“Ardennes Week” is in full swing. The peloton took on the Cauberg this past weekend, which can only mean it’s time for the Mur de Huy this Wednesday…
La Flèche Wallonne is surprisingly short, particularly this year, at just 196 kilometers.
There are officially 12 climbs on the menu, starting at kilometer 67 and running all the way to the finish. The first 11 will serve to wear away at the legs of the peloton, particularly the 1.3km, 8.1% Côte de Cherave, but this race is almost always decided on the final climb, the Mur de Huy.
A winding 1.3km at 9.3%, the Mur is a brutal challenge that punishes those who don’t time their jump perfectly. Experience matters on the steep slopes of the climb, which maxes out at over 25% for one small section. Things do flatten out near the finish line, meaning that the pure climbers will want to go a little earlier than those with a bit of a sprint.
Alejandro Valverde makes the start in pursuit of a record fourth career win at La Flèche Wallonne, and he looks like a strong candidate to pull it off. For one, the race and the final climb in particular suit him perfectly. These sorts of climbs have been Valverde’s bread and butter for years. He looks strong this season too. Meanwhile, some of the other names that come to mind for this race have yet to really show off any stellar form, making Valverde that much stronger a race favorite. Movistar also has Daniel Moreno, a former winner himself, as another card to play, and Carlos Betancur could be up there as well.
Joaquím Rodríguez probably should have won this race more than just the once, but he’s always a dangerous contender on this sort of finishing climb. It’s hard to say what kind of shape he’s in, but he’ll almost certainly be in the mix.
Form is a question mark after he pulled out of País Vasco, but rarely is Dan Martin not in shape to contest this event, one of his favorites. He has always done well here. Etixx-QuickStep also has Julian Alaphilippe, runner-up just last year. If anyone can challenge Movistar’s top-to-bottom strength, it’s the Irish-French duo leading the Belgian supersquad.
Speaking of former runners-up, don’t overlook Sergio Henao. He has been flying all season and should be able to fight with the very best on the Mur. Sky has a nice support squad to put him into position, and he has an underrated kick on this sort of finish.
Michael Albasini of Orica-GreenEdge is always one to watch at La Flèche Wallonne—he’s never won, but he’s almost always in the mix. Lotto-Soudal has several options with Tim Wellens, Tony Gallopin, and Jelle Vanendert. Look to one of the three (probably Wellens) to try something long-range. Philippe Gilbert looked out of shape at Amstel and is probably beyond the point of being considered a favorite here, but he did win the race once upon a time and so can’t be counted out. BMC teammate Samuel Sánchez may be more of a threat.
Amstel Gold Race winner Enrico Gasparotto, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Michael Woods, Rui Costa, Diego Ulissi, Warren Barguil, Wilco Kelderman, and Roman Kreuziger are others to watch.
VeloHuman Top 10 Race Favorites
Winner: Alejandro Valverde
Podium: Sergio Henao, Joaquím Rodríguez
Other Top Contenders: Dan Martin, Julian Alaphilippe, Michael Albasini, Daniel Moreno, Rui Costa, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Tim Wellens