Alejandro Valverde has become the near-undisputed king of the Ardennes in recent years, with only then rainbow jersey Michal Kwiatkowski’s victory at Amstel Gold preventing the Spaniard from replicating Philippe Gilbert’s impressive feat in 2011 of winning all three Ardennes Classics.
The Ardennes Classics begin with the Amstel Gold Race on April 17, followed by La Flèche Wallonne three days later, before the fourth Monument of the year, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, on April 24.
The Amstel Gold Race will feature an ominous 34 climbs, including four ascents of the Cauberg which, at a maximum 12.8% gradient after more than 250km in the legs, will feel like a hors-category mountain to most of the peloton.
Riders will have to recover quickly to be fresh in time for La Flèche Wallonne – especially considering Alejandro Valverde is bidding to record his third consecutive victory at the race.
Slightly shorter at 196km, but no less punishing, the route takes the race over the Mur de Huy twice before the final ascent of the famous climb (which reaches an astonishing 26% in places) will see the top riders battle it out for victory.
Capping off a stellar week of bike racing is Liège–Bastogne–Liège, the oldest of cycling’s great Monuments, another race which will see Valverde defend his title.
La Doyenne will this year race over 253km of undulating terrain, gradually softening up the peloton ahead of the crucial Côte de La Redoute (which reaches 20% in places), before tackling the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, Côte de Saint Nicolas and Côte de la Rue Naniot in the last 40km.