For nearly three hours, the 29th edition of La Charly Gaul went almost perfectly: the weather was excellent, more than 1,200 starters were present, the mishaps in the organization were minors, the security posts were on the course and the races went without incident. But then, the tragedy occured: in the middle of the descent, a rider hit a car hard, his bike was catapulted into the air and broke in two under the impact. The young Belgian remained lying on the ground, in a state between life and death. It is only thanks to the immediate intervention of the event doctor, Dr. Gaston Schutz, and the effective collaboration between all the links in the first aid chain that the victim was rescued and is going better since, practically assured of not having to deal with any long-term consequences of this accident. Whether we like it or not, this horrible fall, visible to a large part of the competitors who passed at the scene of the tragedy while the rider was still inanimated on the ground and in the hands of the medical services, will hang forever like a shadow on a Charly Gaul that has been a very good edition elsewhere.
1.241 riders had registered on the start lists of La 29ème Charly Gaul, making it the third most populated edition in history after 2017 (1.360 participants) and 2013 (1.288 competitors). About sixty riders did not finish the race according to the rules or on time, so that 1.183 of them are on the result lists: 530 on the 153-kilometre course (45%) and 653 on the slightly less challenging 89-kilometre loop (55%). With shorter and less difficult routes this year than in 2017, the riders massively opted for the long course, confirming the trend of recent years and nearly equalizing the record of participation over this distance, dating back to last year. Another trend that has also been confirmed this year is the slight increase in female participation. As last year, 80 girls or women started at La Charly Gaul, so the proportion compared to male competitors is slightly increased (around 7% compared to 6% in 2017). 24 participants registered on the long course this year, 2 more than last year and as many as ever before in the almost thirty-year long history of La Charly Gaul.
Despite the Gran Fondo World Championships held in Italy on the same weekend, the level of the participants was high this year, with many licenced and even professional riders testing their physical condition on a race known to be challenging, without necessarily aiming for a result: Michel Ries, stagiaire at Leopard-Trek and 10th overall in the recent Tour de l'Avenir, the former Differdange rider Thomas Deruette (now pro at WB-Veranclassic-Aqua Protect), the continental riders Colin Heiderscheid (Dauner D&DQ-Akkon), Marvin Tasset (AGO-Aqua Service) and Pit Leyder (Leopard Cycling Team), 3rd in the Tour de Luxembourg this year lined up together with Maxime Weyrich, the winner of the Marcel Gilles Remembrance race in Contern in June, Anne-Sophie Harsch of the Maslandster Cycling Team in the girls' category, the riders of the Luxembourg regional team, former professional stars Jérôme Gilbert and Frank Schleck or even a few multiple winners of La Charly Gaul, Jérôme Giaux, Steve Decloux and Peter Schroen.
31 nationalities were present this year in Echternach, but the Belgians, usually in a large majority at the start line, were only 4 units more than the native riders (305 Belgians against 301 Luxembourgers), far ahead of the 192 French, 156 Dutch and 143 German citizens. The Benelux countries and the direct neighbours of the Grand Duchy responded for more than 80% of the participants, but several slightly more exotic competitors completed these somewhat recurrent statistics: a Turkish, a Slovenian, a Monegasque, a Lithuanian, a Cuban, a Costa Rican, a Greek, a Chinese rider, two Icelanders, two Canadians and even an Afghan were present at La Charly Gaul's call-up this year. Yves Lehnert finished his 29th Charly Gaul in 397th place with a very nice average of 27 km/h (the same average as in 2017), while Nico Thoma finished 527th despite serious back problems that almost put an end to his courage in the final. These most faithful of the faithful have therefore participated in all Charly Gaul editions without exception since the beginning. The invitation is scheduled for 2019 for their 30th participation. Rare enough to be noticed, there was also this year a participant in the under-19 category on the long course, the young Jacques Gloesener finishing in an excellent 35th place, at an average speed of over 36 km/h.
On the course side, the 2018 edition was certainly a step lower than last year's, with fewer kilometres, fewer climbs, less gradients and fewer spectacular views than twelve months ago. But the organizer had to deal this year with a number of unforeseen circumstances and work sites in the construction of the course that limited certain possibilities. However, everyone should have been OK with this course, starting with the beautiful climb of Beaufort, through the rocks of Luxembourg's Little Switzerland. The good old Wahlhausen hill (5 kilometres at an average of 5.6% and passages at almost 10%) was the most difficult piece on paper, while the new Landscheid and Moestroff to Hierzenhaff climbs challenged the legs and presented very beautiful views over the surrounding valleys. The second half of the race, with the climbs of Savelborn, Consdorf and Pafebierg in particular, didn't have anything really new, but some good old classic routes did their job this year on the course.
