Wednesday 24th April sees the men and women’s pelotons tackle Fleche Wallone. Unlike Amstel Gold the women’s race has a solid continuous history since the first race in 1998 and similarly to the men has had a single rider dominate the finish in recent years. Alejandro Valverde’s run of 4 wins in a row was broken in 2018 by Julian Alaphilippe.
The Mur de Huy is the focal point for both races – the finish line being at the top of it. Half a mile (800 metres for the non-English) at an average of 12% doesn’t do it justice. Around some of the bends, it tops out at a soul-destroying 26%. Amateurs like me can just about get up it but the pros have to sprint up up it – lucky them!
Fleche Wallonne 2019 Contenders
Men’s Fleche Wallonne
Last year’s winner Julian Alaphilippe staged an epic breakaway attempt at last weekend’s Amstel Gold Race. He was nearly successful but was caught first the train that Mathieu van der Poel was leading (incidentally he’s not racing here). This uphill finish is tailor-made for his skill set and he’s clearly in form. World Champion Alejandro Valverde is a 5-time winner at Fleche Wallonne. His run of 4 wins in a row was finally broken last year but he was still 2nd on the podium. In good form and now back on his pseudo-home turf, he’ll be a podium contender again.
Dan Martin is another who loves this finish with 3 podium finishes, but no win yet. He was off the pace in 2018 but was 2nd as recently as 2017. He’s just come off a 2nd Overall at the Tour of the Basque Country so should be able to perform well on the Mur. Lotto like their twin threats – with Tiesj Benoot, unfortunately, injured it lies with Tim Wellens and Jelle Vanendert to take up the reins. Wellens somehow only has 1 top-10 finish at Fleche Wallonne (in 2018), often shooting off on do-or-die attacks late on to support teammates. 3rd place at the recent Brabantse Pijl is a great indicator of form. Jelle Vanendert was on the podium here in 2018 with a great 3rd place. He’s been supporting others so far this spring but with a finish that suits him will be in contention again.
Sergio Henao has finished 2nd and 4th in Fleche Wallonne before, but that 2nd place was back in 2013. He was 11th though last year to show that he’s still got it, kinda. A so-so 2019 so far with 31st Overall at Paris-Nice below what he’s capable of, but 14th overall at the Tour of the Basque Country being somewhat better. This race once suited him but he might’ve had his day as a contender. Michal Kwiatkowski certainly is a rider in form – 11th place at last weekend’s Amstel Gold doesn’t tell the full story of a rider often riding on his own 3rd place on the road and was only caught a few hundred metres from the line. He’s lacking a win in 2019 despite some close calls – I’m backing another close call.
I nearly ploughed into the back of Bauke Mollema who was on a recon ride today it’d be a different write-up if I had. I had given him some friendly slow-down signals for the near 180-degree hairpin though, thinking the duo behind me were my friends. 4 top-10 finishes shows he likes the Mur finale and 12th at Amstel Gold on a non-friendly flat finish shows good potential for Fleche Wallonne. Jakob Fuglsang finished 3rd at Amstel Gold but he spent ages off the front with Alaphilippe to get there. He only has a best of 8th at Fleche Wallonne but his recent stage racing form, as well as his one-day races at Amstel and Strade Bianche, put him firmly in contention.
Dimension Data’s hopes lie with Roman Kreuziger and Enrico Gasparotto again. Kreuziger was 4th at 2018’s Fleche Wallonne. Since his move to Dimension Data his best result all season has been a 10th place in the UAE Tour. He managed 15th and 18th Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold but should do better. Enrico Gasparotto re-ignited his career here in 2016 with a 5th place in a series of races that showed him to be a contender again. Since then though he’s managed a 27th and a DNF at Fleche. 7th at Brabantse Pijl in 2019 gives hope that he can replicate his best results.
AG2R’s Romain Bardet has a best result of 9th place at Fleche Wallonne, matching the result he got in Amstel Gold last weekend. A stage racer becoming more interested in some of the best one-day races, the finish suits him as far as the climbing part is concerned. The flatter section at the top that needs a solid sprint may prevent him from scoring a higher finish. Michael Matthews has the opposite problem – if he can get up with the pure climbers, he can power around them at the top. He was 5th last year so may have cracked it. 6th in the Tour of Flanders and 4th in Brabantse Pijl shows really good form. Finally, Bora’s Max Schachmann is in astounding form. He was 8th here last year – his best result. He managed 5th at Amstel Gold last weekend but won 3 stages in the recent Tour of the Basque Country and another stage in the Volta a Catalunya too. For once I don’t think Sagan is the main contender for the team here.
Women’s Fleche Wallonne
Anna van der Breggen is the obvious favourite as the winner of the last 4 races here. She’s not been as consistently awesome in 2019 as she usually is, focusing on other fun mountain biking instead. There’s every chance she’s been saving herself for this race which suits her perfectly. Her teammate Annika Langvad will be there to pick up the pieces if van der Breggen isn’t there at the end. She’s raced twice in 2019 finishing 2nd at Strade Bianche and 4th at Amstel Gold – she’s a contender in her own right in her first season on the road.
Before van der Breggen was dominant, Marianne Vos was the rider to beat with 5 wins in 7 years between 2007 and 2013. She’s been there or thereabouts in 2019 with the two peaks of the win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and 3rd place in last weekend’s Amstel Gold. In contention around the Cauberg the strength of other riders will probably bump her off the podium. Ashleigh Moolman was a strong lieutenant for Vos at Amstel Gold, sprinting for a strong top-10 position herself until she ended up on the floor (and finishing 16th). 6th in Strade Bianche in 2019 shows what’s possible.
