Alejandro Valverde will be the favourite to win his third consecutive Flèche Wallonne title on Wednesday, but who will be his main challengers?

The Favourites

Alejandro Valvede

Alejandro Valverde wins 2015 Fleche Wallonne. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

Alejandro Valverde wins 2015 Fleche Wallonne. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

The Flèche Wallone IS Alejandro Valverde‘s race. He’s won it each of the last two years and three times in total in his stellar career.

He’s just really mastered that sprint up the Mur de Huy, which is, let’s face it, the only crucial part of the race. Should he time his 100m sprint to perfection again he will eclipse the likes of Eddy Merckx and Moreno Argentin by taking the record for the most wins at the race.

He skipped the Amstel Gold Race and remains very focussed on the Giro d’Italia, but we know that Valverde is an incredible competitor, so won’t just be using this as a training ride.

Joaquim Rodriguez

Joaquin Rodriguez wins on stage three of the 2015 Tour de France

Joaquin Rodriguez wins on stage three of the 2015 Tour de France

Fellow Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, is almost as familiar with the Mur de Huy as Valverde is, having won Flèche back in 2012. Purito also claimed victory on stage three of the 2015 Tour de France that finished in Huy.

He may be advancing in years, but the wins he claimed last year at the Tour and Vuelta à España shows there’s a fair bit left in his legs, especially for a race such as La Flèche Wallonne.

Dan Martin

Dan Martin wins Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour of Valencia

Dan Martin wins Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour of Valencia

Dan Martin finished fourth in the Tour stage to Huy last year and finished second in Flèche in 2014 so is certainly a threat on Wednesday.

He is, however, now part of a very strong Etixx-Quick Step squad which could see him fighting with two or three teammates for the leadership.

Etixx’s system of multiple leaders hasn’t worked too well so far in the Classics and unlike at Cannondale, Martin won’t have a full quota of support riders to get him to the final climb safely.

Michael Albasini

Michael Albasini in the 2014 Clasica San Sebastian

Michael Albasini in the 2014 Clasica San Sebastian

With six top-10 finishes to his name, Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) seems to like this race but he’s never managed to stand on the top step.

His form hasn’t been great at the start of the season, but if recent years are anything to go by that’s not a sign that he won’t perform at Flèche.

For the last few seasons it’s this race that catapults the Swiss rider into a run of races in his home land, most importantly the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse.

Albasini’s got a powerful final punch, so a challenge up the Mur de Huy is very much expected of him.

Sergio Henao

Sergio Henao after stage five of the 2016 Tour of The Basque Country

Sergio Henao after stage five of the 2016 Tour of The Basque Country

In 2013, Sergio Henao provided Team Sky with their best ever Ardennes result, coming second to Dani Moreno on the Mur de Huy.

This season, with a few more years of experience under his belt, he could well go one better and claim the win.

He’s had a great season so far, finishing third at the Tour Down Under, helping Geraint Thomas to victory at Paris-Nice while finishing sixth himself and ending runner up to Alberto Contador in the Basque Country.

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe sprints in the 2015 Fleche Wallonne (Watson)

Julian Alaphilippe sprints in the 2015 Fleche Wallonne (Watson)

We didn’t know what kind of form Julian Alaphilippe would be in heading into the Ardennes week, but sixth place at Amstel Gold shows us he’s in a pretty good place.

Last year the young Frenchman surprised many fans by providing the best challenge to Valverde on the final climb and marked himself down as an Ardennes winner of the future.

His illness over the winter could have robbed him of the preparation and fitness he needs at this point to win on Wednesday, but talent and guts alone could see him claim another podium place.

The Wildcards

Enrico Gasparotto

Enrico Gasparotto wins the 2016 Amstel Gold Race

Enrico Gasparotto wins the 2016 Amstel Gold Race

He’s won the Amstel Gold twice in his career but Enrico Gasparotto has never really done anything of note at the Flèche Wallonne.

But his win and attack up the Cauberg on Sunday could give the Italian the impetus he needs to finally crack the top 10 in this race.

He’ll still be on top of the world and it’s amazing what confidence can do to a rider in these one-day races.

Samuel Sanchez

Sammy Sanchez wins stage four of the 2016 Tour of The Basque Country

Sammy Sanchez wins stage four of the 2016 Tour of The Basque Country

It’s a pretty wild wildcard, but Sami Sanchez could be BMC‘s best chance of the win on Wednesday, with Philippe Gilbert not at his best.

Gilbert struggled to 81st with a broken finger at Amstel Gold, so the boys in black and red could be looking for someone else to pin their hopes on.

Like Valverde and Rodriguez, Sanchez is getting on a bit. And like Valverde and Rodriguez, Sanchez is Spanish, which has been one of the pre-requisites for success in this race for the last four seasons.

He picked up his first win in three years in the Basque Country when the stage had a little punch up to the finish, so why not put a couple of quid on him here?

Simon Yates

Simon Yates on stage four of the 2016 Tour of The Basque Country

Simon Yates on stage four of the 2016 Tour of The Basque Country

Albasini is the man for Orica-GreenEdge this year, but Simon Yates is certainly one of the men for the future in the Australian team.

He’ll be joined by his brother Adam on the start line – who could equally put up a good fight on Wednesday – and will be looking to build on his eighth place finish on the Mur de Huy at the Tour de France.

While there were obviously different priorities during the Tour, Yates finished before the likes of Valverde and Bauke Mollema on stage three so is no mug when it comes to short, sharp finishes.

Dani Moreno

Daniel Moreno attacks during the 2015 Il Lombardia (Watson)

Daniel Moreno attacks during the 2015 Il Lombardia (Watson)

I may have been one race too early on my Dani Moreno prediction, but as a former winner of the Flèche Wallonne, the Spaniard can justifiably be thought of as one of the favourites.

His main job of the day will be to get Valverde to the bottom of the Mur de Huy safely for the third and final ascent, but if Moreno is still feeling it when he gets there he could well accompany his fellow Spaniard all the way to the line.

There would probably be a few angry words if Moreno beat Valverde to the line, but it would be great to see.

  • Dave2020

    The first real ‘face off’ between Vos and Armitstead was on the Cauberg on May 27, in the Holland Hills Classic (“an Amstel Gold Race for women”). CW don’t publish even a race result. They did in 2015.

    The ‘score’ so far is Lizzie 1 – Marianne 0. Video here:-
    http://www.1limburg.nl/armitstead-weer-de-sterkste-boels-hills-classic

    “I was strong, but I didn’t have good sensations or good speed in my legs.” – Armitstead. (but good enough, it would seem!)

  • Dave2020

    ‘Cyclingnews’ hyped the event as a face off between Vos and Armitstead, but we should have guessed neither of them would see it that way. It’s not the right time for that confrontation. Lizzie is happy to play a supporting role – it’s the usual team tactic. They got two spots on the podium and now have the top three on WWT ranking. A satisfactory result.

    Great to see Anna van der Breggen back on form.

  • Jason Kraus

    CW, hire this man. He’d write a heckuva story!

  • Dave2020

    Three preview articles on La Flèche Wallonne by three journalists, but nothing on the WWT. Is that CW’s idea of balanced reporting?

    The women’s race is shaping up to be the climax of the Spring, with Boels Dolmans looking for their sixth straight win and all the other teams determined to end that dominant run. Rabo-Liv have avoided racing against them recently and with Marianne Vos on the start line for her first World Tour event this is the big showdown. Can Armitstead rise to the challenge on the Mur?