La 33ème Charly Gaul

On a marvellous autumn day, everything went very well with the organisation of the 33rd edition of La Charly Gaul: almost perfect weather, lots of participants, few hiccups in the organisation and few accidents. Cyriane Muller made it four in a row this year, winning the women's 100km race for the fourth time in as much years and becoming the absolute record holder in the race. Others were also repeat winners: Ils Van der Moeren won for the third time on the big course, while Michael Apers (men's 100km) took his second winner trophy, after a victory on the long distance in 2019. The men's winner of the queen's category, meanwhile, opened his account: Loïc Bettendorf won La Charly Gaul for the first time, having already been a Top 10 competitor in the past.

Although the heat had been announced for the afternoon, it was still frisky at nine o'clock in the morning when the riders began to line up on the Market place in Echternach for a new start formula. The two distances A and B had a joint start, as in 2022, but the separation into three starting boxes was new and was meant to reduce the number of passings in the first kilometers. Unfortunately, the riders didn't really play the game: almost half of the participants declared that they were 'going for the win' and rushed to line up in the front rows at the start, while some of them finished an hour and a half behind the winner or even behind 500th position. Others, registered at the last minute, couldn't find a place in the first box and crossed the start line at the end of the huge peloton, more than a minute and a half behind the frontrunners while, in the end, ... they finished the race in the leading group. There's place for improvement on this one. Apart from that, registration went very well: online registrations were higher than ever and last-minute registrations were more limited, which was good news for the volunteers at the welcome desk who counted 1,274 competitors, the third highest score ever after 2017 (1,360 participants) and 2013 (1,288 starters). Over the long distance, the 655 starters set a new all-time record (compared with 568 last year), with the 100-kilometre B course of course down a few units compared to previous editions. The same applies to the women's category: the 145 kilometres saw a record number of women taking part (30 in 2023 compared with 26 in 2022), whereas with 87 participants in total, the overall percentage of girls in the field (6%) has unfortunately fallen slightly compared with 12 months ago (7%).

For once, the Belgians were the most numerous of the 22 nationalities present in Echternach with 518 participants, well ahead of the natives (256 Luxembourgers) and the 162 Dutch. The other traditionally well-represented nationalities were the Germans (133 riders) and the French (113), while this year there were also Poles, Americans, Brazilians, an Argentinean, a Chinese, a South African, a Cuban and a Japanese, to name but a few. 7 runners were aged 15 or under at La Charly Gaul 2023, including 3 on the long distance (Ludovic Mottet, Charel Schiltz, Niels Van der Ent) and 19 runners were under the age of majority at the start of the race, including the two Luxembourg girls Emma Vicente (B course) and Gwen Nothum (long distance). The oldest participant, the eternal Hans May, was 84 at the start, while the most experienced girls were Suzie Godart and Monique Fortuné. A total of 14 runners aged 70 or over lined up in the Place du Marché, including Francis Schauteet, Frans Jacobs and Julien Villance in the long distance. For their 33rd Charly Gaul, Nico Thoma and Yves Lehnert finished the longest course, in 570th and 614th place respectively. Hats off to them once again.

There was only one new climb on the 2023 route, the tiny ascent between Berbourg and Lellig, and in fact it only made its appearance on the route following a last-minute change of course. 52 metres of difference in altitude is very modest, but after 115 kilometres of racing, the 'Reselbierg' was enough to shake up the riders' calves. Three other climbs made a notable appearance in this 33rd edition of the race: the Longsdorf climb (last run in 1997), the terrible Eppelorf climb with its long, long straight at an average gradient of 11% and the climb to Berdorf on its most difficult side, from Grundhof. There was also a little innovation in Wahlhausen, where a building site kindly forced us to take the "Um Zeibchen" road, a narrow alleyway with gradients of over 15% at the start of a climb that is already one of the most difficult in the history of La Charly Gaul. Otherwise, the route was rather classic, with the two categories starting together along the Sûre as far as Bleesbreck and then returning via Consdorf, Berbourg, Dickweiler, Hinkel and the final kilometres along... the Sûre once again. Unfortunately, the German experience of the previous year could not be repeated due to interference with another event in the region.


