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NO LUCK !!! (with the weather)

After weeks and weeks of good weather and a rather dry start to the race, the rain caught up with the riders of La Charly Gaul 2019 at the end of the course, spoiling a little bit the party which had not suffered any problems anywhere else. Already on Saturday, when the organisers of the ACC Contern had barely opened the registrations, heavy rain showers had fallen on the small Grand Duchy, discouraging the undecided of the cyclo-sport races for a last minute registration. The starting grids for the thirtieth edition of La Charly Gaul were therefore a little less crowded than in the past on Sunday morning, with nearly 200 units less than the previous year. As for the winner's list, while the women's editions were dominated by some usual suspects (Ils van der Moeren on the 160-kilometre course and Cyriane Muller on the 105-kilometre course), this year's men's races presented unprecedented names, with the victories of Michael Apers on the long distance and Laurent Donnay on the shorter course.

They were a bit more than thousand to line up at the start of the 2019 Charly Gaul and, if we are far away from the record edition of 2017 (1,360 participants), this year's race is still in the Top 10 of the most crowded editions in its thirty-year history. At the time of closing the online pre-registration, three days before the race, there were as many riders on the lists as last year. It seems therefore obvious that the capricious weather and the last-minute decisions made the difference, with only around one hundred new registrations on Saturday and Sunday in Echternach, in the beautiful cultural centre called Trifolion. 57% of the participants opted for the shorter route (105 km) and 43% for the long distance (160 km), which represents the same proportions as twelve months ago. On the ladies' side, the upward trend of recent years has unfortunately not been confirmed and, with 55 girls at the start (5% of all the riders), we are very far from the 80 of last year.

25 nationalities were present this year in Echternach, and, as usual, the Benelux countries took the lion's share: 315 Belgians, 243 Luxembourgers and 177 Dutch signed for over 70% of the participants. And the home riders seem indeed the most sensitive to bad weather since, compared to last year, they were more than 60 units less, while the number of Belgians and Dutch was even higher than ever. For the 2019 edition of the Charly Gaul, Yves Lehnert and Nico Thoma were present, as usual for thirty years now and they even declared that they still have about twenty more editions in their legs. Both of them finished the long course without too much difficulty, at an average speed of 26 respectively 23 km/h. A dozen riders under 18 years of age signed up for this cyclo-sport race, among them the only Mats Wenzel over the long distance, the Luxemburgish rider who finished in a really great 8th place just behind the best, at an average speed of 37 km/h. More experienced riders also responded to the call with 11 riders over 70 years of age lining up on the starting line, of whom Julien Villance in particular crossed the finish line of the 160-kilometre course in the Top 300, at an average speed of 28 km/h.

In terms of the course, the anniversary edition has regained height with no less than 13 climbs over 160 kilometres, 11 more and some 300 metres of additional change in altitude compared to 2018. The long ascent to Mont-St-Nicolas with its spectacular view of the Château de Vianden right after a bend, the ondulating côte d'Alscheid with its endless switchbacks, already listed in 2017, the almost mythical "Groesteen" (3.7 km at more than 7% average) which had been the subject of numerous visits on the day before, and an new ascent near Bockholtz with some beautiful landscapes were certainly the most interesting points of the long course. The B course of about a hundred kilometres was also much more difficult than last year with 9 climbs, including the endless climb of more than 8 kilometres to Mont-Saint-Nicolas.


Nearly 500 riders finally started under a grey sky for 160 very tough kilometers and a climb as of kilometer 0. On the first slopes of the climb to Berdorf, Anthony Spiesschaert and Frédéric Glorieux accelerated already the pace and, in Grundhof, these two, who were already second and third in the cyclo-sport race in the past, had a thirty-second lead over a small group of around a hundred riders led by Pieter-Jan Van Houdenhove and Franck Sertic. Shortly afterwards, it was the Belgian Michael Apers who started a counterattack in the peloton and he joined his two compatriots at the front of the race before the second climb of the day, near Hoesdorf. Further on, on the climbs to Mont-St-Nicolas and then to Alscheid, the first big peloton got shaken up and divided into small groups, or even individuals: Misch Leyder, who toock third position last year, settled alone in pursuit behind the top three. At kilometre 69, after the côte d'Alscheid, the Luxemburgish rider was less than a minute behind Apers, Spysschaert and Glorieux, but remained under threat from a group of around forty units just behind him, including the Luxemburgish riders Loïc Bettendorf, Mats Wenzel, Jacques Gloesener and Tim Diederich or Charly Gaul regulars Damien Montinet, Damien Richard, Hedwig Van Landeghem and Jérôme Gilbert.

