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.
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.
|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.