After the opening battle on the narrow, winding roads of the Amstel Gold Race which suited a wide range of riders, cycling enthusiasts will turn their attention to an affair which is for the real specialists. On Wednesday, the Ardennes classics will continue with Fleche Wallonne which is the next step in the gradual transition towards longer and harder climbs and in which only a select few riders are able to take home the win on the tortuous finishing climb: the extremely steep Mur de Huy.
Fleche Wallonne may not be the most prestigious of the classics and the Wallonian race is not even listed as one of cycling's 5 monuments. However, no other race - maybe with the notable exception of Paris-Roubaix - has a finish as iconic as the one found in the least famous of the Ardennes classics and it's the end of the race that puts the race up there with the really big ones. Fleche Wallonne is known only for one thing: the steep slopes of the Mur de Huy.
First held in 1936, the race has always been a tough one which has tkane in a number of hard climbs in the Ardennes but without the deep history of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege it would always be no more than a smaller version of the other Belgian classic in the region. That changed in 1983 when the race had its first finish on the 1.3km climb with an average gradient of 9.3%, giving the event its own unique characteristics and raising its profile on the international calendar.
Since then the hill has been the landmark of the event and marked it out as a unique race on the classics calendar. It is the honour of conquering the steep slopes that makes the race highly esteemed among the greatest riders.
Nonetheless, the race is still regarded as the least prestigious of the Ardennes classics. With its position in the week between Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, some riders still regard it mostly as a possibility to keep the legs going between their major targets and with the famous race in Liege taking place just a few days later, some riders are reluctant to dig too deep so close to the most esteemed of the Ardennes classics. As the race is also one for the real specialists with a much narrower list of contenders, many riders even choose to skip the race to stay fresh for the big one on Sunday. On the other hand, the unique nature of the race and its short distance opens the door for riders who may come up short in both Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and for those, it is almost the highlight of the week.
At one point, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege were held on successive days in the so-called Weekend Ardennais but nowadays Fleche Wallonne is a mid-week race. Like all other midweek races, it is also shorter than both Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and at 196km, the race is not made tough by its distance. It lost out in the battle for a spot on the UCI World Cup calendar when the season-long series was created in 1989 and for many years it was clearly at the bottom of the Ardennes hierarchy, with the two longer weekend races both carrying important points for the season-long series of one-day races. With the introduction of the ProTour in 2005, however, it once again got the same official status as Amstel Gold Race and in recent years it seems to have regained some of its esteem compared to the Dutch race, making it more or less as coveted as the first race in the Ardennes series.
With its strong ties to Liege-Bastogne-Liege, it is no wonder that the race has been won by most of the sport's greats and it gained international attention almost from its very start. Already in 1950, Fausto Coppi won the race and even though the home nation went on to dominate it for several years, it has been a really multinational affair since 1976, with only 6 editions being won by Belgians since that edition. Five riders have won the race thrice: Marcel Kint (in the very early days), Eddy Merckx (of course), Moreno Argentin and - among the current professionals - Davide Rebellin who won't be back in the race this year as his CCC Polsat team hasn't been invited, and Alejandro Valverde who aims for a record fourth win on the steep slopes in Huy.
While Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Amstel Gold Race have a wider range of contenders, the very unique finish makes Fleche Wallonne a race for specialists. Only a select few punchy riders have the capabilities to win on such steep slopes and this makes it the most predictable of the three classics. While attrition, tactics and attacking play an important role in the two other Ardennes races, Fleche Wallonne is usually a rather blocked affair where it all comes down to the legs on the Mur de Huy. Nonetheless, it is a real spectacle to see the riders battling the climb and it is this kind of exclusivity that gives it a special significance for some of the peloton's most renowned riders.
Last year the organizers tried to spice things up in the finale by including the steep climb of Cote de Cherave less than 10km from the finish. It created a livelier finale with several attack and it was a much smaller field that reached the bottom of the Mur. However, it failed to change the nature of the race and even though the new course will again be used in 2016, Fleche Wallonne is still all about the uphill sprint on the Mur.
The race marks the next phase in the gradual changing of the classics guards which was initiated on Sunday in the Amstel Gold Race. While the nature of the Dutch race made it suitable to some of the strong men from the cobbled classics and many teams even included a few of the heroes from the Flemish races to help a bit in the positioning battle, the longer climbs in Fleche Wallonne make it more of a climber's race. Hence, only a very select few of the strong men from the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix will be back in Wednesday's race and when we get to Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the amount of climbing will complete the transformation of the peloton. At that point, most of the world's best climbers and stage race riders will be gathered on the start line while the cobbles specialists are all enjoying a well-deserved rest, setting the scene for the next phase of the cycling calendar, the grand tours.
