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Race Preview: Flèche Wallonne

The second race in the Ardennes block, La Flèche Wallonne, takes place on Wednesday with the infamous Mur de Huy serving up the steepest finishing climb in Classics cycling.

 

The Course 

The 24th edition of the race covers 130km around the Wallonia region of Belgium.  Starting and finishing in the riverside town of Huy, the peloton will race two circuits – a large loop of 98.5km and a smaller one of 31.5km – in a beautifully tough race.

The first 50km roll out over gently undulating terrain before the first of the 8 classified climbs appears – the Côte de Thon (2.8km/4%).  The next 30km sees 3 further climbs via the Côte de Groyme (2.1km/3.3%), the Côte de Haut-Bois (1.6km/5%) and the Côte de Gives (1.9km/6%). At this point the race intensifies with each passing kilometer and the battle of attrition truly begins.

99km in the riders face the first of two ascents of the notorious Mur de Huy. The iconic and seemingly endless ‘Wall’ is a brutal 1.3km climb averaging 9.6% with some sections hitting 17% (and one bend topping out at 26%).

After the fearsome Mur, the race doesn’t relent and continues along a false flat before a short, fast descent leads into the Côte d’Ereffe (2.1km/ 5%). Then it’s onto the Côte de chemin des Gueuses (1.8 km/6.5%) before a 5km descent leads the riders back into Huy where one final ascent of the Mur awaits.

The ‘Wall’ will demand every ounce of remaining strength and after a truly testing day in the saddle only the strongest rider will prevail.

 

Riders to Watch

All eyes will be on World and Olympic Champion Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) – the Queen of La Flèche Wallonne. The 30 year old Dutch rider will look to maintain her unrivalled dominance on the slopes of the Mur in the bid for a record 7th consecutive win. In her last year as a professional rider, she’ll no doubt want to finish her illustrious decade-long career still wearing the ‘Flèche crown’.

Whilst it would be befitting for van der Breggen to sign off with another historic win, long standing rivals certainly won’t hold back on the account of sentiment. Indeed, current UCI World Tour leader, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), will be gunning to ‘double up’ after her win at Amstel Gold on Sunday. Vos is also the only other rider in the field to have won La Flèche Wallonne before so she will be hoping to rekindle her 2013 form on the ‘Wall’ and notch up a 6th victory in this Classic.

Likewise, fellow Dutchwoman  Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) will look to usurp her compatriot this time round. Having finished second to van der Breggen twice before, the often irrepressible rider will be looking to finally dethrone her rival and conquer the Mur in 2021.

Another rider who has also finished second twice before, is Great Britain’s Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo). The Otley born, 32 year old, is well acquainted with the steep slopes of Yorkshire hills and is adept at powering her way up stinging climbs. She’ll be hoping her form this season continues it’s upwards trajectory and she can rise to the top step of the Flèche podium. Likewise, teammate Elisa Longo Borghini, showed great climbing strength on the Cauberg on Sunday and she’ll also be a rider to keep an eye on. After her win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and her impressive performance at Amstel Gold her confidence will be high.

Last year’s 2nd place finisher – Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ) – will also be a rider to watch. The 25 year old Dane is a great climber who will feel at home on the demanding roads of Wallonia. Former teammate at Cervelo-Bigla, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (SD Worx), is rarely outside of the top 10 in this race and having been on the podium twice before she’ll undoubtedly be in the mix again this year.

Moolman Pasio’s SD Worx’s teammate, Demi Vollering, is also another strong rider who has performed well on the Mur.  As a neo pro in 2019 she rode to an impressive 5th place and last year she went two places better to take 3rd. Vollering’s impressive 2nd at Amstel Gold a few days ago shows she’s come into the Ardennes week in top shape so expect to see her at the pointy end of the race.

As ever, Canyon SRAM will also line up with a strong squad led by Kasia Niewiadoma who came third in this race back in 2017. Teammate – Mikayla Harvey – is another rider to note; the young Kiwi had a stellar ride last year with a top 10 and she’ll be looking to repeat that performance this year.

Another team with a strong line up and several cards to play is the Australian squad of Team BikeExhcange. Leading the charge is climber Amanda Spratt, alongside fellow countrywomen, in form Grace Brown and Lucy Kennedy. BikeExchange rode impressively at Amstel Gold on Sunday with both Kennedy and Brown lighting up the race and Spratt finishing 4th, so with options aplenty, expect to see them make it an aggressive race.

Other riders to watch include Rally Cycling’s Clara Koppenburg, Tibco’s Sarah Gigante, Soraya Paladin (Liv Racing) and Erica Magnaldi (Ceratizit-WNT).

The attritional and unrelenting course of La Flèche Wallonne alongside the star-studded field will undoubtedly create a thrilling affair – showcasing the very best of women’s racing. With a tough, hilly 130km and 2 ascents of the formidable ‘Wall’ in store, the race will certainly crown a very worthy winner.

 

Summary

When: 21st April, 8.45am (CET)

Where: Huy, Belgium

What: 130km hilly road race.

 

Who to watch:

Anna van der Breggen *****

Annemiek van Vleuten ****

Lizzie Deignan ****

Kasia Niewiadoma ****

Marianne Vos ****

Demi Vollering ****

 

Top Outsider: Clara Koppenburg

TV Coverage:  GCN+

 

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