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Fleche-Wallonne– Live updates in chronological order

11:15 a.m. Charleroi, Belgium Good Morning.We are just about readyfor the full start of this year's edition of Fleche Wallonne. Thepeloton -- 192riders from 25 teams -- is making its way through the neutral startin Charleroi to the edge of town and then on to Huy where they will docover two loops -- a large figure 8-- around that town. All for atotal of 198km. The weather is nice -- about 9 degrees Centigrade -- and thus far thereis no wind. This is a nice contrast to the weather on Sunday for Paris-Roubaix. The Women's race -- a World Cup event -- will begin in about anhour, covering

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Hamilton on the attack

Hamilton on the attack

Photo: Graham Watson

11:15 a.m. Charleroi, Belgium Good Morning.We are just about readyfor the full start of this year’s edition of Fleche Wallonne. Thepeloton — 192riders from 25 teams — is making its way through the neutral startin Charleroi to the edge of town and then on to Huy where they will docover two loops — a large figure 8– around that town. All for atotal of 198km.

The weather is nice — about 9 degrees Centigrade — and thus far thereis no wind. This is a nice contrast to the weather on Sunday for Paris-Roubaix. The Women’s race — a World Cup event — will begin in about anhour, covering 93.5km on the Huy loops

11:37 a.m. The official start was at 11:19 a.m. We arenow at 10km and all of the field is still together. We aren’t even seeingthe usual first Km attacks from the headbangers.

11:55 a.m. The field is still together at km 24, thoughwe did have a brief attack at km 17. Number 49 – Bram DE GROOT (Rabobank);172 – Daniele CONTRINI (Gerolsteiner) and 218 Bruno THIBOUT (JeanDelatour) made it all of one kilometer before being reeled in. The firsthills kick in around 25km and we may see things break up a little. Thewind is still quite calm and not much of a factor today.

By the way, we now have the women’sstart list posted and will try to get as much information as we canfrom the women’s race as it gets underway soon.

12:15 p.m. We had another small and unsuccessful attack at km26.5, just after the day’s first notable climb at Saint Denis. Gerolsteiner’sSebastian LANG and Christophe EDALEINE (Jean Delatour) made it awayfor a couple of kilometers and were brought back into the field. We arenow at 40km and we’ll have a report on the peloton’s average speed forthe first hour coming up.

12:35 p.m. The average speed for the first hour today was 44.0kph. Just about five minutes ago the peloton passed the 50k mark and –yup — they’re all still together.

Up the Mur de Huy

Up the Mur de Huy

Photo: Graham Watson

1:05 p.m. The peloton has just hit the famed climb, the Mur,for the first of its three trips up this steep (20-percent at points),two-kilometer grinder. Francesco Casagrande was at the front of the fieldas they crested, but the peloton remains pretty much intact — except forthe stragglers that are getting spit off the back.

We’ll check in soon with an update from the women’s race which is alsonow underway.

2:02 p.m. Sorry for the delay in updates. Our communication outto the course has been spotty this morning.

Here is what we know. At km 75, — just about five kilometers afterthe first ascent of the Mur — Alex Zulle (Team Coast), Jens Heppner (Telekom)and Walter Beneteau (Bonjour) managed to escape from the main fieldand quickly set about to build a lead. By the 96km mark, their advantagewas up to 3:10. The Fassa Bortolo team of Francesco Casagrande — the manwho won here in 2000 — is now leading the chase. As the leaders hit theMur for the second time today — at kilometer 104.5 — their advantagewas down to 2:20.

2:16 p.m. At km 118, Rabobank’s Levi Leipheimer (yup our favoriteMontanan) attacked in an effort to bridge up to the three leaders.He has an advantage of about 40 seconds on the field and is about 2:10behind the three men in front.

At last report, three riders have jumped off the front of the fieldand are now chasing Leipheimer. We will try to ID them and have a reportfor you soon.

2:36 p.m. With 60km to go in this 198km classic, the three leaders– Zulle, Heppner and Beneteau — have an advantage of 1:28 on a groupof ten chasers and 1:58 on the main field.

That group of 10 in pursuit of the leaders includes Rabobank’s Leipheimerand Paolo Bettini (Mape); Inigo Cuesta (Cofidis); Markus Zberg (Rabobank);Juan Antonio Flecha (iBanesto); Sylvain Chavanel (Bonjour); Steve Zampieri(Tacconi Sport); Andrea Peron (CSC-Tiscali); Gianni Faresin (Gerolsteiner)and Alberto Martinez (Euskatel – Euskadi).

The field is chasing hard…. and given the composition of the two groupsin front of them, can ya blame ’em?

2:44 p.m. Leipheimer and his group have been reeled inby the main field and now another American Tyler Hamilton of CSC is givingit a try. He and Marcel Straus from Gerolsteiner are chasing the threeleaders and are now about 1:00 behind. The main field is at 1:20.

2:50 p.m. Fabiana Luperini has won the women’s race. We stillhave little information from that event and will try to update you as soonas possible.

3:05 p.m. With Saeco leading the charge, all of the men off thefront — Hamilton, Straus and the three men in the original break — havebeen reabsorbed by the main field.

3:07 p.m. With 40km to go, Mapei’s Paolo Bettini has attacked.Others are taking up the chase.

3:21 p.m. ONCE’s Jorg Jakshe and Alessandro Spezialetti (SAECO- LONGONI SPORT) have slipped off the front and CSC’s Tyler Hamilton isin pursuit.(speaking of Hamilton, we have just posted a brief interviewwith him on our site. As you might suspect, we did the interview beforeFleche – Wallonne, so you won’t see much talk of today’s race in there.)

3:30 p.m. The two escapees never built much of an advantage.Their lead topped out at 15 seconds and they were quickly reabsorbed. With25km to go, the attacks are starting fast and furious. Michael Boogerdhas gone off the front and he is being chased by two others.

3:38 p.m. With about 20km to go Ivan BASSO (Fassa Bortolo); Juan Antonio Flecha (iBanesto) and Tomas Konecny (Domo) have a small –really small at only five seconds — lead over the main field.

3:45 p.m. The two escapees were caught and another group of four– including Cofidis’s Cédric VASSEUR– has now tried its luck with13km remaining.

3:49 p.m. With 10km to go, the field is back together and allthe big guns — Aerts, Casagrande, Boogerd are at the front.

3:51 p.m. With 5km to go Unai Etxebarria, Merckx, Noe and Aerts haveabout a 200 meter gap on the field… but they are pulled back. We arecoming up to the final climb up the Mur… and the finish on top.

3:57 p.m. Merckx attacks with 3k to go.

3:58 p.m. Merckx has been caught and is part of a group of six– including Unai Etxebariea, Merckx, Noe and Aerts. The Belgian fans are screaming for Merckx… but they can’t be too upset as Aerts attacks.

4:00 p.m. Lotto’s Mario Aerts wins it… and it looks like UnaiEtxebarria in second and …..mmmm Bartoli in third.

1. Mario Aerts (B) Lotto
2. Unai Etxebarria (Vz) Euskatel
3. Michele Bartoli (I) Fassa Bortolo
4. Andrea Noè (I) Mapei
5. José Azevedo (P) ONCE
6. Axel Merckx (B) Domo
7. Dario Frigo (I) Tacconi

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