La Fleche Wallonne 2018 Preview – Tips, Contenders, Profile

La Fleche Wallonne is the first of the Ardennes Classics, tying in with Liege Bastogne Liege taking place at the weekend. The race is filled with plenty of climbs, usually a touch longer than what we got used to in the Flanders races. Also, there are no real cobbles to speak of either.
The race has finished on the final climb of the Mur de Huy since 1984, a relatively short but steep climb topping out at 26%. Whoever still has fresh legs late in the race will be able to create some distance. In recent years Alejandro Valverde has been a dominant force, winning for each of the last 4 years.

 La Fleche Wallonne 2018 Profile

La Fleche Wallonne 2018 Contenders

Alejandro Valverde is the obvious favourite, with 5 wins in the bag over his career. He’s been in his usual great form already this season and will be looking to turn the 5th he got in Amstel Gold into his 6th win on the Mur. Interestingly he’s won Worldtour GC races this year but not a Worldtour one-day race yet. Julian Alaphilippe was like a shadow to Valverde in Amstel Gold. He’s ideally suited to duke this race out with him – already finishing 2nd twice in 2015 and 2016. He’s one who’ll be waiting for the Mur to see how the legs feel. Irish Brummie Dan Martin has 4 top-5 results in Fleche Wallonne. He’s not got any results of note yet this season but the Ardennes are his hunting ground and Fleche Wallonne will lead to his goal of Liege Bastogne Liege.

Quickstep have the obvious fall back option of Philippe Gilbert – a former winner of La Fleche Wallonne back in his golden year of 2011. He’s finished in the top-10 on 3 other occasions but will likely be pressganged into working for Alaphilippe – a long ditch effort may be on the cards. Sky’s cards will be on a combination of Michal Kwiatkowski and Sergio Henao. The two riders have 6 top-10 results between them in Fleche Wallonne. Kwiatkowski has had a bit of an odd Spring where he’s won the GC of one race but gone missing in all of the one-day races. Henao managed a better result in Amstel Gold but that was his first one-day race of the year. Both riders are capable of making the podium, it’s just going to need some luck. We’ve reached the point of the year where Greg van Avermaet gets a break and BMC’s charge is now Dylan Teuns. He finished 3rd last year and is being given a lead role for the Ardennes classics.

The usual GC candidates stand a good chance in a race that almost suits them. The likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Roman Bardet, Simon Yates and Warren Barguil will all be in the hunt. Nibali has finished in the top-15 3 times so has shown he can be in the mix. After the nature of his win in Milan Sanremo, there’s a chance he’ll attempt a late breakaway to get away from those with a better sprint. Bardet finished 2nd in the Tour du Finistere this weekend, coupled with his 2nd in Strade Bianche it shows some good one-day race form. Yates has been in great form GC-wise this year, finishing 4th in Volta Catalunya and 2nd in Paris Nice, with stage wins in both. In his first attempt at Fleche Wallonne, he may end up as an elite helper for Michael Albasini. Warren Barguil made the switch down to Pro-Conti level over the winter, he’s finished in the top-10 here twice but so far this season has managed only top-20 results with a high of 11th.

With 8 top-10 results, it’s fair to say that Mitchelton’s Michael Albasini is a consistent finisher at Fleche Wallonne. Depending on how things work out he’ll be working with Simon Yates to get in the right position for a blast up the Mur de Huy. Lotto Soudal will be working for one of Tiesj Benoot and Tim Wellens. Benoot hasn’t raced here before and Wellens hasn’t a result to talk of. Benoot has openly said he ran out of legs in Amstel Gold, so he may be reaching the end of his Spring form. Wellens, however, won Brabantse Pijl and finished 6th in Amstel Gold so is probably the lead rider. The punchy combination of Primosz Roglic and Rafal Majka can’t be ruled out. Neither has much of a history in Fleche Wallonne (Roglic has none), but both are capable of long-range attacks and punchy blasts up climbs.

Michael Matthews is liked by the bookies, but only has a best result of 21st in 3 attempts. The Mur de Huy is probably too steep for him to be able to hack it out until the finish. Finally, the winner of Amstel Gold, Michael Valgren has to be included. Winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier in the season meant his Spring was good but the week at the weekend was the icing on the cake. He’s got a best result of 96th in Fleche Wallonne which he should improve on, but the finish is different to those of his wins this Spring.

La Fleche Wallonne 2018 Outsiders

If it doesn’t work out for Vincenzo Nibali, Bahrain Merida will be banking on two brothers, Ion Izagirre and Gorka Izagirre. They finished 3rd and 4th in Paris Nice and around 20th place in Amstel Gold. There’s some form there, but the race script will decide if they’re contenders. Trek’s Bauke Mollema has 3 top-10 finishes here, he’s always done well in the Ardennes Classics. He’s done well in the GC at non-Worldtour races this year which shows some form in the legs. Michael Valgren was ably assisted by Jakob Fuglsang in Amstel Gold, the two of them forming a good one-two punch. Finishing 8th there with a teammate up the road was a good result – it’s also the same as his best result in Fleche Wallonne.

Finally, some genuine outsiders who could find themselves in the winning group and match it with the big boys. Nathan Haas has been touted for a lot of the Spring but hasn’t really delivered, 18th in Milan Sanremo is his best Spring finish after finishing 5th overall in the Tour of Oman. AG2R back-up option Alexis Vuillermoz finished 6th in 2015 and could repeat that sort of effort. 8th overall in Paris Nice shows that he has some form in 2018. Young Groupama-FDJ rider David Gaudu announced himself with a 9th place in last year’s Fleche Wallonne. 12th Overall in Volta Catalunya last month means a repeat is on the cards. Michael Woods finished 20th in Amstel Gold last weekend as a warm-up for the proper Ardennes races. He’s finished 11th and 12th before in Fleche Wallonne, so should be in the group as it sprints up the Mur de Huy.

La Fleche Wallonne 2018 Prediction

1 – Julian Alaphilippe
2 – Alejandro Valverde (he can’t keep winning it surely)
3 – Dan Martin