PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Danilo Di Luca put himself well on the way to emulating Davide Rebellin's trio of major victories in a week last year when he added today's Flche Wallonne title to the Amstel Gold victory he won on Sunday. Ironically, Rebellin was one of the two riders beaten by Di Luca in the final sprint at the top of the 1-in-6 slopes of the Mur de Huy, with Luxembourger Kim Kirchen splitting the pair.
It was Kirchen who instigated the final charge up the hill for line from 300 metres out. But, just as Michael Boogerd found at Amstel, Kirchen quickly realised that Di Luca is in the form of his life and is proving just as difficult to beat as Rebellin did when he pulled off the unprecedented Amstel/Flche/Lige-Bastogne-Lige last season. As the Liquigas-Bianchi rider sped past for the victory, Kirchen's consolation was that he managed to hold off Rebellin for second place.
Di Luca's victory pushed him above Tom Boonen at the top of the ProTour standings. The Italian now leads the Belgian by 19 points after successes at the Tour of the Basque Country, Amstel and now Flche in the past fortnight.
For not the first time this season, the latter part of the race featured a lone attack from CSC's Jens Voigt. Already away in a break of seven, the German went off on his own 60km from home as the peloton began to close in. Chocolade Jacques' Jef Peeters went with him briefly, but could not stay with Voigt's pace on the rain-sodden roads.
The CSC rider was eventually caught by Andrei Kashechkin, Oscar Pereiro, Alexandre Moos, Sylvain Chavanel and Cdric Vasseur on the run down towards the third and final ascent of the Mur. But before long, this sextet were reeled in by a Liquigas-led bunch, from which Di Luca emerged victorious.
Di Luca admitted afterwards that his main aim this week is to win Lige on Sunday "but I wasn't going to miss the chance of winning here if it presented itself. I must thank my team-mates for all of the work they did in bringing back Voigt." Di Luca put his run of success down to new-found confidence in a new team, backed up by great form.
Firmly installed as the favourite for Lige, Di Luca admits that he is the man to beat. However, Lige, he said, is the toughest of this week's ProTour races to win because of its unpredictability.
Defending champion Rebellin was quick to praise his compatriot. "Bravo to Danilo. He was the strongest," said the Gerolsteiner rider. "I am not far from my condition of last year. That gives me hope for Lige."
Kirchen said that he had ridden wide on the hairpins on the Mur de Huy to save as much for the finish as he could. "The tactic worked, but Di Luca was simply too strong. There was nothing I could do to stop him today," said the Luxembourg champion. "In the last 250 metres all I could do was try to get on his wheel and hang on to second place."
Voigt, away at the front for three-quarters of the race, was sanguine about his defeat. "With that kind of break it simply works or it doesn't. I won a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country in just the same way recently," explained the German. "Of course it's disappointing, but I'm happy with my performance. Now I am going to ride Lige and then take a break for four weeks to prepare for the Tour de France, where I am aiming to win a stage."
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 201.5km in 4.44.56 (42.43kph)
2 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Fassa Bortolo
3 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
4 David Etxebarria (Spa) Liberty Seguros 0.04
5 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
6 Angel Vicioso (Spa) Liberty Seguros
7 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Quick Step
8 Aitor Osa (Spa) Illes Balears
9 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.08
10 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner
12 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 0.11
14 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Caffita
20 Brad McGee (Aus) Francaise des Jeux 0.19
38 Ivan Basso (Ita) CSC 0.37
40 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Illes Balears
42 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
50 Jens Voigt (Ger) CSC 0.51
67 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Ag2r 2.32
ProTour standings after 9 events
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 131
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 112
3 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 94
4 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 93
5 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 86
6 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC 75
7 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 75
8 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Gerolsteiner 70
9 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 65
10 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 55