across the board, not just me, guys like Jakob [Fuglsang], too.”
135.5km remaining from 205.5km
70km now covered and the gap has dipped under seven minutes, to 6'45.
On BMC, Samuel Sanchez was seen limping around at the start this morning. The Spaniard and former Olympic road race champion crashed in Amstel Gold Race last weekend, and hit the deck hard. He's fit enough to race it seems and he could be key in the American team's chances here today - with so much experience on his side.
BMC Sports Director Valerio Piva is keen to play down any excessive sense of expectations surrounding Philippe Gilbert following his defeat in Amstel Gold. Tenth in last year’s Fleche Wallonne, fifteenth in 2013, third in 2012 but the winner during his ‘golden week’ of Ardennes success in 2011, Piva argues that “for Phillipe, Fleche is a very different race to Amstel.”
“Philippe was very focused on Amstel, and Fleche isn’t really his thing, as we could see last year where he won Amstel but didn’t do so well here.”
“His real target is Liege-Bastogne-Liege, so he’s not going to have the same level of ambition. Instead we’ll give riders like [Ben] Hermans or [Tejay] Van Garderen, who doing this as his first race, a chance. It won’t be so much about Philippe.”
“Amstel was a different game, it was clear that Philippe was the leader and we took our responsibilities there. Unfortunately his attack didn’t see him open up a gap. That’s racing. Today we’ll be going to do the best we can but it’s up to the out-andout climbers and their teams to really go for it, riders like Alejandro Valverde or Joaquim Rodriguez. It’s the kind of riders who do well in the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco with those incredibly steep uphill finishes who can really do something, not the riders like Philippe. He’s looking more towards Liege, although obviously if he’s off the front he won’t brake.”
Rik Verbrugghe was the last lone breakaway to reach the Mur de Huy in Fleche Wallonne, way back in 2001. Now a director with IAM Cycling, Verbrugghe told Cyclingnews he thinks it will be difficult, but not impossible, for a similar scenario to unfold 15 years later, even with the new climb.
“It will give riders opportunities, but it’s the rider who make the race, not the parcours. I think it’s better, that will give some of the ‘second-row’ riders a chance, instead of the usual ten or so who can if the race is decided with the usual sprint from the foot of the Mur.”
“All the others outside those ten need to try something else and now they have that slight chance.”
“The breakaway needs 15 or 20 seconds when they reach the foot of the descent, coming off the Cherave, in order to reach the Mur de Huy ahead of the pack.”
“It’s impossible to say if the big names will try to make a move on the Cherave when it’s a new route. Sometimes if a big name takes that risk, it could be very dangerous.”
As for the climb “you have to be well positioned not just coming into it, but a good while before becasue it’s very narrow on the approach road. On the climbs the position you have before the red [traffic] lights [coming off the main road to Huy onto the backroads leading to the climb] is the same position you’ll have at the foot of the climb - it’ll be that stretched out.”
The pressure from Katusha and Movistar has started to pay off and the gap is holding at 7'25 with 53km of racing covered. The weather is perfect for racing as well, with very little wind around at the moment.
Movistar also move to the front with a more determined approach, joining Katusha with their efforts. The Spanish team have an extremely strong squad here with Valverde, Quintana and Visconti. Away from the Ardennes, their teammate Alex Dowsett, is putting the finishing touches to his Hour Record bid. You can see a gallery of images from his latest wind tunnel testing, right here.
At the head of the race Kelderman's teammate, Mike Teunissen is on the front and comes through to take his turn. The break are 7'40 ahead of the peloton, having completed 45km of the race.
A look through the peloton and Wilco Kelderman is centre-middle of the pack. The LottoNL are desperate for a win and the young Dutchman is their best hope for today. He went on the attack in Amstel Gold Race but misjudged a corner and lost contact with the Nibali group. He's clearly on some form so is another rider to watch today - does he have the explosive assets needed for the final climb though?
Katusha seem confident. They've chipped 30 seconds off the leaders and are on the front with Movistar. The Russian team have been on fire so far this season with major wins for Paolini and of course Kristoff.
"We know that he is one of the favourites for the race. We also have to respect the others who have a chance to win but I hope that we can be fighting for it tomorrow," Katusha directeur sportif José Azevedo told Cyclingnews. "He’s shown that he’s in good shape and we are confident in him for this race. It is a race that suits him well, he won it three years ago and we believe that he has a chance."
In the news there's renewed speculation that Nibali could ride the Giro d'Italia this year. It all stems from Fabio Aru's recent illness and the License Commission's soon to be announced decision over the status and future of the team. You can read the full article on Cyclingnews, right here.
