Flèche Wallonne Preview

Mur de Huy

A midweek race with a famous finish, it’s a bunch sprint for climbers.

The Route: 195.5km and that wall. It’s a 197km warm-up and then the world hill climb championships. After a start in Ans to salute the town that used to host the finish of Liège-Bastogne-Liège the race heads loops across some of this Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège route before heading west to Huy. The Mur de Huy is tackled three times (58km to go, 29km to and the finish). When they go up with 29km to go watch to see who looks at ease and who looks flustered as these small clues often reveal what happens later. Crucially the section after the Mur runs south-east and it’s on a plateau which means it’s perpendicular to the forecast crosswind (see forecast below) and exposed to the wind. This could be an interesting section where weaker riders or sleepy teams could be eliminated.

The Côte de Cherave is becoming a fixture. Introduction in 2015 it’s just 5.5km from the finish and 1.3km at 8% average but mostly over 10%. It’s steep, the kind where you see the gradient illustrated by the way each house is higher than the next. But it’s a wide, straight road so moves are easy to gauge.

The Finish: 1.3km at 9.6%, the Mur de Huy doesn’t sound like much. But beware the average as this climb starts off slow when riders pass under the flamme rouge and then rises up. Take the inside on one of the corners and the slope reaches 26% and if you have the luxury of choosing your line then it is only 19%… but longer. The road is very narrow so few get to pick their line.

Riders use gears like 39×27 or 36×25 which is low for a 1.3km climb. Once you reach the last 300m the gradient eases up and some have been known to deploy the big ring for the final sprint. The effort is huge and requires maximal effort but also supreme restraint, ideally you want to be the first to surge clear as the road levels out but to leave this effort as late as possible. It’s all about timing and momentum as to accelerate on the steep parts requires a big increase in force and if you launch too early and you will blow. But if you cannot follow the leaders then it’s unlikely you’ll make up for lost ground.

The Contenders

Julian Alaphilippe won last year but partly by accident, he thought there was another rider up the road. Still he’s the prototype rider and his form is fine after the high speed crash in the Tour of the Basque Country. This week is all about Liège for him, apparently he did a hard training ride last Friday which he knew would compromise his performance in the Amstel but here’s a chance to make amends for getting burned under the flamme rouge last Sunday. Deceuninck-Quickstep bring the climbers including Enric Mas but experience counts for so much on this climb and Alaphilippe is their ace card.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) isn’t short of experience but perhaps he’s starting to have too much of it? He’d won this race four years in a row but got relegated to second last year and crucially went missing in last Sunday’s Amstel. Simply put he’s having his worst start to the season in years.

Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) has been on the podium here before but how to win? He’s just come out of a strong Tour of the Basque Country and excels in steep finishes like this. Rui Costa, Tadej Pogačar and Diego Ulissi are other cards to play but the Mur is too intense to fire riders up the road in early attacks.

Michael Woods is the new Dan Martin for EF Education First, he thrives on the steep climbs. He went supernova in the Amstel but that was after he had made one too many efforts, today if he can be guided into position over the climbs then the finish suits him.

Max Schachmann leads Bora-Hansgrohe, they bring Peter Sagan and a bunch of climbers but Schachmann seems their best piece to play.

Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) is in form but the Mur might be a touch too much for him, too short and too steep but if he’s in the mix for the top-5 then a good day and a well timed surge and he’s there, a notion that obviously appeals to many.

Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) is the outsider, normally a prototype rider for today given his climbing and quick finish but he’s not got the experience here.

Jelle Vanenedert (Lotto-Soudal) appeared on the Cauberg last summer like a rare flower that only blooms in the Ardennes for one week and this is his chance again, a good shot for a top-10 but a win feels elusive while team mate Bjorg Lambrecht is a fearless second year pro, probably still on an apprenticeship but his tiny build and punchy style is ideal for this race and he’s in form. Tim Wellens rides too but might go for an attack rather than wait for the sprint.

