La Fleche Wallonne
La Fleche Wallonne
Valverde seeks title number 6 at La Fleche Wallonne

Wednesday 24th April sees the 83rd edition of La Fleche Wallonne take place, three days after the opening Ardennes Classics of the season – Amstel Gold Race. The parcours extends to 195.5km with the riders tackling 11 punchy Ardennes climbs but it’s the Mur de Huy that, in recent times, defines this race. The 1.3km ascent averages over 9%, reaches a maximum of 26% and, like the Cote d’Ereffe and Cote de Cherave, is completed three times in the final 77km. Three times the riders face what the organisers call ‘a brutal invitation for glory’; three times the lactic acid will arguably burn fiercer than any climb in cycling.

The final climb of the iconic Mur de Huy reaches the summit finish, which will be around 5hrs after the race starts in the Liege suburb of Ans. With the majority of climbs in the final third, there are just two categorised climbs early on – the Cote de Tancremont (47km) and Cote des Forges (58km) – before the riders hit the final circuit 77km from the end.

One man who’s come to make La Fleche Wallonne his own is Movistar Team’s Alejandro Valverde. The Spanish cyclist holds the record number of victories at the race – five – two more than any other rider. Valverde won four times in a row between 2014 and 2017, and nearly made it a successful, successive quintet, finishing second in 2018. Can Valverde, who turns 39 the day after La Fleche Wallonne, reclaim his crown?

Valverde at La Fleche Wallonne

Twenty-eight-year-old Polish rider Michal Kwiatkowski leads Team Sky’s charge. Kwiatkowski was one of the strongest and aggressive racers at the 2018 La Fleche Wallonne, although his final position didn’t reflect his efforts. His palmares here includes a third, fifth and seventh.

Team Jumbo-Visma’s Robert Gesink heads the Dutch team fresh off an altitude camp in Sierra Nevada. Gesink looked strong at Amstel Gold Race at the weekend and sees the Ardennes Classics as providing the final touches to his preparations for the Giro d’Italia, which starts in Bologna on 11th May.

AG2R La Mondiale rest their hopes on the shoulders of Tour de France contender Romain Bardet. Bardet has recovered from his fall at the Tour of Catalonia, finishing in the leading group at Amstel Gold Race. While Bardet’s spring goal is Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday, don’t bet against the Frenchman battling for honours.