The Ardennes Classics week continues with the first race which actually visits the region. Flèche Wallonne is a race many fans do not like due to the very same-y race pattern and outcome we get every year but it has grown on me. You just have to view it as you would with a sprint stage; it is all in the positioning and energy conserving before the final dash up the Huy. Last season saw Valverde win, again, making it 4-in-a-row for the Movistar man.
Behind, Dan Martin finish second behind Valverde, again, with Dylan Teuns taking home a surprising third place: a sign of things to come from him in 2017.
Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.
We do have a bit of a parcours change compared to the past few seasons but that is mostly in the early part of the day, with the riders facing some of the climbs that will feature at the pointy end of the race on Sunday.
3200m of climbing in 200km of racing makes it a fairly tough day in the saddle but the majority of the climbs are under 2km in length so they suit the puncheurs and climbers alike.
On paper it look as if the parcours would suit a long-range attack on the Côte d’Ereffe (2.1km at 5%) which crests at roughly 17kms to go. We sometimes see some attacks go here but one hasn’t been successful in a long time!
The Côre de Cherave (1.4km at 7.6%) is the last place for someone to attack if they want to avoid the sprint up the Huy. Cresting with only 6kms to go, a strong rider or group of riders could hold off the chasing bunch if there is a stall behind.
It is then over to the Mur de Huy to decide the race itself.
The climb gradually gets steeper the longer it goes, with the steepest ramps coming around a semi-hairpin turn. More often than not though, it is a very tactical ascent with no one really wanting to take the pace up fully until 150m to go. Last year Gaudu spiced things up by attacking at 200m out but he “blew up” near the end and finished 9th in the end. Will anyone go for broke this year by attacking at the bottom? I would love to see that.
How will the race pan out?
I hope we see some teams take it up early and try to isolate Valverde by forcing his team to seriously chase before the final run up the Huy. The slightly trickier opening half of the day might see some riders more tired than they are used to once they come in to the final 30kms and it could increase the chances of an attacking sticking. However, it needs to be a serious move for that to happen though with a few strong riders from big teams represented.
I do think there is an increased chance of an earlier move sticking this year because of the trickier opening part of the stage but ultimately I think it will once again come down to the peloton climbing the Huy together.
However, I hope someone goes full gas from the bottom to throw the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. Maybe I’m just being wishful with my thinking though!
Best of the rest?
Alaphilippe looked sprightly in the opening few stages of Itzulia before he made the selection on Sunday in Amstel. He is the only rider here who I genuinely think has a chance of beating Valverde by going toe-to-toe with the Spaniard, but even then, it will be tough for him to do just that.
Teuns surprised everyone last year at this race with an impressive third. He’s started the season well with some good GC results in Paris Nice and Itzulia, which included a solid 4th place in the latter race’s tough Arrate finish. However, he missed the move in Amstel which might indicate that his form isn’t as good as it should be.
Martin has had a pretty horrid year so far with a 4th place on the second stage of the Volta ao Algarve the only result to even somewhat shout home about. He was a DNF in Amstel and I can’t see him getting on the podium this year.
Vanendert, Izagirre, Gaudu, Bardet and Henao might all be involved at the head of the race too.
However, I am interested in the chances of four outsiders tomorrow.
The “Value” picks
Yep, I’m doing it again. Those of you who read last year’s preview will potentially remember my “if Albasini is a favourite; why isn’t Matthews?” argument and I’m rolling that bad boy out again. The Australian has had an early season that has been hampered by injury but he’s been slowly refinding his form as of late and he might just have timed his peak correctly. In Amstel he looked comfortable following the main group but a very untimely puncture before the Cauberg ruined his chances of a good result. We saw in the Tour last year that Matthews can climb very well on the short, sharp ascents so why can’t he do the same here? A 3 minute power effort should suit him well.
The same argument can be made for McCarthy who also was robbed of a chance to perform well in Amstel after being involved in a crash just before the race kicked off with 40km left. He tried to get back in but his day was done and he ended a DNF. In an interview with CyclingTips he says that he has been training for this type of effort and is aiming for a top 5. I believe he can deliver, but he just needs to be in a good position at the bottom of the climb, like everyone else. An improvement from his 19th last year should be easily achievable. Can he go a lot better?
Bardet has quietly gone about his business this year in stage races, instead, he has performed much better in one-day races. Aside from Dwars door Vlaanderen, the AG2R rider has finished 8/1/8/2/2 in those events so far this year and a good result tomorrow is within his sights again. He comes into this race almost under the radar but he shouldn’t be discredited and I think he’ll improve on his 13th last year. Who remembers his win on the steep finish of the Peyragudes in France last year?
One of the riders who I would love to see go full gas from the bottom of the Mur, I hope to see QuickStep deploy him in a role like that to cause panic within the Movistar camp. His stage win on the brutally steep climb to Arrate highlights just how well he can go on the steep slopes and I think he has a good chance of going well again tomorrow. Could we see QuickStep repeat the 2-3 they had from a few years ago?
Boring, but Valverde wins. I just can’t see any team being bold enough to try something serious from far out which means that we’ll see a sprint up the Mur and the result from there is inevitable.
Please prove me wrong other teams: I would like them to at least try.
I do think we could see a few surprises on the podium though…
A day for picking some outside value and cheering them on as they finish 7-12th.
I already tweeted the two outside picks of Mas and Matthews before Amstel so I am sticking with the odds that were available then (and a while after).
0.25pt EW Mas @ 200/1 (still available at that price with William Hill, would take 150/1 elsewhere)
0.25pt EW Matthews @ 300/1 (he’s shortened a lot but is still 250/1 with Betfair, I’d take 150/1)
Newer bets are;
0.25pt EW McCarthy @ 325/1 with Betfair (would take 250/1 elsewhere)
1pt EW Bardet @ 125/1 with Betfair (would take 80/1)
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone stop Valverde? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.