Women’s road race world and Olympic champion Cooke is rightly marked out as a favourite in every race she enters – and she’ll be easy to spot in her distinctive rainbow-striped outfit. Fleche Wallonne is a race that Cooke has made her own, winning it for the first time back in 2003.
This year, Cooke has assembled a strong team round her. The Vision 1 squad includes fresh, young talent alongside more established champions. Cooke has the back-up of fellow Britons Helen Wyman, Gabby Day, Katie Curits and Daniella King among her team.
Also flying the flag for Britain will be Emma Pooley. Now riding in the distinctive black kit of the Cervelo Test Team, climbing specialist Pooley has already claimed one victory this year – at the GP Rosignano-Livorno, Italy. At last year’s Fleche Wallonne she placed sixth, ahead of Cooke in eighth.
Last year, Cooke and Pooley rode on the same Great Britain team as part of the preparations of Cooke’s successful Olympic campaign. This year the two can be considered direct rivals.
Nicole Cooke in last year’s Fleche Wallonne
There’s one rider that both Pooley and Cooke will be watching closely – double winner Marianne Vos. The Dutch rider is rarely off form, and has already claimed one round of the 2009 world cup at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Italy, in March. Vos is rapidly assembling a palmares to rival Cooke’s – and she’ll have singled out this one as an addition to the list.
Another danger to the Brits would have been 2008 world cup series champion Judith Arndt. Although the German has been on the podium on several occasions – including third last year – Arndt has never won Fleche. She’ll have to wait another year, though – a persistent injury has forced her to pull out of this year’s race at the last minute.
Emma Johanssen currently leads the 10-round women’s world cup overall, having won the previous round in Holland on April 14. Previous series leader Vos is in second place. Cooke is currently Britain’s highest placed rider at 13th.
|LAST YEAR’S TOP TEN|
2008 podium (l-r): Arndt, Vos and Bastianelli
1. Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
2. Marta Bastianelli (Italy)
3. Judith Arndt (Germany)
4. Alexandra Wrubleski (Canada)
5. Amber Neben (USA)
6. Emma Pooley (Great Britain)
7. Nicole Brandli (Switzerland)
8. Nicole Cooke (Great Britain)
9. Sofie Goor (Belgium)
10. Lieselot Decroix (Belgium)
2008 Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
2007 Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
2006 Nicole Cooke (Great Britain)
2005 Nicole Cooke (Great Britain)
2004 Sonia Huguet (France)
2003 Nicole Cooke (Great Britain)
2002 Fabiana Luperini (Italy)
2001 Fabiana Luperini (Italy)
2000 Genevieve Jeanson (Canada)
1999 Hanka Kupfernagel (Germany)
1998 Fabiana Luperini (Italy)
|FLECHE WALLONNE FEMININE|
Wednesday, April 22
The course misses out the first ‘straight’ section of the much longer men’s event from Charleroi, instead focussing on a single loop starting and finishing in Huy. In some ways, it’s a tougher race than the men’s – the women head straight into the punishing series of leg-sapping climbs with no flat warm-up.
The course profile looks like a saw blade. A series of rapid ascents and descents sap the energy and give little room for rest. Any riders still in the race after 95km will have to face the fearsome finish on the Mur de Huy.
Official website: Fleche Wallonne Feminine
No less than nine British riders will take to the start line in Huy on Wednesday:
Nicole Cooke (Vision 1)
Gabriella Day (Vision 1)
Helen Wyman (Vision 1)
Katie Curtis (Vision 1)
Daniella King (Vision 1)
Emma Pooley (Cervelo)
Lizzie Armitstead (Lotto-Belisol)
Emma Silversides (Lotto-Belisol)
Catherine Hare (Fenixs)
|BRITS AT FLECHE WALLONNE FEMININE|
We chart the recent achievements of British riders in Fleche Wallonne Feminine. Nicole Cooke has won the event on no less than three occasions.
Nicole Cooke (2003, 2005, 2006)
Nicole Cooke (2007)
Emma Pooley (2008)
Nicole Cooke (2008)