Last year Alejandro Valverde was aiming for history as he targeted a record third win in the event and he again proved that he is a master in handling the steep slopes of the Mur. After several crashes had marred the event and taken out the likes of Philippe Gilbert and Chris Froome and Tim Wellens had gone clear in a late solo move on the new climb of Cote de Cherave, Valverde controlled the pace on the Mur exceptionally well before hitting out with a devastating acceleration near the top. No one was able to match the Spaniard who made it two in a row and equaled the record of three wins. Julian Alaphilippe was a surprise second with a masterful display of youthful talent that would later net him second in Liege too, while Michael Albasini confirmed his status as one of the best rider for the Mur by taking his second podium spot in the race. Valverde will be back in an attempt to become the first rider to win four times as he starts what is a reduced Ardennes campaign and he will again be up against Alahphilippe who will share the Etixx-QuickStep leadership role with Dan Martin, and Albasini who gets his only chance to lead Orica-GreenEDGE in a classic.
The Mur de Huy is not only the final challenge in the Fleche Wallonne, it is also the race's main point of reference throughout the day. As it is the case for the Cauberg in the Amstel Gold Race, the climb has to be tackled multiple times before it plays a crucial role in the final of the race.
In the past, the race has had a lot of different formats but since the introduction of the Mur de Huy as the landmark climb, the race has followed a very similar pattern. The starting city has varied a bit from year to year but the race is made up in the same way. The first part of the race consists of a long, rolling journey from the point of departure to Huy where the Mur will be climbed for the first time. The race then ends with a lap of two different circuits around the finishing city, a big one and a shorter one that both end at the top of the Mur.
The final two circuits change a bit from year to year but are mostly held on the same roads, passing many of the same climbs year after year. In the past, the riders did the short circuit first but to get the final two passages of the Mur closer to each other, the organizers swapped the order in 2011. While this has increased the significance of the penultimate passage of the Mur, it has also led to an easier finale as the final kilometres are no longer as hilly as they used to be.
For 2015, the organizers made the final circuit a bit longer to include an extra climb much closer to the finish and this slightly changed the dynamics of the race. The second passage of the Mur may now come 29km while it was located 23.5km from the finish in 2014 but now the riders will tackle the new Cote de Cherave just 5.5km from the finish. The inclusion of the new climb didn’t prevent a sprint finish but it made the field much smaller in the end.
This year a number of changes have been made. After several years of starting from Charleroi, the point of departure has changed every year since 2013. This year the riders will take off from Marche-en-Farmenne and the opening section has been made a bit harder. The length of the big circuit has been increased from 58.5km to 66km and the number of climbs has been increased from 4 to 5 as the new climb of Cote de Solieres has been added. The new version of the short circuit with the new climb of Cote de Cherave in addition to the Cote d’Ereffe is unchanged. The total number of climbs is still 11 but the distance has been reduced from 205.5km to 196km
Of the Ardennes classics, Fleche Wallonne is the most controlled. While attacks play a big role in both the Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a strong break may stay away, Fleche Wallonne is a much simpler affair. The terrain in the finale is easier to control and with several specialists gunning for the win, it is virtually impossible to prevent it all from coming down to a sprint on the Mur.
The 196km race starts in the city of Marche-en-Farmenne and after a short detour to the south, it heads in a northerly direction on mostly flat roads towards the Ardennes. The real climbing starts when the riders have turned around and have reached the hilly terrain south of Huy. It starts gently with the Cote de Bellaire (1km, 6.3%) and the Cote de Bohisseau (2.4km, 5.5%) after 67km and 74km of racing respectively. Then it’s time for the new climb of Cote de Solieres which comes at the 87km mark. Moments later the riders hit the finishing city of Huy and they now tackle the Mur de Huy for the first time as they pass the finish line after 101km of racing.
This first part is rather easy and mainly serves to accumulate fatigue. The early break rarely plays too much of a role in Fleche Wallonne and so it often takes off rather early. It is allowed to build a gap before the teams of the favourites start to control the situation. The first passage of the Mur de Huy is mostly an opportunity to reacquaint oneself with the climb ahead of the more crucial passages later in the race. The peloton will most likely stay calm on the steep slopes while some of the favourite teams make sure to keep the breakaway in check.
