For a bloke who, by his own admission, was “celebrating” the best win of his life, Kim Kirchen hardly looked full of the joys of Spring in Huy tonight.
Maybe it was the weather – that icy drizzle which arrived late in the race to prove once again that God isn’t a Belgian. Or maybe it was just Kirchen trying not to look too impressed with himself. Or maybe from now on we should just call him Grim Kim.
Whatever the real reason, the oft-forgotten third prong of Luxembourg’s great cycling triumvirate mumbled his way through tonight’s press conference like a man being reluctantly coaxed out of a sponsored silence. Fortunately, on the road, he’d been much more eloquent. “Kirchen was phenomenal today”, cooed Amstel Gold winner Damiano Cunego.
For his part, Kirchen explained: “The conditions were pretty much the same as 2005, when I came second. I was there with other favourites, and, to be honest, on the Mur I was expecting them to drop me at any moment. When they didn’t, at 200 or 300 metres from the line I thought it was time to try something…”
That “something” was a searing acceleration which bodes ill for the Luxembourger’s rivals ahead of the weekend and the one he really wants, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Kirchen has already won the amateur version of La Doyenne, and, more importantly, appears to have developed a real sting in the tail-end of races like the Ardennes Classics. The 29-year-old had served advance warning of that with two stage wins at the Tour of the Basque Country a couple of weeks ago.
Even more ominous – and I’ve been harping on about this for years now – is that the three Ardennes classics now feature finishes so similar that it seems almost inevitable the same rider will scoop two if not all three of Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It happened in 2004 with Davide Rebellin, and everyone was amazed. They shouldn’t have been, because while the Cauberg (Amstel) is easier than the Mur de Huy (Flèche) which is tougher than the Montée d’Ans (Liege), we’re talking three different twists on the same theme here – the short, steep power climb where the rider who can drop the biggest bomb inevitably wins.
I’ll grant you that, of the three, Liege is the toughest and maybe the most tactical, so it’s no guarantee that Amstel’s winner, Cunego, or today’s champ, Kirchen, will prevail again on Sunday. But you’ve been warned; my money’s on Grim Kim for the second time in a week….