Finally Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) is good in uphill finishes and grew up nearby but tends to finishes close rather than win outright. Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) has placed here proving his versatility but it’s hard to see him surging past the best; a similar but inverse story for Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) who loves racing in the Ardennes but the climb isn’t long enough. Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu had his breakthrough here in 2017 with a top-10 finish and if he’s progressing he’s not winning much. Enrico Gasparotto is Dimension Data’s best hope of a result, perhaps even a top-10 would be a relief for them. Astana return with a strong team and Jacob Fuglsang but this one climb is too much for him.

  • no breakaway has won here since Igor Astarloa in 2003. Today’s weather could help split things up and this season has rewarded attacks but the habitual scenario happens because the big teams treat today like a sprint stage and use the “train” tactic to put their climber into position for the final climb.
Julian Alaphilippe
Dan Martin
Adam Yates, Max Schachmann, Michael Woods, Michał Kwiatkowski
Alejandro Valverde, Dylan Teuns, Bjorg Lambrecht
Vanenedert, Gasparotto, Matthews, Pogačar

Weather: mild but cloudy, 22°C and with the wind blowing from the south, it could reach 35-40k/h which can split things up.

TV: the finish is forecast for 4.25pm CEST and they’ll go up the Mur for the penultimate time around 3.40pm, tune in before then to see who is floating and who is struggling.

The women’s Flèche Wallonne finishes at 2.00pm and for a change neither Anna van der Breggen nor Annemiek van Vleuten are dividing up the wins between them, it’s potentially more open. The problem is it’s not on TV.

25 thoughts on “Flèche Wallonne Preview”

  1. I like bling he rode valverde off his wheel on an uphill field sprint last month. Taking into account it wasnt nearly as steep he should still ride well.

  2. Woods seems like a good pick, though not sure his positioning and general racing nous are up there with the best. I’m always intrigued about who goes all-in for the mid-week races like this, when there is a monument to race at the weekend – I guess it’s good to maintain racing sharpness, but getting these hard miles in the legs is surely not going to benefit you four days later? for example, we now hear that Sagan is starting today – presumably this is conditioning work for LBL, because frankly he’s unlikely (i.e. he isn’t going) to contend for victory.

  3. I read an amazing statisitic on Valverde today.
    His result in the Amstel was the first outside the top 50 since the 2nd stage of the 2016 Giro (except when he crashed in the 2017 Tour).

  4. don’t get this?

    I do though think that Vanenedert has had the best results in the peloton of anyone with a little profile as him. Random and unprovable observation I know, two seconds in Amstel, a third in Fleche, a TDF stage and a top20 result in 2011…

    I get the feeling the talent was there for more results – has he been mismanaged? should he have switched teams? trainers? I guess there are always those who seem not to soar as high as they might… Vanendert is just some I’d like to know why…

      • I think it’s because cherry blossoms are beautiful but last for maybe a week before fading and falling to the ground.
        Which can be a criticism of Vanendert but also a reason to prize his participation in the Ardennes races. For example, the wikipedia article on their significance in Japan says, “The transience of the blossoms, the exquisite beauty and volatility, has often been associated with mortality and graceful and ready acceptance of destiny and karma.”

  5. I am writing this post race 2019. In hindsight, the Cote de Cherave has reduced the leadout trains. Quickstep pulled and burned Devenyns and Enric Mas on the flat. Then Bora had 3, Lotto were 3, Quick Step was alone. Peloton was much reduced, thus only the climbers survive and despite lack of personal leadout, Alaphilippe did not get boxed in since he could keep his position near the front but follow precocious moves of Kwiatkowski and Fuglsang to deploy his final acceleration to the win. The outdated strategy of Poels pulling for Kwiatkowski resulted in 22nd and 16th, respectively for Skineos.

    Final note, surprised to see Valverde so far behind and finish 11th.

  6. I thought Fuglsang was worth a chainring or two because of form, but I agree that he shouldn’t normally be a factor on a climb like this. He is on stellar form and seems determined like not seen before this spring.