LA CHARLY GAUL A (153 km)
A good 550 riders took the start of the 153-kilometre course, under a beautiful sun despite the 9am early-bird time on the Market Square in Echternach. On the first climb of the day, 2 riders broke away and took the lead of the race: Bart Peuters and Bjorn Koeman had a thirty-second lead at the entrance of Beaufort, on a first peloton of about a hundred riders, led by Luxemburgish riders Misch Leyder and Felix Schreiber, among others. After a regrouping, selection continued in the first peloton and, around mid-race, there were only still about thirty riders left in contention for the victory, among them Jérôme Gilbert, Thomas Deruette or Luxembourgers Maxime Weyrich, Noah Fries, Misch Leyder, Rik Karier and Sandro Dostert. The young Jacques Gloesener, the only representative of his category at this level, was not far away in another group, together with Raphael Schweitzer, Max Larry or Eric Meyers, while Michel Ries, Colin Heiderscheid and Pit Leyder had already announced that they were not aiming for one of the first ranks by stopping for a chat at the first refuelling.
Four riders broke away at the front after mid-race, reduced to three after the terrible accident that shook the race next to the small village of Christnach. Misch Leyder, Marvin Tasset and Anthony Spysschaert, the survivors of the leading four who had eyewitnessed the crash, hesitated for a while before continuing their leadout at the front, trying as best they could to move on after the tragedy. With 25 kilometers to go, just before the last climb of Pafebierg, the trio had a big minute advantage on five pursuers: Rik Karier, Bjorn Koemans, Spas Guyrov, Thomas Deruette and Arthur Pagnaert. One could then reasonably consider that the decision had to fall between these eight riders since behind them, Maxime Weyrich and Matthias Van den Bergh were on their own and the next group, with about twenty riders, followed more than five minutes later.
On the last climb of the day, Misch Leyder, recent winner of a regional race in Rochefort, Belgium, set the pace but his two fellow riders never found themselves in difficulty. After having already finished three times on the podium already (2010, 2014, 2015) and fourth last year, Anthony Spysschaert felt that his chance was within reach: with more than ten participations already to his credit, he has a perfect knowledge of the final. But on paper, Marvin Tasset was certainly the big favourite: the rider of the pro-continental AGO Aqua Service team has participated this year in races such as the Circuit Ardennais, the Flèche du Sud, the Tour du Jura, the Ronde de l'Oise or the Tour du Val d'Aoste and is therefore well equipped to win on rough terrain like that of La Charly Gaul. A 24th place at the Grand-prix d'Overijse showed his good form less than a week ago. Behind them, Bjorn Koemans, 22nd this year at the Gran Fondo des Vosges, former Bulgarian champion Spas Guyrov, professional rider Thomas Deruette, KOM champion at this year's Circuit de la Sarthe, Arthur Pagnaert, another continental level rider who won a race in Plombières in early August, as well as former Luxembourg youth champion Rik Karier did not really succed in closing the gap with the three leading men.
Inside the Sûre valley, towards Echternach and the finish line, the leading trio remained together, so that the decision for victory had to be made in a sprint, Marvin Tasset winning by two lengths over Spyschaert and Leyder, who were both without any chance against the Belgian. A big minute later, Arthur Pagnaert took fourth place, also in the sprint ahead of Karier, Guyrov and Deruette. The first larger group, with about twenty units and containing some of last year's protagonists such as Baude, Wielfaert, De Wispelaere or Dostert, arrived more than eight minutes behind the winner.
In the Ladies' category, the suspense also lasted until the very end as five competitors were above the others and finished the race in a close neighbourhood, less than twenty seconds apart. They were Manuela Freund, 2nd already in 2013 and 4th in 2015 at La Charly Gaul, the triathlete Marjolein Truyers, who finished third in Echternach 12 months ago, Floor Van den Brand, winner of the "small" GranFondo des Vosges (142 km) this year, Sanne Broeksma, European champion in duathlon in 2017 or Joline Goossens, former pro at Lotto-Belisol, a few years ago. They managed to get into a second group of the men's peloton on the Beaufort climb, the first difficulty of the day, a good minute behind the male race leader. Behind them, Anne Posthuma, who raced at the highest level of competition in 2015 and 2016, Franziska Leuchter, winner of the Rad am Ring cyclosportive in 2017 or Hilde Oudman, 6th in La Charly Gaul in 2014, were not far behind but would never manage to get back to the front.
In the second half of the race, Marjolien Truyers managed to establish herself at the front of the race and, with 25 kilometers to go, she passed with nearly two minutes advantage on her rivals Freund, Van den Brand, Broeksma and Goossens, while Posthuma, Leuchter and Oudman were already more than 10 minutes behind at that time of the race. At the top of the last climb, near Pafebierg, Truyers still had a minute and fifty seconds advantage, but she was on her own on the road, compared to his chasers who were all riding inside a few small male groups that were soon to regroup, on the last downhill.
In the last kilometers towards the Market Square in Echternach, on the flat, this small group of about twenty units got closer and closer to Marjolein Truyers, accompanied by only one male competitor. The suspense was therefore high but in the end, the Dutchwoman managed to keep a 15-second lead at the finish. Marjolein Truyers won the 29th edition of La Charly Gaul in front of Sanne Broeksma, Floor Van den Brand, Joline Goossens and Manuela Freund, who crossed the finish line in this order in less than four seconds. For Truyers, this was not the first victory in the Grand Duchy since she had already won the Weiswampach triathlon a few years ago. At an average speed of more than 32 km/h, the Dutchwoman finished 148th in the common ranking with the men, only 3 small places ahead of her runner-up Sanne Broeksma who took a nice third in the sprint of her group, 151st in the scratch race.