A huge peloton of over 1,200 riders departed shortly after 9.30 am to tackle the first kilometres of the course and the traditional climb of Berdorf. At the top of this first hill, the favourites were already at the front of the event. Luxemburg's U23 champion Loïc Bettendorff had taken the lead and was already around fifty metres ahead of the peloton, led by another FSCL-licensed rider, Max Valtey, and the best rider over the 100 kilometer distance, Philipp Sunnen. Loïc was caught by Valtey and Thomas Lehnen on the descent to Grundhof and the rest of the field was not far behind, although it had already split into smaller groups. Some of the favourites such as Mil Morang, Vince Mattens and Larry Valvasori were already several dozen seconds behind the front and had to make an effort to get back into the first group. After around forty kilometres of racing, before the most difficult climb towards Wahlhausen, 6 riders had taken the lead with a 45-second advantage on the next chasers: Loîc Bettendorf, still him, former professional rider and multiple Finnish champion Matti Helminen, former French track champion Nicolas Janvier, Max Valtey, who animated the Grand-prix OST in Bech in early March, Belgian elite rider without contract Ward Wauters and Thomas Lehnen, the first ever Belgian E-Sports champion. Helminen, Valtey and Janvier then had to drop back, so that Bettendorff, Lehnen and Wauters formed a leading trio on the return to Bleesbreck (km 70), with an advantage of one minute and 30 seconds over a group of around fifty riders that included Gran Fondo world champion Lars Van Coppenolle and Michiel Minnaert, winner of this year's Gran Fondo des Vosges.

The next few kilometres were very difficult ones with the succession of climbs at Broderbour, Eppeldorf and Berdorf and the chasing group split into several parts. 2 climbers broke away from the rest and managed to bridge up to the leading trio well before the end of the trilogy: Larry Valvasori, rider of the pro continental team Nice-Métropole and Vince Mattens, winner of the legendary cyclo-sportive Trois Ballons a few months ago, had caught the trio Bettendorff, Lehnen and Wauters, but the gaps were small. With around fifty kilometres to go, the five leaders had only 27 seconds advantage on a group of around fifteen riders including Van Coppenolle, Minnaert, Valtey and Tim Karier. Another, larger group of chasers, including Mil Morang, had lost a few minutes and all hope of getting back to the front of the race. In Berbourg, 30 kilometres before the finish, the situation hadn't really changed: the five frontrunners had a lead of thirty seconds over a group of 11 composed of Moritz Beinlich, Moritz Palm, Michiel Minnaert, Simon Gregoire, Tobias Endres, Jarne Herman, Jens Moerman, Tom Plovie, Rinus Verhelle, Lars Van Coppenolle and Tim Karier. Glenn Marin, Ibe Vandromme, Willem Haspeslagh and Eduardo Martinez followed at 4 and a half minutes, while the next group with Wielfaert and Luxemburgers Alex Kerrens and Mil Morang passed at 6 minutes.

In the final kilometres, Valvasori and Wauters had to drop back from the front of the race, so that after 145 kilometres covered at an average speed of more than 40 km/h, there were only three riders left, battling it out for the victory in a sprint. Despite being poorly positioned with 400 metres to go, Loïc Bettendorff managed to get around everyone and take the win ahead of Thomas Lehnen and Vince Mattens, who was just a few lengths behind. A fine reward for the man who animated the race and who spent most of the time at the front. Larry Valvasory crossed the finish line alone, around twenty seconds back, while German Moritz Palm led the first group of 10 chasers, less than a minute behind Van Coppenolle and Valtey. At four minutes, Tim Karier was Luxemburg's third rider in the race with Simon Gregoire, while a large group of thirty, including Kristof Wielfaert, Nicolas Janvier as well as home riders Mil Morang and Alex Kerrens had an eight minute deficit on the day's winner.

Among the WOMEN, on the big course, they were half a dozen to take the lead in the early kilometres: Ils Van der Moeren, two-time winner of La Charly Gaul, crossed the summit of the first climb of the day a good minute behind the first male competitor, in company of Inez Van der Hulsen, Nina Sender, Hester De Graf, Annelotte Dijkman, Wies De Jong and young Luxemburgish rider Gwen Nothum, aged 16. A few hectometres further on, on the descent to Grundhof, Van Hulsen and Sender took the lead, but Van der Moeren and Dijkman soon came back to form a lead group of four girls, inside the second big peloton. In the Broderbour, Eppeldorf and Berdorf trilogy, Van der Moeren accelerated and, shortly after the summit of Berdorf, the Gran Fondo world champion of Glasgow had a 45-second advantage on Nina Sender, who was on her own on the road, and a minute and a half on the duo Van Hulsen and Dijkman. Hester De Graaf came in at nearly 7 minutes, ahead of De Jong and the courageous Gwen Nothum, at 13 minutes.

At the start of the last small difficulties, Van der Moeren was still comfortably in the lead of the race, in around 130th position in the men's peloton and inside a group of around forty riders. The 2017 and 2019 winner had increased her advantage and now had a lead of just under three minutes over South African Nina Sender, Annelotte Dijkman and Inez Van der Hulsen, who finished 6th and 7th respectively in La Charly Gaul last year. The three girls passed the checkpoint 50 positions further back than the leader, in a small group of around ten competitors and they had little chance of coming back. At an average speed of over 36 km/h, Van der Moeren increased her lead over the final kilometres and the Belgian thus took her third victory on the big course, 23 minutes only behind the men's winner and 6 minutes ahead of Inez Van der Hulsen. The Dutchwoman, an elite rider from the RWC Ahoy club in Rotterdam, had left her two rivals behind her and crossed the finish line solo in position 180, just a minute ahead of the small group that included Anelotte Dijkman and Nina Sender side by side. Behind Hester De Graaf and Wies De Jong, Gwen Nothum finished the race after a superb performance in 7th position at 18 minutes, first fider from Luxemburg and, of course, winner of the girls' under 19 category which was too rarely represented at the award ceremony, in recent years. Ingrid Haast, another double winner of our race from a few years ago, finished 12th among the women in the race.


