This mini-classic is the most explosive one of the three Ardennes races this week. The steep Mur de Huy always makes for an exciting finish and like the last nine years, I’m sure it will all come down to the final 1300 meters this time.
It’s 10 years ago Igor Astarloa won Flèche Wallone after a big morning break managed to keep the peloton at bay, and even though Roman Kreuziger’s win in Amstel Gold Race could be an indicator of another break making it, I highly doubt it. Phillipe Gilbert is eager to get his first win in the rainbow jersey and together with the Colombia duo Sergio Henao & Nairo Quintana he is the man to beat on Wednesday.
BMC have been very strong lately and Phillipe Gilbert seems to back at his best. He will probably never going to be as strong as in 2011 but without Purito Rodriguez [at this moment Purito isn’t sure he’s able to ride after his crash in Amstel Gold Race], it difficult to pick another winner. No one was able to follow Gilbert on Cauberg last Sunday and even though Mur de Huy is a lot steeper, it still showed the strength of Gilbert right now.
In 2010 Igor Antón and Alberto Contador attacked early on Mur de Huy and got a nice little gap before Cadel Evans and Purito caught them near the top. Evans won the race back then and I think this year’s edition will have some of the same scenario. Sergio Henao and Nairo Quintana don’t stand a chance against Gilbert in ‘sprint’ on the final meters and they both know they need to get away on the steep part in order to win. Both were outstanding in Vuelta Pais Vasco earlier this month, especially on the steep gradients, and I would be surprised if none of the two tries to get away on the parts of 17%. Phillipe Gilbert knows he probably won’t be able to follow the Colombians on these gradients but if he can minimize the gap before the final ‘flat’ (5%) part, I still think he can come back and win the race.
Another strong contender is Alejandro Valverde. Just like at the World Champions last year, he wasn’t very well positioned when Gilbert attacked last Sunday, but this time he managed to close the gap quickly and win the sprint for 2nd place. I think Liege-Bastogne-Liege is more suited for Valverde and it would make sense for him to pay back Quintana a little for all the hard work the Colombian has done for Valverde the last year. Still, don’t be surprised if Valverde manages to hang onto Gilbert and sprint for the win.
My two personal jokers for Flèche Wallone this year are Igor Antón and Daniel Martin. As mentioned earlier, Igor Antón put in a strong attack in 2010 (ended 4th) and this year he’s aiming to do the same. His condition has increased significantly the last month or so and with the recent success for Euskaltel, he should be proper motivated to do well. Antón has big ambitions for the last two Ardennes races and if he enters Mur de Huy in a good position, he could very well end up fighting for the win again.
|Mur de Huy. 1,3 km / 9,3% avg.|
Photo from: climbbybike.com
This is also an important week for Daniel Martin. He was keen on showing his good shape in Amstel Gold Race, but crashed before the final. The Irish climber normally feeds on success and with his impressive overall win in Volta Catalunya, his confident should still be great heading into the last two Ardennes. races Martin reports he’s fine despite his crash last Sunday and I think he will end up doing something great in Flèche Wallone.
Garmin have Ryder Hesjedal in the race too, but if Daniel Martin is still in front when reaching Mur de Huy, he should be the card to play. Not only does he climb very well he is also very fast on the line. He managed to keep Purito and Quintana behind after a long breakaway when he won the mountain stage in Catalunya and shows he’s not playing around. If an outsider ends up winning Flèche Wallone, like Roman Kreuziger won Amstel Gold Race, I think that outsider will be Daniel Martin.
Peter Sagan deserves to be mention as well, but I doubt he can follow the best on the steep parts. He suffered from cramps in the final of Amstel Gold Race and having never done Mur de Huy before, I don’t think he can win Flèche Wallone. The great shape Sagan showed in Brabantse Pijl can’t just disappear, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he either attacks from afar or ends up helping his teammates Damiano Caruso and Moreno Moser.
Winner pick: Phillipe Gilbert
Podium pick: Sergio Henao
Jokers: Igor Antón & Daniel Martin
For live race coverage go to steephill.tv
For live race coverage go to steephill.tv