Classics racing continues with Fleche Wallonne deep in the Belgian Ardennes on Wednesday (April 22), with a ProTour race for the men and a World Cup event for the women. Both events finish on the short but ultra-steep Mur de Huy.

For the men, Fleche Wallonne serves as an appetiser for Liege-Bastogne-Liege the following Sunday (April 26).

Fleche also acts as a form guide for the bigger, better known race. because even if it?s 60 kilometres shorter than Liege, the two have very similar characteristics and are both made for riders who perform well on short, punchy climbs.

Even though they?ve added in another climb close to the finish this year to the 195.5 kiloemtre race, the really decisive moment is still the Mur de Huy.

Just 1,300 metres long but averaging 9.3 percent, the most complicated part comes half way up when there?s an ?S?-bend with a gradient of a leg-crushing 26 percent. The men?s race tackles it three times.

Favourites this time round have to be the usual suspects, starting with Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d?Epargne). The Spaniard won the race in 2006, and could do so again.

Valverde did not have a great race in Amstel Gold on Sunday but he will be motivated to get a result in before the impending Italian court case about his possible links to Operacion Puerto on May 11.

imageKim Kirchen wins last year’s Fleche Wallonne

Last year?s winner Kim Kirchen (Columbia-Highroad) is also taking part, but he is still not at 100 percent after his crash in the Tour of California. Others include Cadel Evans and Phillipe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Frank Schleck (SaxoBank), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Simon Gerrans (Cervélo) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank).

In fact, almost all the overall contenders of the Tour de France will be there, with only some very top names like Alberto Contador (Astana), former Fleche Wallonne winner Lance Armstrong (Astana) and Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) missing from the running.

In the women?s World Cup event, the two biggest favourite in the 98 kilometre race are Marianne Vos and Britain?s Nicole Cooke, with Emma Pooley (Cervélo) another top contender.

Cooke has won on the Mur de Huy three times, in 2003, 2005 and 2006, but Vos has taken the last two editions and is aiming to become the first rider to win Fleche Wallonne on three consecutive occasions. Pooley was sixth last year, with Cooke in eighth.

Read our full preview of the women’s event in our News section>>

The weather is forecast to be excellent on Wednesday, just like in the Amstel Gold Race, so expect a fast race for both the men and the women – until they reach the Mur de Huy, that is.

Cycling Weekly will be covering Fleche Wallonne in full, both online and in the magazine


FLECHE WALLONNE

Belgium

Wednesday, April 22

195.5km

Starts: Charleroi

Finishes: Huy

Official website: Fleche Wallonne 2009

Official start list: 2009 rider list


THE BRITISH

A five-strong list of British riders will take to the start line in Charleroi on Wednesday:

Steven Cummings, Barloworld

Chris Froome, Barloworld

Ben Swift, Katusha

Daniel Lloyd, Cervelo

Daniel Fleeman, Cervelo


RECENT WINNERS

2008 Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg) High Road

2007 Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner

2006 Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse d?Epargne

2005 Danilo Di Luca (Italy) Liquigas

2004 Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner

2003 Igor Astarloa (Spain) Saeco

2002 Mario Aerts (Belgium) Lotto-Adecco

2001 Rik Verbrugghe (Belgium) Lotto-Adecco

2000 Francesco Casagrande (Italy) Vini Caldirola

1999 Michele Bartoli (Italy) Mapei

1998 Bo Hamburger (Denmark) Casino


FLECHE WALLONNE ON TV

Live and edited coverage of Fleche Wallonne 2009 on British Eurosport.

Wednesday April 22 1-3.30pm, British Eurosport, live coverage

Wednesday April 22 11.30pm-00.30am, British Eurosport, highlights


BRITS AT FLECHE WALLONNE

We chart the achievements of British riders in Fleche Wallonne. The last Briton to place in the top 20 was Robert Millar’s ninth in 1990.

3rd

Tom Simpson 1965

4th

Brian Robinson 1955

6th

Paul Watson 1987

7th

Tom Simpson 1960

9th

Robert Millar 1990

10th

Tom Simpson 1963

11th

Alan Ramsbottom 1963

Alan Ramsbottom 1965

12th

Robert Millar 1987

13th

Michael Wright 1965

14th

John Kennedy 1960

18th

Barry Hoban 1969

20th

Barry Hoban 1968


RELATED LINKS

Fleche Wallonne Feminine 2009: The Big Preview

2009 Spring Classics: The Cycling Weekly hub – reports, photos, results and more

Fleche Wallonne 2008: Kim Kirchen takes the High Road

Fleche Wallonne 2008: photo gallery

Follow Cycling Weekly on Twitter>>