The last preparations were about to be finished, on this early Sunday morning, when the first rain drops started pouring down on the cobbles of the market place in Echternach. The weather conditions had just decided to go crazy on this September 4th and, after having shined over Luxemburg for the past two weeks, the sund took a day off, leaving rainy showers all over the place and even thunder and lightning on some parts of the course. The bad weather had been announced for a while and of course it decided lots of potential starters not to participate in the event. The online registration had worked as normal over the last two weeks, but only a little more than 100 riders added themselves on the start list on the week-end of the race, making up for a total of 890 contenders, far less of course than the 1300 of last year. But the races were nice and, with the riders riding more carefully than usual, there were less crashes than usual this year. The riders from Luxemburg were successfull this year with two wins (Ivan Centrone in the men's 157 km race and Edie Rees in the women's 106 km race) for a total of 30 wins in the history of the race until now, while the Belgians (Marie Dessart on the 157 km women's race) and the French (Fabien Schmitt on the 106 km race) each added one title to their list.
Since eight years, La Charly Gaul hasn't seen such a thin peloton and, for the first time since 2010, the threshold of 1,000 participants was not achieved in 2016. It seems that the riders of La Charly Gaul B were less courageous this year because they were reponsables for three quarters of the last-minute withdrawals, while, unsurprisingly, the iron men of the long distance neither fear fatigue nor rain and cold: they even attended the fifth most populous edition of the race's history, with only a hundred competitors less than during the record year of 2015. It also seems that the ladies are more solid than the men because with 39 competitors in total, the female percentage increased very slightly in the peloton compared to previous years.
As usual, the Belgians were the most numerous on this Charly Gaul, representing a third of the riders, followed by Luxembourg and the Netherlands: Benelux countries have provided nearly 70% of all participants, about twenty nationalities sharing the remaining 30%. There is a clear and lasting decline in indigenous participation in this unique cyclo-sport race of the Grand Duchy: from 40% in the years 2005 to 2007, the share of home riders in the total quota decreased to 25% gradually in the years 2013 to 2015. in 2016, with a total of 184 riders, only one competitor out of 5 raced under the flag of the red lion.
The big news about the course was the inclusion of the climb of Groesteen for the riders on the smaller distance, a legendary climb in the Grand Duchy that was previously reserved only to competitors of the long distance distance. Apparently, the climb pleased a lot to the contenders, even if the suffer quotien was multiplied on the steep slopes of the Rue du Faubourg in Stolzembourg. On the bigger course, the trio Marnach, Hosingen-Barrière and Groesteen one after another, shortly before half of the race, was also unprecedented, three difficult climbs where the riders were rewarded for their efforts by stunning scenery, above the mist that clung firmly to the slopes of the Our ??valley.
Report form course A (157 km)
They were 411 to have registered on the long course of 157 kilometers, among them three riders under 18 years and about twenty with more than 60 of age. Some of them were quite impatient: another downpour of rain had just come down on the barely dry road when Jan Petelin accelerated after a only a kilometer of the race, on the climb of Berdorf which began immediately after the start and was classified with three stars, already. He took the lead of the race, a few dozen meters ahead of a large group led by Dutchman Sjors Beukeboom and which also included in its first lines Bjorn Koeman, Belgian Arno De Wispelaere, or the three Luxembourgers Ivan Centrone, Sandro Dostert and Christian Poos. Behind them, the peloton was splitting up little by little, with several large groups being formed at a stone's throw of each other.
Three men took control of the race in the descent to the valley of the Sûre, Jan Petelin being joined by Sjors Beukeboom, precisely the rider that animated the pursuit behind him on the climb, and Bjoern Koeman, another flying Dutchman inspired by the rain. The next chasers were not far away and 5 other riders bridged up to the lead of the race a little bit later, under the impulse of some Belgians and Dutch riders. 8 competitors were now at the front after thirty kilometers of race, near Vianden, with a few dozen seconds advantage on a group of fifty units, a group in which an impressive Ivan Centrone attacked on the climb of Biwels, realizing the junction with the leading group within a few kilometers.