The riders now tackle the large circuit which has a length of 66km. In addition to the Mur, it contains four climbs but like last year there are more flat roads than there has been in the past. The Cote d'Ereffe (2.1km, 5%, 114km mark) is the first challenge and then the riders will tackle the sequence of the Cote de Bellaire (1km, 6.3%, 133km mark), the Cote de Bohisseau (2.4km, 5.5%, 140km mark) and Cote de Solieres (??, ??, 153km mark) again. Like last year they will skip the Cote d’Ahin which has often been an important point in the race. At the end, the riders again go up the Mur to start the 29km finishing circuit.
In this phase a gradual elimination of riders often takes place as the pace picks up in the challenging terrain, often under the impetus of the teams of the favourites. What really characterizes this phase, however, are the many attacks that make for some exciting racing. Even though it rarely pays off and time gaps are kept at a minimum, the racing is certainly not dull as many teams have a keen interest in making the race as hard as possible and trying to avoid the predicted sprint up the Mur.
The attacking gets more intense as the riders approach the penultimate passage of the Mur which in itself is the perfect opportunity to anticipate the favourites. With the race being one for the specialists, most riders - even plenty of renowned climbers - do not have any chance to win in a final uphill sprint on the steep slopes. Their only chance is to attack the punchy riders before the final climb and the passage of the Mur with 29km to go is a good opportunity. Riders with this strategy have been further encouraged by Roman Kreuziger's solo victory at the 2013 Amstel Gold Race and we can expect to see attacks as the riders enter Huy for the penultimate time. On the other hand, the new harder finale means that some riders may be keen to save their attack for a little later in the race.
The small circuit contains two climb, the Cote d'Ereffe (2.1km, 5%) which comes 16.5km from the finish. Even though the terrain is never flat, it certainly favours the peloton over the attackers but the inclusion of the Cote de Cherave (1.3km, 8.1%) just 5.5km from the finish makes a very interesting twist to the finale. The run-in to the climb is fast and narrow and there are even some cobbles at the bottom. It provides the attackers with a much better chance to make a late move before they head down the 1.5km descent and speed along flat roads until they hit the bottom of the Mur which starts with just 1.3km remaining. No rider has won from an escape since Mario Aerts in 2002 but the new finale will increase the opportunity that the 2016 edition will buck the trend.
As the riders approach the bottom of the Mur, the fight for position is usually intense as positioning is crucial. It is important to enter the ascent in the front end of the peloton if you want to have any chance. This means that it's a fierce and very fast battle going into the climb and by the time they hit the slopes, some riders will already have lost all opportunities due to poor positioning. The climb has an average gradient of 9.6% but includes much steeper sections of around 25%. It starts out gently but as they get closer to the top, the riders will get to face the most difficult part of all the climbs in the Ardennes classics and the steep slopes always crown a deserved winner of the smallest of the Ardennes classics.
The hailstorm and sudden drop in temperature had a big effect on the outcome of the Amstel Gold Race and many riders were surprised by the very cold conditions. Hence, they will be very happy to know that the conditions will be much better for the second chapter of the Ardennes triptych. Wednesday is forecasted to be a sunny day with a maximum temperature of 14 degrees.
There will be a moderate wind from an easterly direction. This means that the riders will first have a crosswind and then a crosswind as they head towards the hills. On the circuits where there will mainly be either a head- or a tailwind. In the finale, there will be a cross-tailwind on the new Cote de Cherave and a headwind on the descent. There will be a cross-headwind on the Mur.
Of the Ardennes classics, Fleche Wallonne is by far the most controlled and it has often been very hard to imagine the race not ending in a sprint on the Mur de Huy. The terrain may be difficult but it is not the same kind of constant ups and downs and narrow roads that characterize the Amstel Gold Race and the race is not nearly as hard as Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Furthermore, the shorter distance makes the race easier to handle for the domestiques and so it is much easier to control for the teams of the favourites.
Several riders excel in the very special kind of finish that Fleche Wallonne offers and this means that there are a number of teams that have a genuine interest in making sure that things are back together at the bottom of the Mur de Huy. Most of the teams don’t have a chance in a sprint against the best on the steep slopes but when the most powerful teams combine forces, it is very hard to break their stranglehold on the race. All these factors add up to make it almost impossible to avoid an uphill sprint finish for the explosive climbers and history proves that it is very hard to deny the favourites. A break hasn't stayed away since 2002 and it has been the consensus that it will probably require brutal weather conditions for it to happen again. Wednesday will be a perfect day for a bike race and the weather will do nothing to make the race harder to control.