The race unfolded a bit more on the unprecedented climb to Bockholtz where the leading trio significantly widened their gap: in Hosingen, at kilometre 76, Michael Apers, defending Belgian champion both on the road (amateur) and in indoor cycling (Swift), Anthony Spysschaert, familiar with the Charly Gaul podiums and winner a week ago at La Criquiélion in La-Roche-en-Ardennes (4.000 participants) as well as Frederic Glorieux, who achieved Top 10 finishes this year in the greatest cyclo-sport classics (Trois Ballons, Marmotte, Ötztaler, Transalp), had managed to put 2 minutes between them and the next pursuers, a group of 6 riders. Misch Leyder had been joined by the amazing Mats Wenzel, barely 17 years old and in full preparation for the world junior road championships, within two weeks in Yorkshire, Damien Montinet, who had already finished sixth in a Charly Gaul after an offensive race, the reigning four-time junior Luxembourg champion Loïc Bettendorf (road, time trial, mountain biking and cyclo-cross), the national champion of the elite without contract category Tim Diederich and the Belgian Jeroen Vercammen, winner of the Gran Fondo Schleck in 2018. Arnold Jansen and Jonas Heymans were trying to get bridge up to this group, while the next chasers were more than three minutes behind at this point in the race.

In Stolzembourg, while approaching the climb of Groesteen, the advantage of the three leading men had increased to two and a half minutes, but the most difficult climb of the day on paper did not really bring any change, apart from the fact that Misch Leyder was dropped in the first chasing group. Over the next few kilometres, the gaps stabilised or even widened, after the junction with the riders of course B, who left an hour later in Echternach. Apers, Spyschaert and Glorieux were still in a solid lead at the front of the race when they finished the last big climb of the day, in Consdorf, but behind them, the groups had split: Diederich, Vercammen and Bettendorff now also formed a trio at two minutes and twenty seconds, while Mats Wenzel and Damien Montinet had been dropped and passed about 20 seconds later. At more than 5 minutes already, Misch Leyder had been caught by Arnold Jansen, Jonas Heymans and Spas Gyurov, then followed more small groups of five or six riders at regular intervals.

The three leading men continued to get along well in the hilly part of the course and waited for the last few kilometres, on the flat, in the valley of the Sûre, to attack each other in turns. But nobody managed to get away from the group and the victory was decided in the sprint, a sprint led by Michael Apers. In his beautiful Belgian champion's jersey, he took the lead before the last corner and never left it until the finish line. Apers took the win ahead of Frederic Glorieux and Anthony Spyschaert, the two men who together own a total of about ten podiums on La Charly Gaul, without ever having finished on the highest step. Two and a half minutes later, Tim Diedrich won the sprint for fourth place ahead of Vercammen and Bettendorff, while the excellent Mats Wenzel managed to hold off a large group of around twenty competitors who had formed in the last kilometers and competed for ninth place in the race.

In the WOMEN'S RACe, the participation was a bit leaner than in the past, with only 18 girls at the start, and the race quickly turned into match at distance between the three main favourites, Elise Maes, elite rider for the Andy Schleck Women's Team, Marjolein Truyers, defending winner of La Charly Gaul and Ils Van der Moeren, winner of the cyclo-sport race in 2017. Truyers, however, could not dream of a repeat victory for a long time because at the top of the first climb of the day, in Berdorf, Elise Maes and Ils Van Der Moeren, climbing side by side, had managed to get into the first big male peloton, only about twenty seconds behind the race leader and more than a minute ahead of the Truyers, who was accompanied by Manuela Freund. About twenty seconds later, Tessa Van de Velden and Ingrid Haast, another former winner of La Charly Gaul (in 2012 and 2013), were trying to get back some time on the leaders.

At the front, Van der Moeren and Maes had widened the gap: the second in the Marmotte race and in the Ötztaler Martahon this year and the latest winner of the Skoda Cross Cup in Luxemburg were among the top 100 male competitors, while Truyers had been caught by Freund and Van der Velden, several minutes behind the first two girls. In the second half of the race, Van der Moeren managed to leave Maes behind her. She rode in a group of about twenty riders who were competing for 50th place in the scratch result, while her runner up found herself in a much smaller group and was therefore losing more and more time. With around thirty kilometers to go, the Belgian rider had a two-and-a-half minute lead over the Luxemburgish rider, while Marjolein Truyers, who had meanwhile got rid of Freund and Van der Velden again, passed almost 25 minutes late. In the last kilometers of flat, towards the finish, the gaps did not stop from growing and, after 2017, Ils van der Moeren won a second time on the long course of La Charly Gaul, 72nd in the men's classification and nearly 3 minutes ahead of Elise Maes. At an average speed of 35 km/h, the Luxemburgish rider finished 82nd in the scratch classification, far ahead of the defending champion Marjolein Truyers who ended 182nd in the ranking, more than 27 minutes behind Van der Moeren.


