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19.04.2016 @ 20:23 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alejandro Valverde will once again be the man to beat on the 80th edition of the FlècheWallonne. The Spaniard will try to conquer a fourth title at the top of the Mur de Huy but will have to cope with fierce opposition including the likes of Julian Alaphilippe, second last year and back in form after his 6th spot at the Amstel Gold Race, as well as MichaelAlbasini, twice on the podium these last four years. The three men will eagerly be waiting for the final explanation going up the Mur de Huy, unless the penultimate Côte de Cheravechanges the outcome. 



Years go by and seem to have no effect on Alejandro Valverde. The soon to be 36-year-old (nextmonday) remains just as hungry and eager to capture a fourth Fleche Wallonne title after his triumphs in 2006, 2014 and 2015. The Spaniard who has decided to line up on the next Girod’Italia was absent of the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday enjoying more race days at the Vuelta aCastilla y Leon… and victories (two stages wins + GC). Valverde looks to be on pole position for yet more glory as explains his Movistar DS, José-Luis Arrieta: “Whatever the race, Valverde is always in shape. Even when he shows up on day one of a winter training camp, he’s at his best. And as usual, he’s again super motivated by this week, even though his race calendar has changed this year. Anyhow, our team, including Betancur who also won in Castilla y Leon and Visconti, 8th of the Amstel Gold Race, will have the responsibility to make the race hard. And the final part of the course with the Côte de Cherave is better to scatter the peloton. It’ll be less tense.”



The Flèche Wallonne is almost systematically decided by a spectacular climbing contest up the Mur de Huy. Unless, a breakaway rider manages to make the difference after taking off early, like Rik Verbrugghe in 2001, the favourites should make it bunched at the bottom of the final climb. However, the final part of the course including last year’s introduction of the Côte de Cherave, 5.5kms away from the finish, has slightly changed the race’s conclusion. As explained by Jean-Michel Monin, designer of the course, ‘’this difficulty isn’t necessarily decisive, but it has an influence on the race because the pack is a lot slimmer for the final climb, with around fifty riders less. Before, the team mates would be dropped while going through the city of Huy, whereas now they stop their efforts once in Cherave. The battle to be well placed starts a lot earlier and that makes the race more exciting’’. In order to add action to the event, the organisers have also added, in the first big loop, an extra climb, the Côte de Solières that will make the race harder between the Côte de Bohisseau and the Mur de Huy.



Among the men fighting to stop Valverde capturing a fourth crown will be Michael Albasini. At 35 years of age, the Swiss has become a specialist of the Fleche Wallonne (6 times in the Top 10 including 2nd in 2012 and 3rd last year). Such performances have made him a natural leader in the Orica Greenedge  squad, as explains his DS, Lorenzo Lapage: “In our team, it’ll be all forAbasini. Of course we also have Michael Matthews but the Fleche Wallonne is Albasini’s race and he deserves to have all our support. All year around he works for the others. He was in great shape at the Amstel Gold Race and he’s already finished twice on the podium here so he deserves to be the only leader. Like all the others and despite the Côte de Cherave, Michael (Albasini) will wait until the Mur de Huy to make the difference’’. 



The Spaniard is considered as one of the masters of the Mur de Huy, the German missed out on a great opportunity a few years ago but is amongst the passionates of the Ardennes Classics, especially the Fleche Wallonne. Tomorrow morning, Joaquim Rodriguez and Fabian Wegmannwill be on the start line for the 13th time. Comparing both riders stops there. Indeed Wegmann’sbest result was a 10th position in 2008 while ‘Purito’ finished in the Top 5 on four occasions, winning the 2012 edition of the race. He also captured a memorable Tour de France stage win at the top of the Mur de Huy last year for his last visit. Speaking to, the Stölting Service Group rider talked about his love for the Fleche and his ambitions this year: “I am always very motivated for the Flèche. I finished in the Top 15 four times and was close to success in 2008, leading the race with 300m to go. This year, I feel great. I was feeling good at the FlècheBrabançonne but had a problem with 15kms to go which prevented me from capturing a good result.”



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