La Fleche Wallonne
First run in 1936, the Fleche, or the 'Arrow
' missed just one edition during the war in 1940, so while not as old as LBL still has a long and rich history.
The race is of course dominated by the finish up the famous Mur de Huy, a horrible finish to a tough race. The Mur is 1.3kms long at an average of 9.3%, but it is really steep in parts, particularly on the inside of some bends, hitting over 24% in places. Go too early and you get swamped by the late finishers
The first 127km of the 204km race undulate across the Ardennes, sapping the legs and allowing a few riders the opportunity to furrow a lead before the punchy stuff begins and their advantage is quickly reeled back in. The first climb of the day is the Côte d’Amay, which is closely followed by Côte de Villers le Bouillet. Then the riders hit the Mur for the first time at 141km, they will scale it a further two times. This first accent also marks the beginning of a two lap circuit around Huy. The Côte d’Ereffe is tackled first and then the Côte de Cherave before being greeted by the Murr for the second time, which will leave just under 30kms to go and one final lap to complete.
The pace on this final circuit will ramp up, as expect to see the likes of Tim Wellens and - well possibly just Wellens
… show their hand with an attempt, or attempts, of a late attack before the race, reaches its crescendo on the third and final climb up the Mur de Huy. The final climb is only 1.3km long and starts relatively easy, however with 900m to go the gradient jumps up to 11%, 17%, back down to 14% with the final 100 metres a mere 6%. It’s this intense middle section where the winning move will be made, or rather the final move no one can match. It’s a race that has ended in the same way for thirty-one years and we can’t see that changing this year.The Contenders Alejandro Valverde
is that far ahead of the rest of the contenders they might as well start now ... short of falling off, he should today win his 5th Wallonne Arrow. Provided that is that is Movistar team control things and dont let strong moves go off the front as they did at Amstel Gold. At Amstel Movistar did put Rojas in the move, but he was always simply a stalking horse and was never going to have the power or strength to win from that group.
Here, even if they put a man up there, Valverde would be expected to chase as no one would ever work to bring him back into the race ... so it would be a pointless excercise and Movistar wont bother. They will use all of there vast resources controlling things for that final charge. Mikel Kwiatkowski
- normally would get a few more stars, but that is how dominant Valverde is here. Kwia is in fabulous, ripsnorting form though, after winning Milan Sanremo, and going very close at Amstel Gold earlier this week. The way he bridged to the front group on the steepest climb of the race was super impressive, and he shouldnt be written off. Sky support him well with Henao and others so if Valverde is off his game, he will be ready. Dan Martin
- with both Alaphilippe and Gilbert out, you would think Quickstep would be a bit down, but such is the depth of their squad that they still come here with one of of the main chances in this race in Dan Martin. Martin has shown his talent in these kinds of races, and has the punch to make it up the climb against anyone (other than an inform Valverde). Quickstep have raced incredibly aggressively this spring, so look for them to make their own oportunity here. Michael Albasini
- the only other one I give much of a chance to podium here, the course suits him well and he will be the main man for Orica Scott.
I havent included Van Avermaet as I am not sure he is riding here - but even if he is, I dont think this suits him that much. He lacked the power at Amstel to go bridge and I cant see him being able to hold off the chargers on the Mur de Huy.
Other outsdiers include Henao or Gianluca Brambilla as the stalking horses for the Sky and Quickstep squads if they stay away, Rui Costa or Rigoberto Uran, Wellens or the like in a sneaky move also ....but really - the uphill sprint is what its all about - and Valverde is the master.