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La Flèche Wallonne always brings a familiar script: early attacks, late control, and a final stampede up the Mur de Huy.
Organizers have tried to spice up the long-running Belgian classic with course tweaks and route alterations, but with the finish line at the top of one of cycling’s most iconic climbs, every rider and team in the men’s and women’s editions of the “Walloon Arrow” knows which tactic to play.
Will it be any different Wednesday? Probably not.
Also read: How to watch La Flèche Wallonne
But just like a mass sprint in a stage at the Tour de France, there is something wildly unpredictable and entertaining about the race to the foot of the Mur, and its frenetic charge up its beyond-steep wall.
Flèche Wallonne is normally held mid-week, between Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but the pro calendar had to slide forward the “Hell of the North” by a week to accommodate the French national elections.
The men’s race dates back to 1936, while the women’s race celebrates its 25th edition this year, with its first race in 1998.
Along with Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the race is part of “Ardennes Week,” and helps mark an end to the final week of racing in the spring classics.
Here’s what to expect Wednesday:
The Mur de Huy: Belgium’s Alpe d’Huez
Belgium isn’t known for its high mountains, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have steep roads.
In a country pocked with short but steep bergs, ramps, and hills, the Mur de Huy stands alone.
The Mur’s official numbers — 1.3km at 9.6 percent — defy its true menace. With ramps as steep as 23 percent, conquering the “Wall of Huy” is all about timing. Go too soon, and riders come over the top. Wait too long, and it’s too late to bring back the attackers.
Experience counts on the Mur, with most of the winning moves coming at a sweet spot with about 300 meters to go.
La Flèche Wallonne is a race that produces tremendous winning streaks.
Valverde is the most prolific winner of this race, and holds the tally at five (2006, 2014-2016, and 2017). Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) is the defending champion, and also won it in 2018 and 2019.
On the women’s side, the race has been on the calendar since 1998. Marianne Vos won five time, including 2007-2009, 2011, and 2013. The recently retired Anna van der Breggen dominated the event for a seven-year streak since 2015. However, this year will see a new winner, and Van der Breggen possibly in the SD Worx team car as a sport director.
The men’s and women’s routes: Mur the decider
The 2022 men’s La Flèche Wallonne runs 202km from Blegny to Huy. The start town has been changed over the years, and the finish in Huy along the Meuse River sets up the peloton for the final charge up the Mur.
The course twists and turns for about 120 km until the pack hits three full on a 31.2 km circuit. The closing nine of a total of 11 climbs are packed into the final 83km, with Côte d’Ereffe and Côte de Cherave stacked up before the Mur.
La Fléche Wallonne Féminine 133.4km route starts in Huy, and loops around the area before returning to the start town and taking on the Mur de Huy for the first time. The bunch then races two passages on the circuit, with the winner crowned on the Mur.
The favorites: Movistar coming in hot with Annemiek van Vleuten and Alejandro Valverde
Movistar will be the hot favorite in both races.
Valverde is coming off a training period, and will be aiming to win in his final crack at the Mur. Somewhat surprisingly, Van Vleuten has never won La Fléche Wallonne Féminine and has twice finished second.
Even without Van der Breggen, SD Worx will be a big favorite. Canyon-Sram, Trek-Segafredo, and FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope will be looking to fill the void as well. Vos isn’t expected to race for Jumbo-Visma, and Human Powered Health and EF Education-TIBCO-SVB also bring deep squads.
Tadej Pogačar returns to action this week, but Primož Roglič, second last year, is not racing. Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenepoel will try to salvage Quick-Step’s spring campaign, while Michal Kwiatkowski, Aleksandr Vlasov, and Damiano Caruso bring form and explosiveness to the Mur.
Ardennes double: A rare feat
Only seven male riders have pulled off the Ardennes doubles, with victories in both Flèche and Liège. Davide Rebellin pulled it off in 2004, with Alejandro Valverde in 2006, 2015 and 2017, and Philippe Gilbert in 2011. Rebellin and Gilbert also won the Amstel Gold Race in their respective streaks.
Ferdi Kubler is the only rider to do it two years in a row, in 1951 and 1952. Stans Ockers managed it in 1955, Eddy Merckx in 1972, and Moreno Argentin in 1991.
On the women’s side, Anna van der Breggen won both in 2017 and 2018.
The weather: Fine spring day
The peloton in both races will enjoy fine spring weather, with highs in the low 60Fs in the afternoon, mostly clear skies, and northeasterly winds kicking up in the afternoon of 10 to 15mph.
Previous winners: Lots of repeat winners
Here are the women’s winners from the past decade:
2021 — Anna van der Breggen
2020 — Van der Breggen
2019 — Van der Breggen
2018 — Van der Breggen
2017 — Van der Breggen
2016 — Van der Breggen
2015 — Van der Breggen
2014 — Pauline Ferrand-Prévot
2013 — Marianne Vos
2012 — Evelyn Stevens
Here are the men’s winners from the past decade:
2021 — Julian Alaphilippe
2020 — Marc Hirschi
2019 — Alaphilippe
2018 — Alaphilippe
2017 — Alejandro Valverde
2o16 — Valverde
2015 — Valverde
2014 — Valverde
2013 — Dani Moreno
2012 — Joaquim Rodríguez