My tip for the win is Annemiek van Vleuten who surprisingly has never won Fleche Wallonne before – that streak has to end. She came very close to hunting down Niewiadoma at Amstel Gold but had to settle for 2nd place. She finished in the same spot at the Tour of Flanders – in 5 races in 2019 she’s finished no longer than 7th. Her teammate Amanda Spratt finished 5th here last season. Since the Australian races, she’s peaked with a 2nd at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and finished a good 11th at Amstel Gold after being in the front breakaway group of 3 riders.
Trek’s Elisa Longo Borghini went on a solo break on the last lap at Amstel Gold but ultimately got reeled in to finish 14th. Her best result this Spring has been the 8th at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, with Liz Deignan now back, she may find herself working for others soon. Bigla’s Cecile Ludwig Uttrup has been having a great Classics campaign with 2 podiums and a pair of strong top-10 finishes too. More naturally suited to climbing than sprinting, should she be in the front group at the bottom of the Mur de Huy, she’ll be a strong bet for another strong top-10 finish.
Last weekend’s Amstel Gold winner was Katarzyna Niewiadoma. She has 3 top-5 finishes at Fleche Wallonne and clearly is in some good form. Before then she finished 6th at the Tour of Flanders and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, as well as making the podium at Strade Bianche. I’ve got her finishing on the podium again at Fleche Wallonne. Her teammate Alena Amialiusik has also had strong results at Fleche Wallonne with 3 top-10s. Her 2019 results haven’t been great though so she may be pressed into a domestique role for Niewiadoma.
It’s hard to know who Sunweb’s actual leader is going into Fleche Wallonne, Coryn Rivera gets to wear the first number so I guess her? But she DNF-ed Amstel Gold and only finished 3rd in Brabantse Pijl when it was all set-up for her to win and also DNF-ed the Tour of Flanders. She’s been 7th her before so could come good. Janneke Ensing was 8th back at Strade Bianche but in her 2 races since hasn’t done much of note. She’s normally a good bet to finish in the top-15 at Fleche. And the final prong on the Sunweb trident is Lucinda Brand who has finished 4th here before. Probably the rider most in-form with a 3rd place at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, 9th at the Tour of Flanders and 17th at the weekend in Amstel Gold. Let’s say she finishes at the highest Sunweb rider.
Finally, FDJ’s Shara Gillow has done well in the past with 5th and 6th placings. Her 2019 form isn’t great and she’ll be hoping that she can avoid the gear trouble that befell teammate Emilia Fahlin at the weekend. Hopefully, she can turn her season around at Fleche Wallonne.
Fleche Wallonne 2019 Outsiders
Men’s Fleche Wallonne
David Gaudu was 9th on his debut in 2017. He was 3rd Overall in this year’s UAE Tour and 18th in the Tour of the Basque Country, finishing strongly on the last 2 stages. Still young at 22, this could be a break-out race.
Bora also has Patrick Konrad who’s finished 10th and 16th here. He was 9th Overall in Bora’s domination of the Tour of the Basque Country so could see himself improve on that best result in 2019.
Team EF will be working with Michael Woods and Simon Clarke. Woods somehow only has a best result of 11th at Fleche Wallonne. He was 6th Overall at this year’s Volta a Catalunya but then 68th at Amstel Gold – it’s not clear if he’s in form or not. Simon Clarke has a best of 16th in Fleche Wallonne but his 2nd place at last weekend’s Amstel Gold puts him here. He was also 9th in Milan-Sanremo and 8th at Strade Bianche in 2019 – he’s a borderline solid contender in his own right.
Finally, Brit Adam Yates somehow has only finished 97th in Fleche Wallonne. 5th Overall at the Tour of the Basque Country along with a pair of 2nds Overall at Volta a Catalunya and Tirreno-Adriatico shows some very good form in 2019.
Liz Deignan came back to the women’s peloton with 19th place at Amstel Gold. She’s twice finished in 2nd place at Fleche Wallonne so could announce the full comeback here. Former world champion Tatiana Guderzo has raced 11 editions of Fleche Wallonne with a best result of 7th. She did well at Strade Bianche this season with 12th She’ll like the uphill finish.
ParkHotel’s Demi Vollering got a career result with 7th place at last weekend’s Amstel Gold. She finished just inside the top-20 at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda earlier in the season but if she can replicate what she did on the Cauberg, she could be a threat on the Mur de Huy. Her teammate Sofie de Vuyst is in good form. She won Brabantse Pijl and made the top-10 in all of Dwars Door Vlaanderen, Omloop van het Hageland and Omloop het Nieuwsblad. She’s never done that well in Fleche Wallonne though with a best finish of 31st.
Italian national champion Marta Cavalli hasn’t raced Fleche Wallonne before but will be leading the Valcar Cylance team. She finished 2nd at Brabantse Pijl as well as 10th place at Gent-Wevelgem. She’s also been just just outside of the top-10 at De Panne, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Tour of Flanders. A bit more naturally suited to final sprints, the Alfredo Binda and Tour of Flanders results might be trend-breakers.
Fleche Wallonne 2019 Prediction
1 – Julian Alaphilippe
2 – Michal Kwiatkowski
3 – Alejandro Valverde
1 – Annemiek van Vleuten
2 – Anna van der Breggen
3 – Katarzyna Niewiadoma