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Fleche Wallonne: Who are the favourites?

Joe Robinson
24 Apr 2019

The dreaded Mur de Huy awaits for the men's and women's peloton

Fleche Wallonne, the midweek cooler flanked by the Ardennes' more explosive and coveted siblings, Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It's a race that's all about one thing, the Mur de Huy.

After 195km of racing for the men and 118.5km for the woman, the eventual winner is decided by who can climb this 1km long, 11.1% wall the fastest.

Climbing from the town of Huy, the surviving few will claw their way past the surrounding detached houses with their built-in garages and the free-standing chapels until reaching the grand Notre-Dame de la Sarthe church that marks the summit and the Mont Mosan theme park that one tourist, Quoc-Thai Ngo, described in a recent review as 'Ok but I have seen more impressive'. 

What will be more impressive is the way in which both pelotons scale the murderous climb with its 25% pitches in electric speed. 

The quickest male riders will average over 20kmph for under three minutes of hurt with the women cresting the climb in just under four.

The nature of the Mur de Huy and, more importantly, its positioning near the finish means that once a rider cracks the climb, they can often crack the race.

Alejandro Valverde had the Huy cracked as four consecutive victories between 2014 and 2017 proved, which alongside his 2006 victory, makes him the race's most successful male rider.

Similar to Valverde, Marianne Vos took five Fleche Wallonne Feminine titles between 2007 and 2013 while fellow Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen has romped to the win in the previous four editions of the race.

Although, the dominance of the above riders seems unlikely to continue, especially with Julian Alaphilippe knocking Valverde off his perch in 2017, and Van der Breggen in patchy form compared to the dominance we are so accustomed to.

With that in mind, Cyclist takes a look some of the favourites and who you should be keeping an eye on.

The favourites for Fleche Wallonne

Julian Alaphillippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

Did Mathieu van der Poel win Amstel Gold Race on Sunday or did Julian Alaphilippe lose it? It's six of one and half a dozen of the other.

It seemed as if Van der Poel was always going to bring that gap back, even if it killed him, but you couldn't help think that Alaphilippe blew a sure-fire win by dilly-dallying about in that final 3km. 

All he had to do was keep riding hard until the finish, he was always going to outsprint Jakob Fuglsang. But he didn't and he blew it.

But knowing Alaphilippe as I do - I met him once - he will be hell-bent on making up for such an opportunity missed and on current form, I think he could be unstoppable on the Huy.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott)

Incredibly, Annemiek van Vleuten has never won the Fleche Wallonne Feminine. Hard to believe considering the parcours exactly matches her capabilities as a bike rider.

The Dutchwoman has also only featured on the podium the once, too, in 2015 when she came 12 seconds down on compatriot and rival Van der Breggen.

Van Vleuten's fortunes in this race may be about to change, however. She scored victory at Strade Bianche in March before back-to-back second spots at the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold. 

On both occassions, she showed impressive strength but lacked an ability to fire the killer blow to cross the line first.

This could change on the slopes of the Huy this afternoon as the 36-year-old looks to add yet another one-day Classic to her already impressive palmares.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

The above image is old but tells a story of what Fleche Wallonne was for almost half a decade. Alejandro Valverde riding everyone off of his wheel towards the top of the Mur de Huy before raising his arms in the air as the winner.

Alaphilippe prevented it being a fifth win in a row last year but could you really bet against Valverde regaining his Wallonne crown? Probably not. 

He, like Alaphilippe, will also be livid with his Amstel Gold performance on Sunday. He finished 63rd which was his first result, baring DNFs, to be outside of the top 50 since the 7th May 2016 which is a staggering 203 consecutive race days. 

It's also worth noting you can get Valverde at a healthy 6/1 (Skybet) for the race, which if backed each-way, seems almost certain to return a profit.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram)

After knocking on the Ardennes door since 2015, Niewidoma finally got her just rewards at Amstel Gold last weekend. She bravely attacked on the Cauberg and held off time-trial World Champion and queen of the solo chase (see last year's La Course) Van Vleuten in a frantic yet truly exciting finish.

It extends a spring in which Niewidoma has been supremely consistent with third at Strade Bianche and then sixth at the Tour of Flanders already in the bank.

At the Amstel finish line, Niewadoma told press: 'Our career is like a rollercoaster; you have ups and downs, so whenever I had those downs, I would take a lot of lessons from that. After Flanders, I knew that I was strong, but somewhere I did not really believe in myself.

'I had two weeks to put everything together. I have my amazing team, an amazing boyfriend, my family, and they all helped me win this race.'

With a former third-place finish and two further top 10s, the parcours of Fleche Wallonne has always suited Niewadoma, now she may also have the confidence and self-belief to go one step further to the win.

The outsiders

Jelle Vandendert (Lotto-Soudal)

Jelle Vandendert is an example of a rider who seems to only function in one type of race. Like Simon Spilak in any Swiss stage race or Andrea Guardini at the Tour de Langkawi, Vandendert springs to life every April to look an almost-world beater at the Ardennes Classics, it's quite remarkable.

He has finished second at Amstel Gold twice, has finished in the top 25 of Liege-Bastogne-Liege every year since 2011 and finished third at last year's Fleche Wallonne despite acting as leadout man to Tim Wellens.

Vandendert's slight yet rangy frame just seems to roll with the sharp punches of the Ardennes well. All that seems to be missing is the killer punch to outkick an Alaphilippe or Valverde at the line.

Nevertheless, keep an eye on Vandendert once the race hits the Huy because you never do know. Also, you can take Vandendert at 33/1 (Betway) which could prove a nice little earner if backed each-way.

Annika Langvad (Boels-Dolmans)

 

Considering it's a team that contains current World Champion and Fleche Wallonne defending champion Anna van der Breggen and former World Champion Chantal Blaak, it tells you of Langvad's quality that we consider her to be favourite among the Boels-Dolmans superteam.

She's only four months into her road career but has already taken to it like a fish to water; second at Strade Bianche and fourth at Amstel Gold proved that.

Langvad is incredibly powerful thanks to a long and successful career riding cross-country mountain biking. Putting out big power on steep gradients is something she does well and we expect her to do as much on the Huy later today.

Don't be surprised if Fleche Wallonne ends up being the first of many major wins for the Dane.

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