“It’s true. ‘Martino’ is pushing for me to ride the Giro too. But at the moment it’s not in my plans,” Nibali told Gazzetta. “But in 2010 too, I only found out three days beforehand [that I was riding] and I’d been off for ten days before it. I don’t know, we’ll have to see what the Commission decides too…”
Katusha send a few more bodies to the front, more out of obligation than a pure determined effort. They'll be looking to stabilize matters but it's unlikely they'll look to close any gap at this early stage.
The peloton are allowing the gap to move out further and after 30km of racing the break have a full eight minutes over the pack.
You can of course catch our full race preview and start list for the race, right here. A few other riders to watch out for are Dan Martin, who spearheads the Cannondale Garmin challenge, Nibali and Fuglsang for Astana - who both looked strong in Amstel, Gilbert, who won here in 2011, Rui Costa, Mollema, Barguil and Rolland.
Etixx, Katusha and Movistar are near the front of the peloton but there's certainly no panic at the moment. All three teams have potential winners here. Etixx with world champion and Amstel winner Michał Kwiatkowski, Movistar with two-time winner Valverde and Katusha with Moreno and Rodriguez.
The gap continues to stretch out and is now up to 5'20 over the peloton.
187.5km remaining from 205.5km
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Mike Teunissen (Team LottoNL-Jumbo), Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Jérôme Baugnies (Wanty - Groupe Gobert), Reinier Honig (Team Roompot), Daniele Ratto (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling), and Pieter Vanspeybrouck are in the break and they've pushed their advantage out to 2'55 over the peloton after 18km of racing. Still yet to hit the first climb of the day, as the peloton switch off and settle back for the day.
The five leaders have been caught by the two chasers and the peloton has dropped back to two minutes and the peloton have sat up and drifted back to two minutes down. We'll bring you the leading seven riders in just a moment.
And we finally might have the first serious move of the day. Five men are clear, with two chasing, following by the bunch. De Gendt is one of the riders in the lead group and he's on the front right now taking a monster-turn in order to drag his companions clear. The peloton are 15 seconds back at the moment so this could be the break of the day.
The first climb of the day comes after 22km of racing and we're speeding towards it at the moment. It's the Côte des 36 Tournants - and at the moment a number of riders are jumping clear but the peloton aren't letting anything get more than a 50m at this stage.
10.5km remaining from 205.5km
A very rapid first 10km of racing, and we've seen a number of attacks off the front but so far nothing has stuck. All together for now.
Weather update: It's warm and dry, with barely any wind. There are some concerns about the pollen count however, which is very high right now, and that may affect some racers who suffer from allergies.
The neutralized zone has been completed so we're officially underway an racing in the 79th edition of La Fleche Wallonne.
Through the neutralized zone, so lets have a run through of the today's route. The only significant change is that the introduction of the Côte de Cherave's with just 5.5 kilometres between its summit and the finish line. It could be hugely integral for the finish. At the very least - it should see the lead group thinned out before they hit the Mur. We've not had a race decided on the Mur since 1750 (make that a decade or so) so this climb could be pivotal.
Le Tour have confirmed that we're all present and accounted for, apart from Westra (Astana) who has failed to start. No confirmation but that could be related to his crash in Amstel Gold Race last weekend.
You can find our complete story on Froome and his return to racing, right here. As for Team Sky, they arrive with a decent looking team with Henao (on the podium here before) Kennaugh, Roche and Deignan all in their ranks.
The race has officially rolled out.
Froome has been in rocky form so far this year and hasn't really shown the consistency we're accustomed to. Still, the main aim of the Tour de France is still some way off, so there's time for him to turn matters around. A recent chest infection hasn't helped matters so he'll be looking for a relatively incident-free return today.
“I think Chris is in good shape, he’s been to altitude camp in Tenerife, ” Team Sky sports director Gabriel Rasch told reporters on Tuesday.
“Tomorrow [Wednesday] Sergio [Henao] and Lars-Petter [Nordhaug, Sky’s top finisher in Amstel Gold on Sunday – ed.] are our road captains, but of course we will give Chris a good chance to race himself.”
“He’s had some really good training in Tenerife - him Richie [Porte] and [Leopold] Konig and those guys. I think he’s one level up now from where he was.”
The likes of Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde have just signed on and the roll out will take place in just over over five minutes from now, with the peloton set to take on 205.5km of road, with of course, the iconic finish on the ultra-steep Mur de Huy - which they climb three times.
Good morning, we're here at the start of La Fleche Wallonne in Waremme. The teams and the riders are busy signing on with the start in around ten minutes from now. It's the second Ardennes Classic of the week and it promises to be another cracker with a stellar field of Classics riders and Tour de France contenders.