La Flèche Wallonne returns for its 79th edition on Wednesday, with the ‘Walloon Arrow’ filling its usual role as a handy midweek pick-me-up. It’s the second of the three Ardennes classics, following hot on the heels of the Amstel Gold Race and preceding the most prestigious of them all, Liège–Bastogne–Liège.
- The race gets underway in Waremme, close to Liège, and 205km later finishes atop the notorious Mur de Huy.
- The parcours is littered with climbs, though they’re mostly smattered over the latter half of the course.
- The Mur de Huy is crested three times by the riders over a brutal parcours (at kilometres 118, 176.5 and the finish). This climb is over a kilometre long with a maximum gradient of 26%, and has been the site of the race’s finish for over three decades.
- Despite the hilly finish, it has been a long time since a breakaway triumphed – not since Igor Astarloa in 2003 has an escapee won. That has led to the organisers sandwiching another climb into the parcours with 5.5km remaining. At 8.1%, Côte de Cherave really has the potential to shake things up.
- This race will no doubt serve as a recon for some for this year’s Tour de France, which takes in the same final few kilometres when it visits the Mur de Huy on stage three.
Riders to watch
The race favourite is the defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who has started the season in typically impressive form. His second place at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday is indicative of a man ready to challenge. A Valverde win would be the fourth Spanish victory in a row, with Joaquim Rodriguez and his teammate Dani Moreno (Katusha) winning in 2012 and 2013 respectively. They’re both back for this edition too, and could well be up there at the finish.
Also in the running should be Dan Martin (Cannondale), who has enjoyed success in the Ardennes classics before. He finished second at this race last year, and will no doubt be in contention to go one better here. World champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step) will look to set up an Ardennes triple by following up his win at Amstel Gold. However, on a race that seems to favour pure climbers a little more than Sunday’s, it remains to be seen whether he has what it takes to win on the Huy.
Other riders to keep half an eye on include Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who was the last non-Spaniard and Ardennes triple winner to take glory at Flèche Wallonne. He’s never quite managed to rediscover that form since, but never count out the Walloon puncheur on home soil.
Orica-GreenEDGE are invariably pretty strong over this kind of parcours, though their hopes rest on Michael Albasini and Simon Yates in the absence of Simon Gerrans. Last but not least, watch out for former world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), who is always good for a hilly finish.
Link: Official race website