Kim Kirchen has won Fleche Wallonne after a fierce battle to the top of a very wet Mur de Huy.
The Luxembourg rider had enough to get past Cadel Evans, who had looked strong on the climb.
He said: “I keep on winning in the rain. I’d like to win in the sunshine for a change.
“I concentrated on following Davide Rebellin because he’s very judging things, calculating when to make his move and assessing the strength of other riders.
“You really do need to be experienced in this race to win it, particularly when it’s wet like today. You need to have ridden it before to know how to win and it added an extra dimension for me.
“Yes, I am happy. I tried the same move in 2005 and was second behind Di Luca but now I’m stronger,” said Kirchen, who is the first Luxembourg rider to win Fleche Wallonne. “This doesn’t mean I’m favourite for Liege because it’s a lot longer and harder, but we’ll see what happens.”
But the real hero of the final stages was the German champion Fabian Wegmann.
He had attacked with CSC’s Gustav Larsson with 11 kilometres to go. They were joined by Alexander Efimkin of Quick Step.
Disaster struck for Larsson on a tight U-bend on the descent of the Cote de Ben-Ahin with six kilometres to go. He braked too hard as he approached the corner, lost his front wheel and went down.
Wegmann seized the initiative and went for it alone, opening a gap on Efimkin.
As they reached the bottom of the 1,300-metre Mur de Huy, he had a slim lead over the Russian and just 25 seconds over what was left of the peloton.
But Wegmann was weaving and rocking as soon as the gradient began to bite and even he must have known it was over before the climb really begun.
As Efimkin closed in on him, the peloton washed over them like a giant wave.
Evans of Silence-Lotto looked very strong and set a pace that strung the rest of the contenders out into a long line.
Wegmann’s Gerolsteiner team-mate Davide Rebellin followed the wheel, with Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race winner Damiano Cunego nestled in nicely. With 500 metres to go, anyone who was more than six or seven men back was out of contention for the win.
With 300 metres to go Evans still led and that was when Kirchen began to make his move, drawing level with the Australian and then pulling clear with each powerful pedal rev. Cunego was third.
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|Who is Kim Kirchen?|
While all eyes are on the other riders from Luxembourg, Andy and Frank Schleck, Kim Kirchen is the quiet man in the corner. So, who is he?
He’s 29. He turned pro for De Nardi in 2000 and joined Fassa Bortolo the following year.
His first win as a pro was, aptly, a stage of the Tour of Luxembourg in 2001.
The following year he won the Tour of Holland. In 2003 he won Paris-Brussels.
He was sixth in the Olympic road race in Athens four years ago.
Second place in the 2005 Fleche Wallonne was his big breakthrough result. He won the Tour of Poland the same year.
In 2006 he joined T-Mobile. Last year he was in the top 15 at Milan-San Remo, Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
He was seventh overall in the Tour de France, although he didn’t win a race in 2007.
Kim Kirchen takes Fleche Wallonne. Photo by Luc Claessen/ISPA
Damiano Cunego. Photo by Andy Jones
Cadel Evans. Photo by Andy Jones
1 Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg) High Road 199.5km in 4hr 35min 29sec
2 Cadel Evans (Australia) Silence-Lotto at 1sec
3 Damiano Cunego (Italy) Lampre at 2sec
4 Robert Gesink (Netherlands) Rabobank
5 Thomas Dekker (Netherlands) Rabobank
6 Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner all same time
7 Michael Albasini (Switzerland) Liquigas at 8sec
8 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spain) Caisse d’Epargne at 10sec
9 Christian Pfannberger (Austria) Barloworld at 15sec
10 John Gadret (France) Ag2r at 20sec
19 Stefan Schumacher (Germany) Gerolsteiner at 32sec
21 Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse d’Epargne same time
50 David Millar (Great Britain) Slipstream at 2-49
60 Nicolas Roche (Ireland) Credit Agricole at 3-10
76 Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) CSC at 5-13
78 Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) CSC at 5-13
79 Carlos Sastre (Spain) CSC at 5-13
107 Riccardo Ricco (Italy) Saunier Duval at 8-22
109 Daniel Martin (Ireland) Slipstream at 9-40
115 Chris Froome (Great Britain) Barloworld at 9-56
Review and reaction
Fleche Wallonne 2008 photo gallery
Women’s Fleche Wallonne: Vos wins, Pooley sixth, Cooke eighth
British women go for glory at Fleche Wallonne
Men’s Fleche Wallonne preview