We are set to live an extraordinary edition of the Flèche Wallonne tomorrow. For the first time ever, the race will be held in autumn… right after the Tour de France and the World Championships! The defending champion and new tenant of the rainbow jersey Julian Alaphilippe has chosen to skip the race in order to focus on Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) seems to be the wheel to follow, with another Grande Boucle podium man like Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) as a fellow favourite.
Contention will be wide open, with a field full of outsiders for victory. Many riders come to Belgium after shining at both the Tour de France and the World Championships, such as Marc Hirschi, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Landa or Tom Dumoulin. It will be an exciting race up the Mur de Huy… and an early breakaway can’t be ruled out either.
JEAN-MICHEL MONIN: “ALL GUNS BLAZING IN THE MUR DE HUY”
The 84th edition of the Flèche Wallonne is starting from Herve, a village 15 kilometres east from Liège. The peloton will then ride across the Wallonia countryside to later reach Huy, where it will enter a 32-kilometre circuit due to be ridden three times. The route around Huy has been slightly revamped to avoid the Côte de Cherave, unavailable due to construction works and replaced by the Côte du Chemin des Gueuses. This new climb, 1,8-kilometre long with an average gradient of 6,5%, will play the same role as the Côte de Cherave according to race director Jean-Michel Monin. “It’s a road we normally faced on the other sense, as a descent, but on this case it will challenge the bunch 10 kilometres before the finish atop the Mur de Huy. It isn’t a launching pad for attackers, but rather a spot to narrow down the peloton. Chemin des Guuses is a softer climb compared to Cherave, but it can still blow many cyclists away. The top favourites will anyway be contending in the Mur – all guns will be blazing there. As every year, the strongest rider will triumph on the finish line.”
MARC HIRSCHI, A DEBUTANT ON A MISSION
After being one of the stars of the recent Tour de France and with the bronze medal of the Imola 2020 UCI Road World Championships hanging around his neck, Swiss rider Marc Hirschi is one of the marquee names on the startlist of the Flèche Wallonne despite this being its maiden appearance on this race. “I think a top5 is a realistic goal for Marc [Hirschi], but if he is on a good day he can even deliver a podium performance,” says Team Sunweb’s DS Michiel Elijzen. “He is one of the best riders on the world on short, steep climbs like Huy.” The Dutch coach identifies “Tadej Pogačar or Michal Kwiatkowski” as the top contenders for victory. “Normally Flèche Wallonne ends in an uphill sprint with a reduced peloton, and I think that won’t change this year. The sole factor that could alter this is the weather, and it looks fine for tomorrow. Therefore, most teams will focus on giving their leader the best possible shot on the Mur de Huy – although I think we will see more attacks before the final climb than in previous years.”
BAHRAIN-MCLAREN EXPECTS “UNCERTAIN RACE”
One of the teams lining up a powerful squad on this Flèche Wallonne is Bahrain-McLaren. The British-based team comes with three riders fresh off the Tour de France such as Mikel Landa, Wout Poels and Matej Mohoric, and a former Flèche Wallonne podium finisher as Dylan Teuns to round up the outfit. “We don’t know yet how are we going to play the cards we have – it will depend on how the race unfolds,” says DS Xavier Florencio. “Mikel Landa is in good shape after being 4th in the Tour de France and contending in the Worlds. We are unsure of Dylan Teuns’ shape, although we know he had a good race at Tirreno-Adriatico and that Flèche Wallonne perfectly fits his abilities as a rider. We can’t foresee which team will control the race, and therefore expect the competition to be a bit different, more uncertain compared to previous editions. We don’t think the bunch will make to Huy in one piece.”
TEAM DUTY FOR TOM DUMOULIN
Over his nine years on the elite level of the sport, Tom Dumoulin has only taken part once in the Flèche Wallonne, placing 21st in 2014. This Wednesday, the winner of the 2017 Giro d’Italia will be on the start line of Herve on team duty with an eye on Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he will race alongside Primoz Roglic. “We don’t know what role Tom Dumoulin can play tomorrow,” says his DS at Jumbo-Visma, Franz Maassen. “We have to see whether he is fully recovered from the Worlds, but normally this will only be a training race for him ahead of Sunday’s event.” The Dutch squad will back the chances of youngsters Lennard Hofstede and Jonas Vingegaard. “I think this Flèche Wallonne will be more or less ridden the same way it usually is, with a bunch getting to the foot of final climb and an uphill sprint for the win. Although many riders are tired after the Tour de France and the World Championships, this won’t affect how the race pans out.”