Before the trilogy of climbs Marnach, Hosingen-Barrière and Groesteen, they were nine riders at the front thus, among them two members of Team Differdange, Jan Petelin and Ivan Centrone, plus Anthony Spyschaert, a regular contender at La Charly Gaul who finished 3rd in the race in the years 2010, 2014 and 2015. There was also Björn Koeman, who had been already acive at the head of the race down in 2014, Belgians Bart Van Kerkhoven and Hedwig Van Landeghem, an experienced rider who has already finished the Charly Gaul on the top step of the podium in his age group (over 50 years now), Koen Van Geyt, 8th right here in 2014, Sjors Beukeboom, member of the Dutch gaul.nl team, former Journalist champion of the Netherlands and already on the offensive from the very first kilometer if the race. Arno de Wispelaere, 2nd this year in the La Look cyclo-sport race in the French region of Nievre, completed the group. In the very long climbs of Marnach and Hosingen-Barrière, each of them 6 kilometers long, Jan Petelin paid his early efforts and was dropped in company of Anthony Spyschaert, less strong than in the last three years. They were replaced at the head of the race with two other contenders, and not least ones: Frederic Glorieux, second last year behind Jari Verstraeten, plus Frenchman Damien Richard, 2nd already on the long course no less than ... 10 years ago. After Hosingen, Jan Petelin and some other riders were about thirty seconds behind the first group, but they had trouble making the connection with it, while Sjors Beukeboom was victim of a crash in the descent to the valley of Our, a little bit later.
8 riders were still at the front when starting the climb of Groesteen, 3.8 km at an average gradient of 7.4%, with parts of more than 10% slope. The toughest climb of the race was obviously enough to spice up the race: the leading group exploded completely with three riders being stronger than the others: Ivan Centrone was up there, of course, he was among the main favorites, with Frédéric Glorieux and Arno Wispelaere, thirty seconds ahead of two chasers: Belgian Koen Van Geyt and Jan Petelin, who rode a very strong climb of Groesteen just like Sjors Beukeboom, the two of them moving up in the race and placing themselves again in contention for twe win. But Van Geyt was stronger then Petelin, dropped him a little bit later and managed to bridge up to the three leaders, at the cost of great effort. Fifty kilometers from the finish line, at the foot of the last big climb of the day, Van Geyt, Glorieux, Wispelaere and Centrone had over a minute advantage on a lone Petelin and another minute and ten seconds on four more chasers: Koeman, Van Kerkhoven, Richard and the unfortunate Beukeboom.
The next smaller climbs didn't bring any major changes, except that Petelin was joined by the next chasing groupe, out of which Sjors Beukeboom and Damien Richard attacked a little bit later. On the last climb of the day, a little road with impressive gradient next to Boursdorf Koen De Geyt was dropped at the front, leaving the trio Centrone, Glorieux and Wispelaere in the battle for the win. Behind them, Beukeboom and Richard managed to limit the damage, about four minutes late, while the next chasers were more than 7 minutes behind, a group of thirty units out of which young Belgian Arthur Baude from the Team Veranda Willems started a counter attack. This group included among others riders like former military cyclocross world champion Erwin Bollen, some aficionados of La Charly Gaul like Bob Adriansens, Michel Ossieur and Bram Schittecatte, or the Luxembourgers Christian Poos, Mike Diener, Jan Petelin and Sandro Dostert.