The addition of the Cote de Cherave in the finale is a very interesting move by the organizers as it will make things harder to control. The climb is not very long but its steepness means that it is the perfect launch pad for attacks. As it summits very close to the finish, there won’t be much time to organize a chase and this should set the scene for a more animated finale.
However, last year’s race and the Tour de France stage to Huy both proved that it is very hard to make a decisive move here. Last year Tim Wellens tried but he failed to stay away. You need a pretty big advantage at the bottom of the Mur and due to the big fight for position, the pace in the peloton will always be very fast. Furthermore, there will again be a headwind in the flat run-in which will make it even harder. However, the Cote de Cherave will definitely whittle down the field significantly like it did last year.
In Fleche Wallonne, the break usually get clear pretty early and then we can expect Movistar, Etixx-QuickStep and maybe Katusha and Sky to control things but when we get to the climbs, we can expect the attacking to start.
The new climbs probably means that the best non-explosive climbers will save their energy for a late push on the Cherave but the earlier climbs may be used to tire out the strongest teams. That will force the teams of the favourites to work hard and they will have to react quickly when the moves are made on the penultimate climb. Strong climbers like Roman Kreuziger, Diego Rosa and Tim Wellens may have a hard time on the Mur and they know that they may have to attack from afar. This could set the scene for a pretty powerful breakaway that will keep the chasers on their toes. As said, however, we don’t believe that such a move will be successful.
This means that the race is very likely to again come down to a sprint on the Mur with a relatively small field. This harder finale suits the climbers better and will make the importance of positioning less. Nonetheless, it will still be very important to be in a good position by the time the riders hit the bottom of the steep ascent.
The other key attribute is patience and experience. Year after year riders are seen putting down the hammer way too early before fading and ending nowhere near the top 10. Success in Fleche Wallonne requires the ability to gauge your effort and save your final acceleration until a point from which you can keep up the pace all the way to the finish line. Only very few riders know how to do that perfectly. This limits the number of potential winners dramatically but makes the final sprint up the Mur no less exciting, with the steep slopes guaranteed to crown a deserved winner of the smallest of the Ardennes classics.
Sky came up short in Amstel Gold Race after they had worked for Michal Kwiatkowski all day. However, they could very well make up for their failure on Wednesday as they go into Fleche Wallonne with one of the biggest specialists for this kind of finish. Sergio Henao is one of the most explosive riders on short, steep climbs and it is no coincidence that he has had so much success in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco which is littered with brutal walls. In fact, he has been the best climber in the race whenever he has done the race since the finished third in 2013 which is reflected in the fact that he has started the final time trial in the leader’s jersey every year.
This year he was probably better than ever. He may have failed to beat Alberto Contador in the final time trial but when it came to the climbs, Henao was the best. He admits that he is stronger than ever which is a scary prospect for his rivals. In 2013, he finished second on the Mur de Huy in just his second participation and now he has the experience to win the race.
Henao has long been destined to win this classic but a number of factors have set him back. He missed the classics in 2014 when Sky put him on inactive status due to strange blood values that were later proved to be due to his status as a high-altitude native and then he returned last year on the back of his horrendous crash at the 2014 Tour de Suisse where he broke his kneecap. His lack of racing meant that he suffered a bit in the long races but he was still competitive and rode to a top 10 in both Fleche and Liege. With another year under his belt, he will be even stronger this year and he proved his good form as he was one of the first at the top on the Cauberg in Amstel. Henao may still come up a bit short in the very long races but Fleche Wallonne is simply tailor-made for him. If he has the legs he had in Pais Vasco, we doubt that anyone will be able to beat him in this kind of finish and so he is our favourite to win the race.
Daniel Martin is another real specialist in these finishes and he has already been second in this race two years ago. Last year he crashed out of the race in what was an ill-marred spring season but this year he wants to make amends and he seems better prepared than ever before. Apparently, his decision to move to Etixx-QuickStep have paid dividends right from the beginning as he has been absolutely flying and much stronger than usual in the first months. Usually a slow starter, he won a stage at the Volta a Valenciana, his first race of the year, and after a bout of illness, he won a stage and rode to third in the star-studded Volta a Catalunya which had the best field of any one-week stage race this year.
