Five things to watch out for at La Fleche Wallonne 2022

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Alaphilippe the man to beat in a race of which he is the master

Julien Alaphilippe

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Look, there’s no denying the spectacle of the Mur de Huy, and we’re as enthralled by the tense climactic sprint as any cycling fan.

But it’s also true that the iconic climb and its famous drops make the Flèche Wallonne the most predictable race on the calendar. Finishing a race at the top of such a difficult climb means that any attack before it is almost certainly doomed, as the best tactic is almost always to retain as much energy as possible to release it in the final sprint. .

The race therefore follows a formula pattern, always ending in a large group sprint, and therefore usually produces the same winner – i.e. the rider who has the fastest uphill sprint at that time – the. Between 2014 and 2017 that rider was Alejandro Valverde, who won a record four at the trot, and since 2018 the baton has passed to Julian Alaphilippe, who remains undefeated at that time (Marc Hirschi’s victory in 2020 came when the French skipped the race).

So is Alaphilippe once again a safe bet? His uphill punch certainly didn’t diminish, and the Mur de Huy is his climb – the only two times he didn’t win here he finished close instead. His form also seems to be there with a stage victory and two second places in the Tour of the Basque Country, and he has been in good shape all spring for the Ardennes Classics.

But there is a question mark hanging over him after last week’s Brabantse Pijl incident when he was in an accident caused by his own team car. Has he recovered or is he still suffering from it? If there’s one reason to doubt the likelihood of Alaphilippe winning a fourth career Flèche-Wallonne title, it’s this one.

Who will inherit Van der Breggen’s crown?

Demi Vollering at Brabantse Pijl 2022

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Finally, at length, after seven consecutive years of the same winner, the Flèche Wallonne will crown a winner who is not Anna van der Breggen.

The Dutchwoman’s retirement has left a void to be filled by another rider, and there are a host of candidates vying for victory.

And as Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), who won five of eight editions before Van der Breggen’s run started, is out as she continues to recover from the horribly timed Covid infection that ruled her out of Paris-Roubaix, Wednesday will see a first winner of the Flèche Wallonne.

SD Worx will be reluctant to miss a race that Van der Breggen has got them so used to winning, and Demi Vollering looks to be their best option. Vollering finished third in 2020 while riding for Parkhotel Valkenburg, and played a key role in preparing Van der Breggen for victory last year, and therefore appears to be the team’s best candidate, with from the likes of Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak and Ashleigh Moolman as support riders.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) is on a real high after winning Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, and if she can recover from the huge effort of that race-winning solo race then she will also be a top contender to add which would be yet another race on his list.

Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ), Juliette Labous (DSM) and Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco) were all part of the selection last year and finished fifth, sixth and ninth respectively, while Labous’ teammate Liane Lippert , is in great shape. having been on the podium at both Amstel Gold and Brabatnse Pijl.

And then of course there is Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), who was one of the main victims of Van der Breggen’s supremacy, finishing second twice and fourth on three other occasions, but never winning the race. . Now that her arch-rival has moved on, it may be her chance to finally add Flèche Wallonne to her roster.

Both Pogačar and Pidcock hope to overthrow Alaphilippe

Tadej Pogacar

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It’s gotten to the point where Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is considered a favorite for virtually every race he enters.

Since his resounding victory on the dirt roads of the Strade Bianche in March, the 23-year-old has mixed punchers and sprinters to finish fifth in Milan-San Remo, then would have won outright on the cobbles at the Tour de La Flanders had it not been for the compatible strength and cunning of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).

Compared to these races, Flèche Wallonne is the one that suits Pogačar best, and his presence is sure to scare any specialists hoping to win. But as invincible as he may seem at times, it’s worth noting that his best result here so far was an insignificant ninth last year, and the short punch that’s needed to climb the Mur de Huy n’ is not quite its specialty compared to longer uphill efforts.

Unfortunately, his Slovenian compatriot Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) will be absent this one with the knee injury which hampered him during the recent Itzulia Basque Country. Roglič was second last year and the only driver to put winner Alaphilippe under real pressure.

A star who will be present is Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers). The 22-year-old managed to finish sixth on his debut last year despite a crash, is in great form after helping his teammates win Amstel Gold and Brabantse Pijl, and is perfectly suited for that kind of finishing effort . Considering how the Ineos Grenadiers have fared in recent weeks, compared to Alaphilippe’s rotten Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl run is currently one, this could well be Pidcock’s day.

Formula race gives hope to frustrated Ludwig and Niewiadoma

Kasia Niewiadoma 2022

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Two of the longest ongoing sagas in cycling are the many close but unsuccessful attempts by Cecile Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) to win a race.

When Ludwig finally won a first-ever WorldTour race at the Vuelta a Burgos last year, it was just what she needed to become a more prolific winner. But that didn’t prove to be a breakthrough moment, and she went winless for the next 11 months, despite a slew of high finishes.

Niewiadoma was certainly used to winning classics, with both the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Amstel Gold Race to his credit, but has since lost the talent to do so in recent years. If she doesn’t win in early July, her winless streak will have lasted three years – an astounding statistic for such a talented and consistent rider in the biggest races.

La Flèche Wallonne could offer both riders their best chance yet to claim that elusive victory.

While the two have often been taken apart by the tactical maneuvers of other stronger teams, the Fleche Wallonne can be a much simpler race.

Both have good records here and would have won here already if not for Van der Breggen, who beat second-place Ludwig in 2020 and second-place Niewiadoma last year.

And this year they will also have very convenient lineups to support them on Wednesday. Alongside Ludwig, Amstel Gold winner Marta Cavalli and in-form Brodie Chapman will be supported, while Niewiadoma has Soraya Paladin and Tour of Flanders podium runner-up Elise Chabbey working for her.

There’s usually more activity before the Wall of Huy for women than for men, so there’s a chance they’ll miss a smart tactical move like SD Worx or Trek-Segafredo. But in the case of a simple head-to-head sprint on the Mur de Huy, the two will try their luck.

Ardennes specialists reach their peak

Benoit Cosnefroy Amstel Gold Race

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The switch between Amstel Gold and Paris-Roubaix has made this an unusual spring, and Flèche Wallonne will not have its usual position of being the mid-week race between these two races. But the specialists who always show up in time for the Ardennes Classics nevertheless seem to be off to a good start this year.

Of these drivers, Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën) is the fit man, only to miss out on Amstel Gold and Brabantse Pijl, in which he placed second. He also finished second in the 2020 edition and will need to find a way to beat Alaphilippe if he is to avoid another runners-up spot on Wednesday.

The man who beat Cosnefroy that day, Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), certainly has the talent, but his form is still uncertain. While he certainly looked decent at Amstel Gold recently, where he finished ninth, he still isn’t replicating his 2020 form and will have to if he has any plans to win – which he can’t. , given that Pogačar is also in his team, and will surely be the leader.

Frenchman Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) is a familiar presence at the Ardennes Classics and looks sharp after his victory at the GP Miguel Indurain. He’s only finished outside the top 10 once in his last five attempts at Fleche Wallonne, but never higher than fourth – is that his limit here?

Few riders are better suited to the Mur de Huy than Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech), who finished third here in 2020 and fourth in 2021, but the Canadian has struggled for form all season.

And do not cancel a final victory for the master of this race, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). The 41-year-old still has it in him to compete with the best and finished second to Strade Bianche in what was his only WorldTour Classics appearance this year, and knows that climb better than anyone.

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