There wasn't any climb left, but Ivan Centrone still had a trick up in his sleeve: the member of Team Differdange attacked on the flat and near Rosport, he already had thirty seconds advantage on Glorieux, who had dropped De Wispelaere. In the last kilometers, Centrone was constantly expanding his advantage and, at 37 km/h average speed, he went on to win the 27th edition of La Charly Gaul, eight years after his brother Vincenzo, also solitary winner in 2008. A minute and a half later, Frederic Glorieux took second place, while Arno de Wispelaere was nearly three minutes late on an emotional winner. Behind Van Geyt, Beukeboom, Richard Baude and Petelin, but nearly 10 minutes down, Sandro Dostert won the sprint of the first large group for ninth place, a group which contained among others Hedwig Van Landeghem, 18th of La Charly Gaul at more than 50 years of age.
Please have a look at the onboard-camera of Sjors Beukeboom in this amazing video:
Fifteen ladies were also present on the queen distance of La Charly Gaul and the climb of Berdorf has made already a first selection from the start: Marie Dessart, who amongst other things won a long-distance triathlon during his sporting career, was immediately off at front of the race, a minute already ahead of the Dutch duo Nicolien Luijsterburg, winner of a cycling event in Dubai recently, and Ingeborg Bremmers, who also won a race in the Netherlands this year. Other Dutch riders followed a little bit behind: Katleen Luypaert was about twenty seconds late on her two compatriots while Tessa Veen-Backhuijs, Ingrid Stolwijk and Kelly Lambrechta were about two minutes behind the front of the race already after barely 4 km. Firmly installed in the second larger group of the men's race, Dessart continued to expand her lead: after 30 km, in the côte de Biwels, third climb of the day, the young Belgian was already over three and half minutes ahead over the trio of Luijsterburg, Bremmert and Luypaert. The latter, a member of Team Granfondo who has won this year at L'Albigeoise, counting for the UCI Gran Fondo World Series, had in the meantime made the junction with the two friends ahead of her. Veen-Backhuijs and Stolwijk rode on the next positions, more than 5 minutes late already in Biwels
Marie Dessart stayed strong after that, she was firmly anchored in a group that was riding for 50th place in the overall classification, so that the battle for the women's victory already was over halfway towards the race, after the terrible climb of Groesteen. Suspense remained in the battle for second place because, although Ingeborg Bremmers had fallen off in the most difficult slopes of Groesteen, Luypaert and Luijsterburg stayed together until very late in the race, at around the 150th place overall. With 30 kilometers to go, the two Dutch riders wer more than 20 minutes behind the Belgian. In the very last climbs of the day however, Luypaert showed herself stronger than her compatriot and took a small advantage on her. Ending in a wonderful 74th place in the scratch classification, at nearly 34 km/h average speed, Marie Dessart took the win in the 157 kilometer race at the 27th Charly Gaul, 22 minutes ahead of Katleen Luypaert, winner of the category ladies over 40 years and 153rd overall at over 31 km/h average speed. Another minute later, Nicolien Luijsterburg finished third lady and 167th in the common ranking with the men.
Report from course B (106 km)
With 479 riders at the start, the bunch of the "small" Charly Gaul was one of the thinnest of the past 12 years, but the race remained exciting and undecided to the end. Luxembourger Lex Reichling was among the first to accelerate in the côte de Berdorf, first climb of the day and there was immediately a selection: after thirty kilometers of racing and three climbs, only 40 riders still remained at the head of the race, among-them two-times winner Steve Decloux, Gody Jacobs and Fabien Schmitt, second and third respectively in 2015, or Luxemburg's Mangers, Margue, Biehl, Schneider, Emili, Luis, Rauen, Hansen, Mores, Larry, Schweitzer and Reichling.
The climb of Groesteen was of course the hightlight in this 106 kilometer race and the front groupe exploded on the small, twisty and steep roads of the uphill. At the first food zone in Bastendorf, they were still a dozen at the front, with less than a minute advantage on the next chasers, a group of about 30 riders. Former winner Steve Decloux and young Madio Fatalini were actually dropped from the group and they were still 11 battle for the win with forty kilometers and three hills to go. The group contained Lex Reichling, who has been very active since the beginning of the race, his teammate at Tooltime Préizerdaul, Raphael Schweitzer, as well as Gody Jacobs and Fabien Schmitt, two top riders from the past year, the young rider from Veranda Willems Chevigny, Vincent Renson, German elite rider Max Valtey, former triathlete Michael Lardinois, former Belgian National champion on the track, Fabian Devola, Loic Trouillot from Metz another French rider, Raphael Pierron, or the Belgian Frédéric Jacob.
