Flèche Wallonne Preview

Mur, Mur, up the wall, who is the fastest of them all?

The Route: different with the start back in Charleroi and then 122km along the edge of the Ardennes hills via a novel route with some surprises, then to Huy where they pick up the same finishing circuit used last year and to cross the finish line two times before the final charge up the hill. The circuit has two other main climbs, Ereffe, and the Chemin des Gueuses which is officially 1.8km at 6.5%. It’s got a steep start and with a kick, it keeps climbing after the “summit”.

The Finish: familiar to many but for new readers or those wanting a refresher, it’s 1.3km at 9.6%. Put like this 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. Once you reach the last 300m the gradient eases up.

The Contenders

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What sort of rider is Tom Pidcock (Ineos) and can a novice win the Flèche Wallonne? Two questions because Pidcock’s been floating on the cobbles when his build and punchy style make him look ideal for today but there’s a knack to the finish, even the best neo-pros take a while to learn the secrets of this race and the final climb before winning… but for the answer we only need look back a few months to Marc Hirschi who won on his first go. Pidcock looks made for the race, has a strong team and by the looks of social media posts, keen to avoid a photofinish before he takes a break. Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates bring more options with Michał Kwiatkowski ideal to drop them into place.

Julian Alaphilippe isn’t in peak form and the question is whether he’s on the up or down? He didn’t look as incisive in the Amstel Gold Race. One of the Belgian newspapers was playfully asking if Mauri Vansevenant shouldn’t be the leader instead? Steady on, but Deceuninck-Quickstep’s trademark is the flat hierarchy anyway so Vansevenant can have his chance; you might remember his strong ride last year before he disappeared into a bed of nettles.

Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is very good on steep climbs at the end of hilly races. But he’s never ridden this race before which makes him a harder pick rather than a five-chainring certainty. Jonas Vingegaard is also proving very good on uphill finishes this year but a win would be an upset.

UAE Emirates are out because of a Covid positive. Last year’s winner Marc Hirschi is made for a climb like this but has had all sorts of issues over the winter and not just changing teams and signing a non-disclosure agreement. Still UAE need not worry, they bring a very strong team with Tadej Pogačar. He’s obviously a quick climber but the punchiest? Maybe not actually and to compound this, a suggestion that his recovery is a real asset and so he’s less of a threat in one day races. Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi can also try their chances.

Michael Woods is made for uphill finishes like this but there’s more to the Flèche than an uphill sprint, his problem is getting into position for the climb, a task much easier written than done given the quality of the field fighting to start the climb in about tenth place but Daryl Impey will make an excellent lead out.

Some more names to rattle through. EF Education-Nippo bring a punchy team with Sergio Higuita seemingly made for this finish but the form’s not been so convincing with Simon Carr and others as outsiders. Michael Matthews (Bike Exchange) has done well here before but he’s the best sprinter on a finish for climbers, but if Esteban Chaves can hang on his wheel? David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) good on sharp climbs like this and got his first World Tour top-10 here in 2019. Jacob Fuglsang (Astana) looks to be in good shape but he needs a longer climb while Alexey Lutsenko has yet to look menacing this year. Max Schachmann and Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe) can feature but how to win, with “Schachi” probably better of biding his time for Sunday’s Liège. Ag2r Citroën’s Benoît Cosnefroy is suited to the finish but knee injuries have meant a “gruyère” training programme, which isn’t a diet, rather he’s had lots of holes in his calendar so far this year. Dylan Teuns (Bahrain) is good for steep climbs but has never shone in this race. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has – five wins – but he’s not got the zip of old days even if his form looks tempting, Enric Mas and maybe Matteo Jorgenson could be worth watching too. A home race for Lotto-Soudal but how to win, maybe a Tim Wellens long range attack to deliver the first breakaway win since Igor Astarloa in 2003? Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) can make the top-10 but is an infrequent winner and this uphill shootout isn’t ideal. Lastly Delko’s Biniam Ghirmay won’t win either this year but could in the future.

Tom Pidcock
Primož Roglič, David Gaudu
Sergio Higuita, Michael Woods, Julian Alaphilippe
Benoît Cosnefroy, Max Schachmann, Marc Hirschi
Vingegaard, Carapaz, Yates, Chaves, Valverde, Teuns, Pogačar

TV: it’s a predictable race so no need to tune in too early. And yes the format is obvious but so is the Scheldeprijs, Milan-Sanremo, the Amstel and more: this is why it’s ideal for a Wednesday afternoon. The finish is for 4.25pm CEST.

The women’s race finishes at midday and we’ll if Anna van der Breggen and Marianne Vos, who have 11 wins between them, give anyone else a chance. For a full preview of their rivals and the race, see procyclinguk.com.

Weather: a chance of rain, a moderate NW breeze which could chop the peloton apart over the top of the Mur, and a top temperature of 16°C.

53 thoughts on “Flèche Wallonne Preview”

  1. On form this year I would give Yates another two rings, or is the IR judgement based on the idea that he’s more a foil for Pidcock than a protected rider in his own right. Could the long Ineos list of possible winners be a disadvantage. They are big on stars and weak on grafters (Rowe, Geoghegan-Hart, maybe). Gaudu does not have that problem as they are all on his side.

    Can’t wait, and it’s even on roads I know.

    • Plenty of rated riders already, usually for this race it’s less open. Ineos have a top heavy team but that can work if they ride as a train into the foot of the final climb but Pidcock especially could do with some kind of leadout, less for drafting but more like a pioneer to help keep the path ahead clear.

  2. One of the things that has really impressed me about Pidcock is that his positioning has been good at critical moments right through the classics – he seems to have instinctively been in the right place even though every race is essentially new to him.

