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Preview: Looking for a favorite for the Wallonne arrow

The route

The Mur de Huy waits like an executioner at the finish line of the year’s top classic for the pack’s puncheurs. The 194km parcours is a good hour shorter in racing time than either the Amstel Gold Race or Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The route starts in Charleroi, a gritty coal-mining town, and pushes west across wind-blown farms 70 kilometers into Huy for the first of three passages up the Mur. The course loops east over five rated climbs that usually see the first major selection on the race before heading through Huy for a second passage up the Mur.

A shorter, 30km circuit hits two more climbs before the final, decisive charge up the Mur.

Breaks almost have no chance of making it all the way up the Mur, though it has happened. The Mur has seen the race’s finale since 1983 and is nothing to laugh at. The climb is just over 1km long, with an average grade of 9.3 percent. One ramp is 26 percent, enough to send the heart-rate monitors twittering off the charts.

Early attackers on the Mur rarely have the legs to grind out the win. Evans won in 2010, while wearing the rainbow jersey, after he finally learned to wait to click into pure attack mode until the final 300 meters of the climb. Gilbert was patient last year until he surged on the upper, lower-gradient reaches of the climb.

Winning Flèche requires a bit of timing, a bit of luck to avoid late-race punctures and crashes, and a whole lot of grit — grinta as the Italians call it — to arrive victorious is cycling’s puncheurs paradise.

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