    He will be hard to look past for LBL

  7. Can you cut and paste the moment the race was won and just re-use year in year out..

    Really, truly is the only race on the calendar where you need to watch the last 1 km, and even then that is a bit too far out. 1km contenders fade @ 500m to go, new set of contenders appear, they fade as well, 250m to go we have the final podium.

    Not knocking this race at all, has its place on the calendar, but i don’t believe there is a more formulaic race out there.

    • “i don’t believe there is a more formulaic race out there.”

      There is.
      They call it MSR and if you turn your tv on before the Poggio, you lost control over your life. For some reasons it has more fans than La Fleche, which I enjoy to watch, cause it’s freaking Belgium and there is a reason only a select group makes it to the Muur. The course is fine.

      • But in recent years, MSR has concluded with (relatively large) bunch sprints, reduced-bunch sprints, a 3 man breakaway, a solo attacker. Perhaps it’s not worth tuning in until the last 15-20km, but you do get a good 30mins of action & suspense.

        Fleche Wallonne is way more formulaic – it’s finished in an uphill bunch sprint for the past 16 years! That’s not to knock the race – it’s a hell of an uphill bunch sprint! But it’s surely the most formulaic non-featureless race on the calendar…

    • Do you think the same thing about sprint finishes as well? That’s what it reminds me of – getting your man in the proper position at the bottom of the Mur and then the suspense as he waits and waits and waits for the proper time to go. Some get too excited and jump too soon while others leave it too late. But there’s lots going on to get to that point as the teams try to get their man up there, not to mention the crazy slaloming around the road furniture along the way. How many contenders were taken out by crashes before the finale? For me it starts out as the water in the pot heats up slowly, starts to simmer and then hits full-boil – lot’s more going on than you’d get by watching the last few minutes on replay.

      • Exactly. You could watch the last 5 minutes on Youtube, but you’d miss a lot of things and don’t have to wonder why rider XY was not seen in the finish.

    • There are others, see the Scheldeprijs for example. Hopefully readers don’t tune in to watch three hours of races like this because with finishing circuits you even see the same scenery again and again. It’s still a spectacular finish and yesterday’s race was better than average with Fuglsang pushing Alaphilippe right to the end.

      • “Hopefully readers don’t tune in to watch three hours of races like this because with finishing circuits you even see the same scenery again and again.” Really? Why not? I thought the TV broadcasts were of bicycle racing rather than travelogues. Was the entire race even broadcast? I think RAI and Eurosport showed only the last couple of hours. I thought most wanted more TV coverage rather than less, did I miss something?

    • Good one. Indeed, unless there’s a photo finish, not much need for a slow motion. That will take forever to see 🙂

      Great battle on the Mur. Fuglsang pushed Alaphilipe to the line there. He looked surprised he has to keep going full on in the last meters.
      I enjoyed this finish more than the one of Amstel.

      MVP was extraordinary but that mithycal uphill finish… The crowd, the atmosphere, the road,the scenery.

      And if you pass through those finishes on a bike yourself, you will only get goosebumps on one of them.

  8. So far, it appears that Alaphilippe can’t win a race if Van der Poel is in it, and Fuglsang can’t win if Alaphilippe is there. There’s some easy betting money to made here!

    • Fuglsang cant win, period. Tjere is always someone with a better sprint than him and always someone who can hold his wheel.

      However for LBL he might do it, wear everone out with his team and go alone from the distance. The Izeguire brothers ows him big time after basque country ehi h he handed to the on a plate – they may be willing to work for someone else for the first time in their life.

      Ive said it before, Fuglsang should drop GC – he could get 2nd in every single monument on the calendar and this year he seems a lot more focused and appers to be the stringest climber of the season this year (+ he could be amazing in Flanders and Roubaix)

      • Very nice win by Fuglsang, and not a bad tip from Morten. Post race interview (the wheelslide?) was a 10 as well. Now Astana have one they can be proud of.

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