Martin was off the pace in Pais Vasco which may prompt people to suggest that his form is not at its best. However, he made it very clear that he was reluctant to go too deep in that race and as he also suffered in the cold and rainy conditions, he used the race as training. For the first time, he decided to skip Amstel Gold Race and he will be rested and ready to go on Sunday. As a real specialist in uphill sprints, it is just a matter of time before he wins this race and 2016 could be the year to open his account.
Alejandro Valverde has dominated this race in the last two years and when it comes to experience in handling and controlling the Mur de Huy, no one is even close to the veteran Spaniard. However, he has had a very different approach to the classics in 2016. Usually, he has been at the top of his game at this time of the year but this season he is aiming for the Giro d’Italia. At first he planned to do the cobbled classics but as he suddenly realized that he had a real shot at winning the Italian grand tour, he changed his plans. Instead, he has trained at altitude and the Italian race is now a much bigger goal than it was at the start of the year when it was almost all about the Olympics.
His new approach means that he has admitted that he will probably only be at 80-90% of his usual condition and this means that we can’t expect him to be his usual dominant self. However, he is one of the most consistent riders in the world and he is probably the only rider that is never bad. He won two stage and the overall at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and even though that race didn’t have the best field, it proves that his form is not bad. He may not have the legs he had 12 months ago but his experience and great skills in this kind of finish may allow him to make it three in a row.
It was always obvious that Julian Alaphilippe was a great talent for these races but nobody had expected him to do so well in just his second year at the pro level as he did last year. When Michal Kwiatkowski faded on the Mur, the Frenchman grabbed his chance and rode to a very surprising second place. A few days later he achieved the same result in Liege and as he had already been 7th in Amstel, he has proved that he can win all of the Ardennes races.
This year he went into the Ardennes triptych with lots of uncertainty due to his bout of mononucleosis last autumn. He has had a very slow start to the year and nobody knew whether he would get fit in time for the classics.
However, je seems to be just as strong as he was last year. He was really impressive at Brabantse Pijl where he first went on the attack with Tim Wellens and then still had enough left to join the race-winning move. He sacrificed himself completely for Vakoc, single-handedly keeping the peloton at bay, and then still managed to finish the race in the top 10. This shows that he is again brutally strong and he may even be stronger than last year. He was up there in Amstel Gold Race and even though he clearly suffered on the Cauberg, he still sprinted to seventh. With his lack of racing, the shorter distance should suit him better and he will be ready to star if Martin fails.
In the past, Joaquim Rodriguez was almost unbeatable in this kind of finishes and if it hadn’t been for an unbeatable Philippe Gilbert in 2011, he would probably already have won the race twice. In 2013 and 2014, he was not at 100% after he had crashed in Amstel Gold Race and last year was the first time since his 2012 victory that he went into the race without any health issues.
However, Rodriguez was unable to do better than fifth and it is evident that he is no longer the dominant figure he once was. His second place in the Vuelta proves that he is still one of the best riders in the world but he doesn’t have the same punch that he once had.
Furthermore, he has had a complicated build-up to the race. He fell ill in Algarve and has been chasing his form all year. However, he rode to a fine fifth in Pais Vasco and left the race with a claim that he is close to 100%. Unfortunately, he went down in Amstel Gold Race and even though he didn’t sustain any major injuries, he was in too much pain to make it to the finish. We doubt that Rodriguez will be strong enough to win Fleche Wallonne again but if he is not too hampered by his crash, he should be up there.
Henao is not the only Sky card. Wout Poels is finally showing the full extent of his potential after his bad crash at the 2012 Tour. Last year he rode amazingly in support of Froome at the Dauphiné and the Tour where he was one of the very best on the climbs and he went on to win the queen stage at the Tour of Britain. If he hadn’t crashed in the final corner, he would even have beaten an unstoppable Esteban Chaves at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
Poels has never had much success in the one-day races but one classic suits him extremely well. He is very strong on the steepest gradients and has a solid punch. Henao is definitely the Sky leader but Poels has done nothing to hide that he wants to earn leadership of the Dutch team for the Olympics by doing well here. This finale is great for him and the shorter distance should also suit him, making him a very strong candidate.
Michael Albasini spends most of the Ardennes classics working for Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans but he gets one shot at glory. The Swiss has become a bit of a specialist in this race and has been both second and third here, most recently in 2015. This year he seems to be riding at a very high level as he played a key role in the finale of the Amstel Gold Race and we can expect him to again be up there. He is probably not strong enough to win the race but his experience will bring him very far.
