Flèche Wallonne is synonymous with the Mur de Huy.
The wall-like climb draws out the best climbers and puncheurs in the peloton. Some even call it the unofficial climber’s world championship.
What’s sure is that the mid-week Belgian classic is one of the most explosive and intense races on the calendar. Much like Milano-Sanremo, the majority of the decisive action plays out in the closing moments of the race. Instead of attacking up and over the Poggio, the peloton faces the brutally steep Mur de Huy.
Can someone end Anna van der Breggen‘s unprecedented six-win streak? Who will step into the void of the balanced men’s field to take top honors?
From Julian Alaphilippe to Kasia Niewiadoma, and Amanda Spratt to Tadej Pogačar, here’s what some of the pre-race favorites are predicting for Wednesday’s mid-week clash on the Mur de Huy.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) — winner 2018, 2019
Julian Alaphilippe skipped last year’s edition, but won in 2018 and 2019, so he knows the route well. In fact, it’s ideal for his explosive, attacking style. With the ever-present Deceuninck-Quick-Step bringing a deep squad to the Ardennes, Alaphilippe will have the backing he needs. After a bit of an up-and-down spring campaign, the big question is will he have the legs?
“The one that suits me best on paper is Flèche Wallonne, of course. I participated in it four times and won it twice. But I dream of winning Liège. Of the three, the one that suits me the least is the Amstel, but since it’s a new race face with the circuit. In any case, I take these three races to heart and I want to do well before closing this first part of the season. These races are important objectives on my calendar. I think I have recovered well.”
Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) — six-time defending champion
Anna van der Breggen holds cycling’s longest winning streak, with six consecutive victories dating back to 2015. The “Queen of Mur de Huy” is hard to beat when she’s on form. Backed by a strong SD Worx team, she’ll be a favorite to keep the winning streak going.
“It’s a special feeling that I’ve won this race already so many times. Maybe people might expect that I will win this race easily this year, but let’s not forget that we have some other riders who showed their strength to win this race too. The Mur de Huy is a climb which I like, but it’s a hard one as you need to keep going for a long way. I’m looking forward.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) — five-time champion
No one’s won the elite men’s Flèche Wallonne more than Alejandro Valverde (Anna van der Breggen’s won the women’s six years in a row). The 40-year-old Movistar captain is back for one last charge up the Mur de Huy (or maybe not).
“Positioning is key at Flèche Wallonne. If you are too far back with 1km to go, you have no chance at winning. If you are near the front, and you have good legs, you have a very good chance of winning. Carrying momentum out of those last two corners is key. It’s a very explosive race. It favors someone who can sprint after a hard climb. If you cannot sprint but you can climb well, you cannot win. I arrive in good condition and the motivation is there for a good race. Against some of these younger and more explosive riders, I know victory will be challenging, but we will try.”
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) – 2017 podium finisher
Kasia Niewiadoma knows what it takes to make the podium on the Mur de Huy after taking third place in 2017. The Polish rider has had a strong spring but has just missed out on scoring a big victory thus far.
“We’re going to have an interesting race because they have changed the course in the first part. The racing will be different in comparison to Sunday because we won’t be racing on the laps. It is going to be easier at the beginning because we have 40k on the flat roads and, in the end, I think there will be two scenarios. There might be a breakaway going early in the race and making it chaos in the final or, as it happened in the last editions, the winner is decided on the Mur de Huy. I think it’s most likely to happen in that way. With good legs, you can do more than you know or more than you expect.”
Had an unwanted encounter with the asphalt on training… Not the best preparation for @flechewallonne and @LiegeBastogneL, but fortunately nothing too serious. A little road rash isn’t going to stop me! 💪 pic.twitter.com/3Q8ltKr4v2
— Philippe Gilbert (@PhilippeGilbert) April 20, 2021
Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange) — 5th 2018
Amanda Spratt will be hoping to top her career-best of fifth in 2018 in the final charge up the Mur. Encouraged by a strong showing at Amstel Gold Race, where she just missed the final podium with fourth, Spratt and her Team BikeExchange teammates are poised to surprise the favorites.
“I think we can take a lot of confidence into Flèche Wallone after the team performance at Amstel Gold Race. It’s clear that the team has prepared really well for this block of racing and I think both Flèche and Liège will suit our strengths even better. That gives me a lot of motivation when we can ride together like this. I know the form is good and I think it’s a race where we can use our strengths, be aggressive and create some good opportunities. My best result has been fifth here, it’s such a brutal finish and you just have to be able to embrace the hellish pain for the final kilometer. There is no easy option. I’m ready to suffer and see what I can do.”
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) — 9th 2020
The presence of such riders as Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) confirms how today’s GC stars are putting new importance on the one-day races. Since the 1990s, many top GC riders steered clear of the classics due to scheduling conflicts or the obsession that the Tour de France is the only race that counts. Pogačar will co-lead with defending champion Marc Hirschi, and is back at Flèche Wallonne for the third time, with ambitions to improve on ninth in 2020.
“I’m coming into these races feeling good. Since Basque Country, I’ve felt good in training and I’m happy with my shape. This year we have options also with Marc, who we all know can be really good in these races. It’s definitely an advantage being able to race together. We have some other really strong, experienced guys in our line-up too, so between us all, we will play our cards.”
There's always another finish line to fight for.
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) April 20, 2021