LA CHARLY GAUL B (89 km)
On the 89-kilometre course, the most difficult climbs were at the beginning of the race and, after the Beaufort, Moestroff and Ermsdorf trilogy, the peloton was already seriously skimmed. It was Luxembourg's Kevin Disteldorff, 46th in La Charly Gaul 2017, who led the way around mid-race, solo and with a thirty-second lead over a group of around twenty riders, including several other home riders such as former national cyclo-cross champion Luc Turchi, such as Sven Schmit, Jo Larry and Ben Philippe, 10th in the last Luxembourg National road championships. In this first group, there were also riders like Ludovic Brochard, used to the Top 10 of our event (best ranking: 5th in 2014 and 2015), Sebastien Calmant, 7th in 2014, Boris Odendahl, 8th in La Charly Gaul B twelve months ago, Romain Woklowicz, Tim De Baene, Kurt Van Laethem, Lorenzo Marasco, Sven François or Michael Hilgers, who had truly animated the La Charly Gaul edition in 2014 despite finishing "only" 23rd. Behind them, there was a second group of about fifteen competitors who were soon to bridge up to the front, including two-time La Charly Gaul winner Steve Decloux (2009 and 2012), or other riders like Max Waltey, Philippe Becker or Patrick Rauen.
There was a new situation a little bit later: Disteldorff had been caught and another rider was now alone in the lead: Romain Wolkowicz is another well-known competitor in our event since he has already finished 3rd (2015) and 6th (2017) in the race. About thirty kilometers from the finish, at the top of the Lellig hill, the Belgian had a minute's lead over a large group of 35 riders, led by Disteldorff, Marasco, Turchi, Schmit and Pichler. A few kilometers later, in the last hectometers of the climb of Pafebierg, the last difficulty of the day, Wolkowicz's advantage had decreased: about thirty seconds on three chasers, Michael Hilgers, Tim De Baene and Max Waltey, and a few meters more on a group of around a dozen units. For the former lead peloton had split up in the meantime, with two-time winner Steve Decloux among the main victims, just like Ludovic Brochard and Sébastien Calmant.
In the long descent to Hinkel and the Sûre valley, Wolkowicz, Hilgers, De Baene and Waltey were caught by their pursuers and it was a group of about fifteen competitors fighting for the win, in the last kilometers towards Echternach. Despite a number of attacks, this small group remained more or less compact until the finish. It was only in the final hectometers that it broke up a little bit, after a dazzling acceleration from Michael Hilgers who won the race with a small second advantage over Sven François and two, or even three seconds ahead of Tim De Baene, Boris Odendahl, Luc Turchi and Edgar Nona, who crossed the finish line in this order. Along with Kevin Disteldorff, Ben Philippe and Sven Schmit, three other Luxemburgish riders were in this leading group. A second small group led by Steve Decloux arrived a minute and a half later on the Market Square while a larger group of about forty units, including Steve Fries and Claude Degano, was nearly seven minutes late.
In the women's category, Cyriane Muller clearly dominated the race, after defending champion Anne-Sophie Harsch was eliminated from the race for victory by two punctures. The multiple Luxembourg champion, member of the TWC Maaslandster, finished the race in 11th place only, nearly 20 minutes behind Muller. Off-road specialist Muller, who finished fourth in the international cyclo-cross in Contern last October and is used to finishing inside the Top 10 in the Coupe de France of the discipline, settled into a group of male riders who were riding for 60th place, and quickly left behind her another specialist in the winter discipline, Mara Schwager. The member and president of LP Muhlenbach competed in a number of cyclo-sports events this summer in preparation for her cyclo-cross season and she was in a group that was riding around 100th place in the scratch classification, ahead of Belgian Allison Zava, another off-road enthusiast since she is used to mountain bike racing in the province of Luxembourg or elsewhere.
On the last climb of the day, in Pafebierg, Cyriane Muller had practically won the race since she was more than eight minutes ahead of Mara Schwager, while the latter had only about fifteen seconds advantage on Zava. In fourth and fifth place, Catherine Lejoly and Anne Dabin were 13 minutes behind the leader, while another group with Luxembourger Nina Berton and Belgium's Jenny Lanbillion was two more minutes behind. Cyriane Muller finally finished the race at a very good 93rd place in the scratch classification, at an average speed of more than 34 km/h and less than 15 minutes behind the male winner of the race. She was 52 places and nearly 10 minutes ahead of her runner-up Allison Zava, while Mara Schwager had to settle for third place of the women's category, eight positions and four seconds behind the Belgian. The very young Nina Berton finished first Luxembourger in sixth place, at an average speed of 31 km/h and a good minute ahead of Romaine Becker, second female native competitor of this La Charly Gaul B.