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Preview: Looking for a favorite for the Wallonne arrow

Five-star favorites

Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha)
Second two years running, “Purito” will be hoping to light it up on the Mur. Rodríguez has won plenty of races on similar battlegrounds, taking stage 6 at Tirreno-Adriatico in similar fashion last month. A winner of two stages and second overall at the Tour of the Basque Country, Rodríguez has the legs to win. He’s hoping he will be thawed out by Wednesday. Teammate Oscar Freire will be a wildcard.

Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing)
What a difference a year can make. Rewind to 2011, and Gilbert was an unstoppable force, becoming the first rider to sweep all three Ardennes classics and Brabantse Pijl. With his eyes on the worlds and the Olympics, Gilbert has come into the 2012 softer. It’s obviously been too soft, but despite his charge up the Cauberg, where he ran out of gas with 100 meters to go, Gilbert looks to be back just in time for the Ardennes.

Four-star favorites

Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan)
He’s won on the Cauberg and up Alpe d’Huez, but is the Mur a ramp too hard? Schleck was disappointed to miss out at Amstel Gold on his birthday and has his eyes set on a win at the Ardennes before a pre-Tour rest.

Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky)
The Colombian with a kick won his first race with Sky this season and fits the mold of Edvald Boasson Hagen, with an even better uphill kick. Uran is on the young side for a tactical finale like the Mur, but a win would not be shocking.

Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol)
Still peeved he lost Amstel Gold Race, Vanendert will leave Charleroi as a team leader, instead of supporting Gilbert as he did in 2011. He admitted before Amstel Gold that he has much to learn about racing at the sharp end late in the classics, but the Plateau de Beille stage winner at last year’s Tour could be in the running, come the moderate upper reaches near the Huy sports club.

Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Nibali also likes these kinds of finales and he has the kick to win if he’s there. Based on his form over the last month, he will be.

Enrico Gasparotto (Astana)
Honestly, before Sunday’s win, Gasparotto wouldn’t have made the four-star list. But that’s what winning does for a rider. Now, could he pull the AGR-Flèche double?

Three-star favorites

Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan)
Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan)
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda)
Bauke Mollema (Rabobank)
Robert Gesink (Rabobank)
Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Two-star favorites

Michael Albasini (GreenEdge)
Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun)
Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank)
Chris-Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank)
Julien El Fares (Team Type 1)

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