Philippe Gilbert is clearly not at 100% and we don’t expect him to do well in the Ardennes classic that suits him least. That opens the door for Samuel Sanchez to take his chance. He has been on the podium in the past but honestly we thought that his time was over. However, he proved us wrong with his excellent performance in Pais Vasco where he won a stage and was one of the best on the climbs, most notably in stage 2 whose finale is similar to the Mur de Huy. He was one of the best on the Cauberg so the form is still excellent and we expect him to confirm that he is back at his best level.
Daniel Moreno is a former winner of this race but he has rarely had much of a chance to ride for himself. He has mostly been working for Rodriguez and this year he will have to ride in support of Valverde. However, the captain’s form is a bit more uncertain and if Valverde is not feeling good, Moreno will take his chance. He has been far from his best in 2016 but he looked very strong in the Amstel Gold Race which proves that he has probably timed his form excellently. Even though he is very inconsistent, his excellent second place in last year’s Il Lombardia proves how strong he is when is at 100%.
Enrico Gasparotto won the Amstel Gold Race in commanding fashion, proving the good form he has shown since the Volta a Catalunya. He is clearly at his best level since 2012 when he won Amstel and finished third in Liege. However, Fleche Wallonne has never really suited him and even in 2012, he could do no better than 11th. The final climb is too steep for him but the in-form Italian may be able to improve on his past performances in 2016.
Tony Gallopin always claimed that the Mur de Huy was too steep for him and so he skipped the race in 2015. However, he surprised himself by riding to an impressive 5th place in the Tour stage here in 2015 and this made him realize that Fleche Wallonne could be a goal too. We were disappointed by his performance in Brabantse Pijl but he bounced back with a great performance in Amstel Gold Race where he was one of the very first to crest the summit of the Cauberg. With a bit more experience on the climb, he should do well.
When he was involved in the training crashed, it seemed that Warren Barguil would never get into peak condition for the Ardennes. However, he has defied most expectations and after a decent showing in Pais Vasco, he looked very strong on the Cauberg. Barguil is a hugely talented climber and he is also very punchy in this kind of finish. It is just a matter of time before he finishes in the top 5 in this race and his form seems to be so good that it could happen already in 2016.
Tim Wellens has always claimed that he was in great form for the Ardennes and his strong attacks in Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold Race proved him right. Impressively, he managed to stay with the best on the Cauberg even though he was caught in the steepest section and he even had enough left in the tank to sprint to 10th. The Mur de Huy is a bit too steep for him but his form is excellent so he could deliver a surprise. The main question is whether he will focus on the sprint or launch a late attack.
Usually, Rui Costa has no chance in this race as the Mur is way too steep for him. However, he surprised himself massively in Pais Vasco where he was up there with the best on the steep walls. In fact, he seems to be better than ever and he is on track for a great Liege-Bastogne-Liege. This climb is still too steep for him to win but he will definitely do better than usual.
A few days ago, we had Adam Yates as one of the big favourites for a race that suits him down to the ground. Last year he dropped everybody on the steep climb in the finale of the Clasica San Sebastian and he is already one of the best riders in the world for hilly one-day races. He wasn’t good in Pais Vasco but his amazing time trial on the final day proved that his form was getting better. However, he rode very poorly in the Amstel Gold Race and Orica-GreenEDGE no longer mentions him as a possible contender. Hence, he is only an outside bet.
Finally, we will point to Maurits Lammertink as a joker. The Roompot captain was fourth at the top of the Cauberg and he was the best of the group of favourites on the final climb at Brabantse Pijl. Lammertink is better than ever before and so he may fancy his chances here. The climb is probably too steep for him and we doubt that he will ever be really competitive here. However, we are very curious to see what he can do with his current form.
UPDATE: Sergio Henao has been provisionally suspended by Sky and won't take the start
***** Sergio Henao
**** Daniel Martin, Alejandro Valverde
*** Julian Alaphilippe, Joaquim Rodriguez, Wout Poels, Michael Albasini
** Samuel Sanchez, Daniel Moreno, Enrico Gasparotto, Tony Gallopin, Warren Barguil, Tim Wellens, Rui Costa, Adam Yates, Michael Woods
* Maurits Lammertink, Jelle Vanendert, Diego Ulissi, Lawson Craddock, Roman Kreuziger, Robert Gesink, Petr Vakoc, Philippe Gilbert, Dylan Teuns, Loic Vliegen, Wilco Kelderman, Floris De Tier
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27 years | today
36 years | today
30 years | today
|Seok Jin JOO|
28 years | today