It’s April and it’s almost Wednesday; there must be a semi-classic to discuss! Calling the Flèche Wallone ("The Arrow of Wallonia") a semi-classic might not be fair though. 195km of some of the Ardennes’ finest cols are on offer—11 in fact—including three trips up the infamous Mur de Huy. 1.3km in length, with an average gradient a little over 9%, the Mur tops-out at a whopping 25%! It’s one of the only races on the calendar where the finish often begins as a field sprint and ends with a rider winning solo.
Here are my riders to look for tomorrow on the road from Charleroi to Huy:
Cadel Evans is a top favorite here. He’s come close twice and would love the opportunity to score a win in front of his team’s home crowds. Also, while he wouldn’t turn-down a win on Sunday in L-B-L, his real season goals come much later, freeing him up to take wins now when he has the chance. Look for him to at least be in the top-3 tomorrow. I also think his teammate Philippe Gilbert will take one last stab for a big win this spring. His form must be dwindling, but if he can stay out of trouble early, he has the power to win on the Mur.
As I mentioned before Amstel, Davide Rebellin isn’t what he used to be. However, while he might not have the firepower for a race like L-B-L anymore (I’m fully aware that I might be eating those words later), he does have the potential to score one more win here (he already has two). If his team keeps him safe, he’ll be able to deliver the goods.
Alejandro Valverde is too talented not to be mentioned. His 2006 win in Huy began his string of Ardennes success. That said, I think Valverde will win only if he feels he can do so without compromising his chances for Sunday. It’s a bigger race and another win there would cement is place among it’s all-time greats.
Columbia’s Kim Kirchen will be on the line as defending champion, but I think a stronger challenge might come from his teammate, Thomas Lövkvist. He’s motivated, and he showed earlier this year in L’Eroica that he has a knack for winning tough races. And don’t forget Michael Albasini—he’s on form and was seventh last year.
Euskaltel’s Samuel Sanchez is indeed on a tear, and unless he’s saving himself for Sunday, he could win here easily. The same can be said for Cunego. I wonder what he left in reserve once he knew the win in Amstel was out of his reach?
Roman Kreuzinger justified his mention before Amstel with a dangerous move in the race’s final stage. Karsten Kroon could certainly avenge his near-miss Sunday with a win—unless his teammate Andy Schleck has something to say about it.
Outsiders? Nocentini and the Efimkin’s from AG2R shouldn’t be forgotten; neither should Sandy Casar from FDJ. Simon Gerrans will fly the flag for Cervelo—he’s always capable of a shocker.
But for me, I’m sticking to my guns and picking Fabian Wegman for the win…again.
And you? Who are your picks?