Flèche Wallonne 2019 Preview

By David Hunter

Ans – Mur de Huy 194km

The Ardennes continue.

A route we know well; the organisers keep trying on splitting things before the Mur de Huy, but it never does. Will this year be the year we finally see a different kind of race?

The Climbs

Côte de Cherave is 1.4km at 7.9%. It’s a tough climb, but just not long enough for big gaps.

 The race ends with the iconic Mur de Huy, 1.2km at 10.3%. The racing can be predictable, but the finish never disappoints. Positioning is crucial at the start of the climb, then it’s all about timing your attack to perfection.

Tactics – The Astana Section

As I predicted, they dominated Amstel Gold. Of all the teams in this race, they’re the ones with the potential to make this a very difficult race. We’ve seen teams in the past try to stop this just being about the Mur de Huy, and failing. Can Astana do something no one else has been able to do?

You can be sure that they’ll try, especially as Fuglsang and Lutsenko don’t have a big chance of winning on the Mur against the likes of Alaphilippe. If some of the other teams decide to also get involved, we could end up with a proper race on our hands. Movistar have been the team to control in previous years, but they won’t do it this year, Valverde doesn’t have the form. The pressure will be on QuickStep to hold the race together, but their team lacks a little bit of depth. If there was ever a year for a different race, this is it.

Weather

Sunny in the morning, but clouding over in the afternoon. The wind is coming from the south and is relatively strong, but I doubt we’ll see splits, although it will add a few nerves in the bunch.

Contenders

Julian Alaphilippe – unlucky to lose in Amstel Gold, but is his form where we expect it to be? To me it seemed that he was very close to his limit, something that surprised me. I think that the Frenchman is missing a little racing in his legs, due to his crash in the Basque Country. Last year he broke Valverde’s grip on this climb, and he starts as the overwhelming favourite to win again. With the pressure on QuickStep, we shall see how they decide to ride the race. If the front group arrive at the bottom of the Mur with Alaphilippe in place, he’ll be hard to beat.

Alejandro Valverde – the form just isn’t there.

Adam Yates – if anyone can beat Alaphilippe on the Mur, it is the boy from Bury. Yates has enjoyed a brilliant start to 2019, excelling in Tirreno, Catalunya and Itzulia. His form on steep climbs is very good, but he does lack a little bit of the kick required to beat the Frenchman. The next two races marks the end of a long block of racing, I hope he doesn’t start to feel fatigue, as he has a real option in the Ardennes races.

Jakob Fuglsang – I don’t blame him for losing Amstel, I think he had to force Alaphilippe into working. Such a shame for the Dane that he was actually able to beat the Frenchman in the sprint, only to see Van Der Poel and Clarke sail past him. This race is much more difficult for him to win, he needs to escape the front group before the final climb to stand a chance. This won’t be easy to do.

Max Schachmann – has the kick required to challenge for the win, especially considering his current form. The German has enjoyed a great start to 2019 and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him taking the win. His approach to the finale will be interesting, as his natural instinct is to attack. Will he roll the dice on Côte de Cherave?

Michal Kwiatkowski – has performed well here in the past and Sunday showed that he has good legs. Similar to Alaphilippe, the crash in the Basque Country has left him lacking some racing, but doing 260km will have helped. I don’t think he can win on the Mur, but he can challenge for the podium.

Dan Martin – the Irishman has finished on the podium on three separate occasions, but he’s yet to win. He was unable to beat Valverde, but now that the great man has faltered, I wonder if he approaches the race with more confidence. One issue he always seems to have is positioning on the Mur, he really needs to start at the head of the group. If UAE can put him in the right position, he’ll have a big say in the outcome of the race.

Enric Mas – provides QuickStep with a great second option. The Spaniard also crashed in the Basque Country, but he was able to finish the race and get some crucial racing into his legs. He’s normally strong on steep climbs, something that you need to be to cope in this race. Obviously, if he has to chase moves, he won’t have a chance of going for personal glory.

Prediction Time

Something about Amstel Gold is telling me Alaphilippe’s not quite 100%. This opens the door to his rivals, and I think we’ll see a new name on the trophy. I expect the race to come back together for the Mur de Huy and Adam Yates will be the winner, his current form is too good to ignore.

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David Hunter

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