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.
Kim 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.
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
Wednesday, April 22
Official website: Fleche Wallonne 2009
Official start list: 2009 rider list
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
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.
Tom Simpson 1965
Brian Robinson 1955
Paul Watson 1987
Tom Simpson 1960
Robert Millar 1990
Tom Simpson 1963
Alan Ramsbottom 1963
Alan Ramsbottom 1965
Robert Millar 1987
Michael Wright 1965
John Kennedy 1960
Barry Hoban 1969
Barry Hoban 1968