Sandwiched mid-week between the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the second of the three Ardennes classics, La Flèche Wallonne (The Walloon Arrow). After Roman Kreuziger sprung a surprise to win the first Ardennes race on Sunday, the other favourites will be looking to make amends here.
What kind of race is it?
Flèche Wallonne is the first of two Ardennes classics in Belgium, with the peloton heading from Amstel Gold’s setting in the Limburg region of the Netherlands to Binche in the Walloon region. The starting location has been changed for this year’s edition, having previously started half an hour east in Charleroi.
The race is most notable for the fireworks at the finish on the fierce Mur de Huy. 1.3km with sections as steep as 26%, it is on this climb where the race is invariably won and lost. After Kreuziger’s win on Sunday, it’s unlikely that any dangerous breakaways will be given any breathing space at all, and a scrap between the favourites on the Mur will likely determine the eventual winner.
Winners in the last five years:
2008: Kim Kirchen (High Road)
2009: Davide Rebellin (Diquigiovanni-Androni)
2010: Cadel Evans (BMC)
2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
2012: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
What happened last year?
Last year’s race played out as expected, with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) taking victory after powering his way to a win on the Mur de Huy. Once the early breakaways and late counters had been shut down, it was left up to the favourites to fight it out on the final climb – and the Spaniard emerged the strongest. Michael Albasini (GreenEDGE) took an impressive second place, while Philippe Gilbert (BMC) just about salvaged his disappointing classics season by rounding out the podium places.
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 4:45:41
2. Michael Albasini (GreenEDGE) +0:04
3. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) same time
4. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) s/t
5. Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) +0:07
6. Dan Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:09
7. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) s/t
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t
9. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) s/t
10. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) +0:11
This year’s race
The alteration of the starting location isn’t the only change for this edition. The race has been lengthened by around 10km, with the first ascent of the Mur de Huy delayed by approximately 38km, allowing for the Côte de Naninne and the Côte de Groynne to be climbed before the riders hit the ‘wall’.
Then five climbs are taken in, in a 64km loop before the second ascent of the Mur. This is a fairly sizable adjustment, with only a couple of these ascents present in last year’s edition. Fewer climbs possibly inadvertently encouraged more conservative tactics from riders, and – much like the alterations to the Amstel Gold course – a bid to make the racing more unpredictable may be the motive behind the changes. However, after the second passing of the Mur, the final loop to the finish is similar to that seen in 2012.
Who to watch
Starting with the winner of Amstel Gold, Saxo-Tinkoff’s Roman Kreuziger is evidently in good form, though this race may not be to his tastes. He prefers tougher, longer climbs rather than the short, punchy Mur, and it’s hard to see lightning strike twice after his breakaway win on Sunday. Last year’s winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is much more suited to the parcours, though after he crashed in the Netherlands his entire Ardennes week is in doubt.
After underperforming in Amstel, Cannondale’s Peter Sagan has decided to end his classics season here. He’ll want to go out with a bang, though after struggling to keep pace on Sunday, he may not have the legs to win. World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) seems to be in better shape, and he’ll certainly be up at the front when the race hits the Mur.
Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and former winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) both finished on the podium in Amstel, and are also expected to be at the sharp end on the final climb. Finally Valverde’s compatriot, a certain Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), will ride the final couple of Ardennes classics, though may not contend for the win – he considered skipping the races due to fatigue.
La Flèche Wallonne takes place on Wednesday 17th April. Live coverage will be shown on Eurosport. For other options check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website