During the very first kilometres of the race, Luxemburg's Philipp Sunnen was the best in the race, crossing the summit of the first climb in second position overall, behind Loïc Bettendorf and alongside Max Valtey, the first protagonists of the long course. After that, however, it was Anthony Spysschaert who navigated best inside the various groups of the huge peloton, and he found himself alone in the lead after kilometer 27, when the two courses seperated. The man who has already been several times on the podium of La Charly Gaul decided to continue on his own and, at the top of the Broderbour climb, he had a lead of 1 minute and 10 seconds over his closest chasers. 30 kilometres later, after the second passage through Berdorf, Spysschaert's advantage had diminished considerably and would remain stable at around thirty seconds until Berbourg.

Spysschaert, whose best result at La Charly Gaul was a second place on the larger course in 2018, crossed the check-point with forty kilometres to go forty seconds ahead of a group of forty riders. The small peloton, led by Luxembourg triathlete Paris Fellmann, included the defending champion on the big course, Michael Apers, Michael Hilgers, winner of La Charly Gaul B in 2018, young riders Fynn Ury and Lenn Schmitz, the much more experienced Marc Indergand, as well as other usual suspects of La Charly Gaul: Patrick Rauen, Philip Sunnen, Ludovic Brochard and Eric Meyers. A small group of around ten competitors arrived an extra minute later, while the second big group, with first lady Cyriane Muller and also Carlos Calvo, Chris Johanns, Pascal Maquet and Jo Larry was more than five minutes behind the leader. Shortly before the second food zone, a regroupement seemed inevitable: three riders had joined the leader, and the chasers were only around 20 seconds behind, getting closer and closer. In the end, it was a big group of 38 riders that came together and showed up in Echternach for a sprint. Michael Apers was faster than Rik Vandeurzen and Julien Dechesne for the win. Fynn Ury was the first rider from Luxemburg in fourth position, inside a leading group that also contained other home riders Philipp Sunnen, Lenn Schmitz, Marc Indergand, Sven Schmit, Paris Fellmann, Eric Meyers and Patrick Rauen. The hero of the day Anthony Spysschaert, who was alone at the front of the race for almost 70 kilometres, crossed the finish line in 38th position, 29 seconds behind the winner.

In the WOMEN'S race, Cyriane Muller set out as big favourite to win a fourth consecutive title, and the young woman didn't wait long to assert her supremacy. After the first climb of the day, the rider from the close Lorraine region was a good minute behind the male leaders, but she had already made a serious gap to her female rivals: Anouk Schmitz was one minute twenty behind Muller with Belgian Jessy Beelen. Margot de Meester and Allison Zava followed twenty seconds further back, ahead of Marie Lepoutre. Anne Pons, who has finished on the podium of La Charly Gaul in the past, was riding next together with Suzie Godart, Luxemburg's Gran Fondo world champion. Back in Berdorf, 50 kilometres later and coming form the other side of the hill, Muller already had a lead of around ten minutes over the second woman in the race, Margot De Meester, and a few seconds more over Anouk Schmitz, who had just been dropped on this tough climb by the De Meester group and was now riding on her own. Alison Zava, second in La Charly Gaul 2019 behind ... Muller, came within a quarter of an hour, together with Gitte Bongaerts and Raphaela Reichert.

The situation remained unchanged a little later after the village of Berbourg. With 30 kilometres to go, the leading woman was in the second men's peloton of around 40 riders, 5 minutes behind the solo scratch leader. De Meester was 11 minutes behind in a group of 30 riders and Anouk Schmitz had caught up with ten other riders, 13 minutes behind and in around 200th position overall. The race was decided: Cyriane Muller won the event without any discussion at an average speed of over 36 kph, finishing in 95th place overall, just 11 minutes behind the race winner. More than 13 minutes behind, Margot De Meester finished 168th overall and 2nd female, while the excellent Anouk Schmitz ended on the podium as first Luxemburger, at an average speed of 33 km/h and 18 minutes behind the now four-time winner. Allison Zava, Gitte Bongaerts and Raphaela Reichert finished together and in that order more than 18 minutes behind. In 10th place, the very young triathlete Emma Vicente crossed the finish line as the second home rider, ahead of Suzie Godart, 13th in the rankings.

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