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Williams enjoys the rain and cold and triumphs over the “Moors”

Williams enjoys the rain and cold and triumphs over the “Moors”

The Briton wins the Fleche Wallonne ahead of Vauquelin

Written by Kevin Kempf

Stephen Williams (Israel – Premier Tech) won the 88th Flèche Wallonne. | Photo: Cor Foss

April 17, 2024 | (rsn) – In a true rain battle, Stephen Williams (Israel – Premier Tech) made his way across the finish line first in the 88th Flèche Wallonne race on the famous Huy Wall. In the second Ardennes Classic, which many riders abandoned due to the extreme cold, Frenchman Kevin Vauquelin (Arkea – B&B Hotels) came in second place at the same time as the Briton after nearly 200 kilometers from Charleroi to Hue.

Belgian Maxime Van Giles (Lotto – Destiny) completed the podium, three seconds behind the winner. Vauquelin's compatriot Benoit Cosnefroy (Decathlon – AG2R La Mondial) came in fourth place, ahead of Colombian Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Al-Montasir).

Wrapped in a thick jacket and as pale as a sheet, Williams stared into the distance before commenting on the greatest success of his career to date in the final interview. “What a day. What a day,” were his first words, which she almost believed. Rainy, cold and icy winds made it difficult for the drivers, with only 44 making it to the finish, including Bora-Hansgrohe's only professional Roger Adria, who finished 26th, 43 seconds behind.

Skjelmose and Hirschi emerge, shivering from the cold

“I can't believe I've just won the Flèche. I've been watching the race for years and always wanted to be here with good legs,” said the 27-year-old Williams, whose opinion on the weather conditions may not have been shared by many of his teammates.

“I enjoy riding in this weather. To win now makes me feel very happy. The boys have supported me all day,” said the Scot, who was the only rider in his team to watch the finish. His nominal leader Dylan Tunes had already got off his bike during the second segment. Of the four lanes in the Mur. The other favorites at that moment followed suit: Matthias Skilmoz (Lidl-Trek), Tom Pidcock (Eneos Grenadiers) and Mark Hirschi (Team UAE).

Already in the penultimate crossing, Williams showed that he perhaps had the best legs on this memorable day. On the final climb, which was as steep as 20 percent, he left his rivals standing 250 meters from the tow area. “The road in front of me was blocked, and a gap opened up at the 300-metre sign, and I thought this was my chance. I started and put five to ten seconds between me and the group,” he said, looking at the last few metres.

With the goal already in sight, things got interesting as Vaukelin came out strong while Williams took over a bit. “I looked around because the legs were empty. But I'm glad I was able to pull it out. I'm completely broken. I'm at a loss for words. It's a tough sport. It's a tough sport,” said Williams, who celebrated his 12th win as a professional, following the general classification and one-day success at the Tour Down Under. The second UWT), his third this year: “Winning bike races is difficult, especially in the classics.”

None of the German-speaking drivers, including Alpecin newcomer, Yuri Holman, made it to the finish line.

This is how Flèche Wallonne went:

Immediately after the start, Lilian Kalmijn (Intermarche – Wanti), Alain Gossom (Total Energies), James Whelan, Txomin Guaristi (Euskaltil – Euskadi), Johan Means (Bingol – WP) and Igor Czan (Astana Kazakhstan) broke away from the field. About 100 kilometers from the finish, frost created harsh conditions, and soon afterwards Jossom had to let his comrades go.

The same fate befell Boylan and Shagan 25 kilometers later. However, at this point, the peloton was only 25 seconds behind. There, EF Education – EasyPost at high speed ensured that previous Flèche winners Dylan Theunis (Israel – Premier Tech) and Mark Hirschi (Team UAE) as well as other favorites such as David Gaudu (Groupama – FDJ) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) fell behind. After another five kilometers, the remaining fugitives were arrested.

Only about 40 riders took part in the last 70 kilometers, but before the next pass of the Mur, the field grew again to about twice as many as the pros before Matthias Skilmoz (Lidl-Trek) and Hirschi, among others, withdrew due to the cold on the climb. Amstel winner Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) was left behind and eventually around 30 riders remained in front with 60 kilometers to go.

Men's Fleisch Walloon No. 88 track profile | Photo: Aso

Shortly afterwards, Søren Krage Andersen (Alpecin-Dessoninck) quickly went on the attack long before the end. The Dane managed a maximum time of 1:25 minutes and with that lead he also tackled the third and penultimate section over the Mur. Williams broke away from the field for the first time and caught the leader by 20 seconds. Buitrago, Vauquelin, Van Giles and Richard Carapaz (EF Education – EasyPost) have caught up with the Scot.

But with 16 kilometers to go, the quintet had to give up. This was mainly due to Uno-X Mobility, which organized the chase with almost full team strength and finally caught up with Andersen after two kilometers.

Then Johannes Stone-Mettet (Visma – rent a bike) took the lead until the foot of the final climb. At the bottom of the 1.3km 'Mur', several drivers established high speed before Williams attacked 250m from the finish and immediately opened up a large gap.

But victory, which was thought to be certain, was again in danger because the Israeli professional ran out of steam and Vauquelin emerged strongly – but the Frenchman was no longer able to close the gap and had to settle for second place behind him. Williams.

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