    But … surely at some point he has to crack? He’s been at the head of every race he has ridden since the opening weekend, and that off the back of a winter of cyclo cross. If this ends up a race too far maybe I wouldn’t be too surprised. Who else in the peloton was in contention at the Omloop and KBK and is still being discussed as a major contender at Flèche Wallonne?

      • Yes, fair comment – though this season, Pidcock has shaped most of the races he has been in, whereas Alaphilippe …

        Alaphilippe also didn’t ride a top level CX season this winter. It is the length of Pidcock’s sustained run of form that I find remarkable, even more so given he is essentially a neo-pro.

  3. Good preview, thanks. I didn’t realize so many of the bigs would show up for this with L-B-L coming up, so who will be willing to put in 100% today when it might cost ’em something on Sunday?
    Anyone else wonder if Mauri Vansevenant will continue to win his wrestling match with his bike? I cringe every time I see him, but he’s another example of form and function not always needing to be married I guess. I thought Hugh Carthy was the heir to Chris Froome’s (lack of) style, looking like one of those air-blown figures that flap their arms in front of car dealerships, but Vansevenant is even wilder!

    • He’s been called Mauri Mollema on some podcasts or the metronome 🙂 if he and Mollema could get in the same frequency they could finally draft!

          • It’s the toothy, grinning skeleton thing, especially when one of ’em plays his rib cage like a xylophone – reminds me of Froome on a steep climb with legs spinning wildly and arms akimbo.
            Kinda wonder if we’ll ever see that again other than in replay videos now that Froome’s joined Israel Washed-Up Nation and finishes 50+ minutes behind at Tour of the Alpes? Is the rich team backer going to add Sagan and maybe Nibali for 2022? He could have a great kind of dinner-circuit: “Dine with the Champions of Cycling” though I doubt the team will win many races….though I have to confess to wanting to be wrong about The Hulk and Il Squalo vs Il Frullatore.

      • I love self congratulation! (laughemoji)
        Did this feel a stupid when you were writing it as it appears now?
        I thought I should reply so an audience of none becomes one as I’m pretty sure I have semi-jokingly self congratulated myself on her once before!

        In terms of not going for Pidcock: I had no idea tbh, don’t feel like I know his strengths as a rider quite yet, but I did notice him going backwards on the climbs at Flanders and his moments of brilliance so far rarely coming on the climbs, I’m aware Flanders is cobbled and he was tired so who knows what that means if anything… but I am interested to know if he’s seen as a climber in cross on their tiny ramps or whether it might be an age thing that he will soon develop the kick needed to win F-W? I’ve not yet seen him go with the best or show a vicious hill sprint up a difficult ramp (worlds last year and today are my only really references though) but this may mean little.

  4. How strange to see DSM, a serious WT team, with hardly a top twenty candidate – and that after releasing from contract Hirschi and Mathews. Are they happy making up the numbers? Benoot’s in the provisional list for LBL but not here. Why?

    • Would say their best riders for today in Hindley and especially Bardet, are in Austria/Italy for the Tour of the Alps now as they aim for the Giro. Unlikely to win but in Brenner and Arensman they have two riders with big potential for the future.

  5. It seems with the decline of Valverde into middle age and Alaphilippe’s slight lack of form that this race has become more open. I’ve been saying (mainly to myself) that Pidcock’s build would seem to make him much more suited to the Ardennes to the cobbles. Personally I’d like to see a showdown between Valverde and Vansevenant, a sort of dad v lad kind of battle.

  6. I’d have thought the tactics of this race are easy even for novices… wait, wait, wait.
    I’m tipping Roglič.
    Pidcock has looked a bit weak on some climbs (RVV and BP, even though he won), so I’m not convinced by him here. Is that why he’s not doing Liege-Bastogne-Liege? Seems odd to do all these races and then miss the big one at the end, and he’d have a reasonable shot at it. I’d like to see WVA ride that one too.

  7. Shame about UAE – it would have been nice to see whether Hirschi’s form is improving, and Pogacar is always good value.

    How good is Pidcock? If you had said a year ago that IR would make him a 5-ring favourite for this race who would have believed you? On the other hand, he’s a tiny bloke, who can handle his bike, climb and has a kick like a mule. In a few years’ time it seems that he will able able to win the World CX champs and then every road race from Het Nieuwsblad to Lombardia, including grand tours. Maybe not TTs, but still crazy. I’m not that much of a student of cycling history, but I thought that WVA, MVdP, Pogacar and probably Evanepoel were generational talents, but is it possible that Pidcock is better than them all?

  8. the fact you already forget to mention Bernal shows how fleeting the term ‘generational talent’ really is. Mochoric’ case is instructive here too: junior and u23 world champ and then on to the pros, good rider, still very young and promising objectively speaking but subjectively by many already considered as an ‘also-ran’.

    • A good podium but he seems made for this finish. But wonder if because he’s Flemish he rides the Flemish classics a lot in a way that he might not if he’d been born elsewhere? It’s something you can see in other riders sometimes.

  9. Late to the party, but I think you mean Emmental and not Gruyère cheese. Emmental’s the one with all the holes. Gruyère is usually a pretty solid stück. Whichever, you were right about poor old Benoît.

  10. Kudos also to Anna van der Breggen- coming off illness and still able to win at a canter- 7 years in a row at the same race is some going.

    Odd to see van Vleuten tying up completely on the line and losing 3rd. I still think she’ll win LBL

    • I don’t think van Vleuten tied up at the line – she said in the post-race interview that she’d looked back and determined that she had a sufficient buffer to readily get third, and soft pedaled to the line. She was quite angry with herself and was clear that she had enough in the tank to have pushed harder than she did.

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