The 600 riders at the start of La Charly Gaul B quickly stretched out on the first climb of the day and it took about twenty seconds, in the village of Berdorf, for all the riders of a still impressive first peloton to pass. If the climb had been ridden at a steady speed, the first attacks would not wait for long and a single rider took the front of the race, far from the finish. Laurent Donnay had a 30-second lead in Wallenborn, but was caught by a chasing group a little bit later, towards Vianden. On the côte de Mont-Saint-Nicolas, the longest climb of the day, Sebastien Legand, Stef Hoes and Bertrand Delehaye accelerated the pace and took over the lead, a handful of seconds ahead of around fifty riders.

Stef Hoes gave it up a little further on and in Gilsdorf, sixty kilometres from the finish line, Legand and Delehaye had a lead of about twenty seconds over a small group of riders, in which there were also some home riders. In Christnach, 12 kilometers and 2 climbs later, the two leading men were caught and 15 riders gathered at the front of the race, soon joined by 4 others. There were Kevin Disteldorff, Michael Lardinois, Sven Schmit, Maxime Haot, Pierre Courtoy, Julien Dechesne, Stef Hoes, Laurent Donnay, Philippe Bours, Vincent Squelard, Bertrand Delehaye, Adrien Noel, Arnaud Andre, Stefan Fettes, Jo Biehl, Tom Paquet, Sebasiten Legand, Felix Schreiber and Bob Haller, the triathlete. They formed the leading group ahead of the last climbs.

But not for a long time: Laurent Donnay, who had already briefly found himself alone at the front at the beginning of the race, repeated his effort and attacked alone, taking a few dozen metres of advantage. At the top of Pafebierg, last climb of the day, the rider who ran for many years at a continental level (2nd in a Tour of Faso in 2008 for example) before concentrating on cyclo-sport races, passed with a 20 second lead over his companions of the former leading group of 15. Behind them, a second group with Tim Karier and Boris Odendahl was 4 minutes late while the third small group with for example Jeff Gloden was more than 8 minutes behind. Donnay descended fast to the Sûre Valley alone at the front of the race, increasing his lead to 30 seconds, but he still had about fifteen kilometers to hold alone until the finish line, against his chasers.

The pursuers who go closer and closer on the flat towards Echternach, and they had the solo leader in sight in the last kilometers. Stef Hoes, who had completed the great race of La Charly Gaul in 2017 already, started a counter attack in the group, setting off alone in pursuit of the leading man. But Laurent Donnay held onto the lead until the end and arrived on the market place in Echternach a few meters ahead of Hoes and a few seconds ahead of the next chasers, led to the line by Julien Dechesne, Pierre Courtoy and Maxime Haot, for an all Belgian Top 5. Sven Schmit finished first home rider in sixth place, ahead of Disteldorff in eighth position.

In the WOMEN'S RACE, defending champion Cyriane Muller started her race perfectly, holding on to the first bunch of boys on the Berdorf climb, with at the top of the hill already a good minute lead over her French compatriot Jacqueline Lejoly and Belgian Hilde Oudman, in positions two and three. Next came Allison Java, the second of the previous year, followed by Laurence Thill, Sylvie Gerard and Karen de Keulenaer. After that, Cyriane Muller, a former duathlete and triathlete converted to road cycling and cyclo-cross, continued to widen the gap on her pursuers by staying in the men's Top 50, while Oudman dropped Lejoly behind and Zava started to catch riders after a bad start.

At the top of the last climb, with about twenty kilometers to go, Cyriane Muller passed only ten minutes late on the front of the race and with no less than 13 minutes of advantage on the second female rider, the Dutch Hilde Oudman. Belgian Allison Java was not far behind, about a minute, while Lejoly and the first Luxembourgish lady in the race, Maïté Barthels, were almost 20 minutes behind. Not surprisingly, Cyriane Muller won her second Charly Gaul B in the women's race, finishing 63rd in the scratch classification of the race, just 12 minutes late on the winner Laurent Donnay. Behind her, several riders had regrouped in the last kilometers, on the flat part, and Allison Java had managed to make the junction with Hilde Oudman near to the finish, where the Belgian beat the Dutch rider by a few seconds to finish 135th in the scratch classification and second in the women's race, 13 minutes behind Muller. Hilde Oudman took third place, while Jacqueline Lejoly finished fourth 5 minutes later. Young Maîté Barthels took a nice fifth place, in the company of her father Cyril and at an average speed of more than 31 km/h.

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