The Wall of Huy is 1.3 kilometres long and the average gradient is 9.6%. Typically, we’ll see a lot of movement on prior climbs. Last year, Bob Jungels went solo on Côte de Cherave and he tackled the last climb 22 seconds ahead of the main group. But when he hit the double digits his brave attack came to an abrupt end. That’s basically how the race unfolded in recent years. We have seen Tim Wellens in a Jungels-role, also – attack, hit the Wall, loss of energy, hello peloton, Valverde-win.
Let’s hope for a different scenario in 2018. For instance, a Wellens/Benoot combination to shake up the finale. The team mates are both in fine form. Benoot won the Strade Bianche in stellar style, while Wellens pocketed the Ruta del Sol after winning the decisive stage on a Wall of Huy like-arrival. Furthermore, last week Tim Wellens kicked off his hilly campaign by winning Brabantse Pijl solo.
That said, Valverde himself is in fine form, too. He pocketed the GC’s at the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana, Abu Dhabi Tour and Volta a Catalunya. Furthermore, he is en expert at winning La Flèche Wallonne. The Spaniard is record holder with five victories (2006, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017). The only other (still active) riders who won the race are Daniel Moreno (2013), Philippe Gilbert (2011), and Davide Rebellin (2004, 2007, 2009).
Michal Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe have good credentials in the current season as well. The Pole won the Volta oa Algarve and the Tirreno-Adriatico, while the Frenchman won the first two stages in the Tour of the Basque Country.
And what about Michael Valgren? The 26-year old Dane is a new name in the hat after his wins in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold Race. So victories on cobbles as well as on hilly terrain – what’s next?
Dan Martin is always in the mix when the race boils down to a sprint at the crest of the Wall, but he seems to lack to final kick. Maybe Julian Alaphilippe could threaten Valverde. He contended the race twice and finished in second place on both occasions.
The last time that La Flèche Wallonne didn’t come down to the last climb was as far back as 2003. Igor Astarloa brought the early break home and outsprinted Aitor Osa on the line.
Favourites 2018 La Flèche Wallonne
***** Alejandro Valverde, Julian Alaphilippe, Daniel Martin
**** Tim Wellens, Tiesj Benoot, Michal Kwiatkowski
*** Michael Woods, Michael Albasini, Michael Valgren
** Dylan Teuns, Sergio Henao, Alexis Vuillermoz, Philippe Gilbert
* Ion Izagirre, Bob Jungels, Warren Barguil, Ilnur Zakarin