The latter felt himself very strong and broke away alone from the group. With 30 kilometres to go, he had an advantage of nearly a minute on his 10 former breakaway companions and 2 additional minutes the second group, still counting about twenty units, and in which the Luxembourg riders were well represented. In between these two groups, Decloux an Fatalini resisted for the moment to the return of their rivals and thus maintained their position in the Top 15. The adventure of Frédéric Jacob at the front of the race didn't last until the end, since the Belgian was caught later by 7 other riders. On the last two climbs in fact, Schweitzer, Trouillon and Pierron had been dropped, and so they were still 8 together at the summit of the last climb for a few last kilometres of flat roads and suspense: Lardinois, Valtey, Jacob, Jacobs, Schmitt, Renson and Luxembourg's Lex Reichling.
With ten kilometers to go in the Valley of the Sûre, attacks started between the contenders of the leading group. One after another, riders attacked and gained a few metres on their opponents, before being reeled in a gain. At his little game, Vincent Renson and Fabien Schmitt had the last word. A few kilometers from the finish, the Belgian and French were able to take a hundred meters of advantage: Fabien Schmitt won the sprint ahead of Renson, with Frederic Jacob, Lex Reichling, Gody Jacobs and Michael Lardinois ending in this order about 5 seconds later.
In the women's race on the course of 106 kilometers, Luxembourg's Edie Rees had the best start in the climb of Berdorf. After four kilometers of racing, she was about a minute only late on the best men and was twenty seconds ahead of her next chasers: Rachel Fenton, Mieke Deroo, Anick Dirckx and Virgnie Soenen. A little bit later, at about fifty seconds, followed the Belgian Anne Pons and another two riders from Luxemburg, Martine Licker and Claire Faber. In the descent towards Grundhof and the long flat part along the Sûre river, many groups came together, before splitting again in the côte de Hoesdorf, second climb of the day. Four girls found themselves together at the front of the race: Edie Rees, still up there, Claire Faber, Anick Dirckx and Mieke Deroo, followed at about twenty seconds by Anne Pons, still in contention for the win at that moment of the race. For Rachel Fenton and Martine Licker, more than a minute and a half behind, things got more complicated as they lost ground gradually.
The girls approached the climb of Groesteen about five minutes behind the best boys, and Edie Rees demonstrated her superiority by hanging on to a third group of the common race with the men on the climb, taking the lead in the women's standings ahead of Claire Faber and Anne Pons, increasingly strong as the kilometers progressed. Rees continued to widen the gap and, 30 kilometers from the finish line, she rode 4 minutes ahead of Pons and Faber, fighting for the other podium places. Anick Dirckx followed another 5 minutes later, Mieke Deroo at 12 minutes, while Rachel Fenton was now 15 minutes late, together with Friederike Dietzmann who was returning from far away after a very bad start.
The positions remained essentially the same until the finish, except that Mieke Deroo had a bad moment and lost significant ground in the end. Edie Rees won the female version of the 27th edition of La Charly Gaul B, on the course of 106 kilometers, ranking in a spectacular 58th place in the scratch result, at more than 33 km/h average speed. 6 minutes later, Belgian Anne Pons took second place in a sprint ahead of Claire Faber, both ladies finishing 83rd respectively 87th in the overall classification, at 32 km/h average speed. Annick Dirckx ended 4th in the women's rankings over 13 minutes down, while the German Friederike Dietzmann finished the race very strongly, taking 6th place after having been away from the Top 10 in the first half of course.
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