Part two of this week’s triptych of Ardennes classics sees La Flèche Wallonne and its dramatic finale of the Mur De Huy return once again to bridge the gap between Amstel Gold and Liége-Bastogne-Liége. Despite just falling short of a typically classics sized 200km (196km to be precise), the repeated ascents of this region’s short, sharp hills is a draining affair as teams do their utmost to tee up a hectic melee upon the Mur de Huy’s gruelling slopes; maxing out at 25% towards the top.
Alejandro Valverde will be many pundits favourite for another victory at La Flèche Wallonne, potentially making it three consecutive titles in addition to his first win in 2006. The Movistar leader has had an impressive start to the season, though his preparation has altered this year as a result of the dawning realisation that he may in fact have a shot at winning the Giro d’Italia next month. Regardless of his unusual preparation on this occasion, Valverde is a mastermind at anticipating his rivals ahead of the finish and such experience often compensates for a few lacking percentages of fitness.
Dan Martin has always performed well at this race, despite normally focusing upon the preceding Amstel Gold and following Liége-Bastogne-Liége instead; 2016 appears to be the first time he has targeted this race on purpose. His performance at Pais Vasco was far from encouraging, but it seems he rode this simply to keep the legs turning and perhaps it is best to avoid reading too much into his showing. Martin is a true specialist upon these steep gradients, so combining this with a real focus upon performing well here, the Irishman should emerge as a contender.
Much like Martin, Sergio Henao has everything needed to win this race and has already come close to achieving this goal in 2013. In 2016 Henao’s condition has been very impressive, only losing the Pais Vasco title in the final day’s time trial to Alberto Contador off the back of an extremely strong week of racing. He fits the mould of a Flèche Wallonne champion convincingly and will be one of the frontrunners during the last charge to the line.
Julian Alaphilippe is returning well from illness and seems destined to enjoy a successful career at the Ardennes, though this year’s races may come too soon for a victory and a podium would be equally impressive given recent sickness. It always seems difficult gauging the chances of Tom Jelte-Slagter ahead of big one day races such as these, but it is worth keeping him in mind on a course which has already seen him finish in the top ten twice.
1st Dan Martin 2nd Sergio Henao 3rd Alejandro Valverde