La Flèche Wallonne is the filler in the Ardennes week sandwich, sitting midweek between the Amstel Gold Race and La Doyenne (the oldest) Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It may take place on an unassuming Wednesday afternoon (April 19 in 2023, to be precise), but Flèche Wallonne still has earned itself legendary status as a race which has been home to some of the most famous battles on the slopes of the iconic Mur de Huy climb.
One rider who is synonymous with the punchy terrain of Wallonia is the now-retired Movistar rider, Alejandro Valverde. The Spanish veteran won Flèche Wallonne five times during his career, only denied a sixth victory in his final season last year when Dylan Teuns (then of Bahrain-Victorious) came out on top after a drag race to the finish line on the relentless gradients of the Mur de Huy. Julian Alaphilippe of Soudal-Quick-Step is another rider who has won Flèche Wallonne multiple times winning on three occasions, with the short climbs seemingly designed for a rider of his physique and riding style. However, with Valverde now retired and Alaphilippe sidelined recovering from crashes during the Tour of Flanders, the stage is wide open for a number of protagonists to fight for victory on Wednesday.
After his dominating performance at the Amstel Gold Race last weekend, the rider on everyone’s minds is UAE Team Emirates super-talent Tadej Pogačar. Will anyone be able to follow him if he launches attacks again on the steep climbs? Is there a chance that Tom Pidcock could spoil Pogačar’s fun or could last year’s victor Teuns use his experience to get ahead of the Slovenian? Read on for the full route, contenders and our prediction of the winner in La Flèche Wallonne 2023.
La Flèche Wallonne will take place on a 194.2 kilometre route which includes 11 steep, short climbs. The first ascent of the day is the Côte de Trasenster and the Côte des Forges follows soon after, before the riders have a brief period of respite and enter the circuit with 100 kilometres left to race.
The circuit, which the riders will take on three times in total, includes three key climbs, Côte d’Ereffe, Côte de Cherave and the Mur de Huy. The Côte d’Ereffe spans for 2.1 kilometres climb at an average gradient of 5%. The riders then descend into the valley of the Hoyoux river. After a break of just over 10km, the riders will then face the Côte de Cherave which starts hard with a gradient of 8.5% in the first kilometre, before it levels into a false flat to the summit.
After a short descent of around five kilometres towards the Meusse river the route traverses through the town of Huy to the Mur. The Mur de Huy is a climb spanning 1.3 kilometres at 9.6% average gradient. There’s a steep kick up after the first 400 metres and the gradient then doesn’t drop below 10% for 800m before it levels out to around 6% in the final stretch to the line. If the race follows a similar pattern to previous years, it is likely that we will see the main action take place on the final lap of the circuit and a dramatic showdown between the remaining contenders on the last time up the Mur de Huy.
Winner of both the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Amstel Gold race, not to mention the Vuelta a Andalucia and Paris-Nice, already this season, it’s unsurprising that two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar sits at the very top of the list of favourites for La Flèche Wallonne.
Some may have questioned his busy calendar so early in the season, but Pogačar is proving time and again that he can thrive on virtually every terrain. His performance at Amstel Gold Race, where he dropped both Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Ben Healy (EF Education-Easy Post) on the penultimate climb and won the race solo by over 40 seconds, proved that the Ardennes Classics are no exception to this rule.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Now he has secured Amstel Gold victory, La Flèche Wallonne remains the only race in the trio of Ardennes races that Pogačar is yet to win after he finished in first place in the 2021 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Historically, his performances in Flèche Wallonne have been below Pogačar’s usual high standards; the Slovenian rider finished 53rd in 2019, 9th in 2020 and 12th in 2022. It could be that the terrain of this race isn’t quite hard enough for Pogačar to snap the elastic with his stinging attacks and, while still extremely impressive, finishing speed and punch isn’t Pogačar’s speciality, which might be his downfall if he hasn’t managed to distance his rivals ahead of the first Mur du Huy ascent.
However, it cannot be ignored that Pogačar’s form this year has been better than ever in the one-day races. His victories in both Flanders and Amstel came due to his supreme physical strength – he was simply able to accelerate away from his rivals. If he can do the same at Flèche Wallonne there is little that anyone can do to stop him, regardless of experience, race prowess or tactics. Pogačar is undoubtedly the man to watch on Wednesday and his attacks will be heavily marked, so the 24-year-old doesn’t have many options other than to try and drop his rivals when the terrain is at its hardest.
Irishman Ben Healy is one rider who few would have had on their list of favourites for La Flèche Wallonne ahead of this season. However, the EF Education-EasyPost rider has excelled beyond even his own expectations this season so far, finishing second in both Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold Race. Healy is clearly well-suited to the punchy terrain of the Ardennes Classics, at one point even looking like he was closing the gap to Pogačar during Amstel Gold after dropping Pidcock on the last climb towards the finish line.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
However, it is a known fact that timing on the Mur du Huy is essential to take victory in Flèche Wallonne, it’s about waiting for the right moment to launch an attack that will take you just far enough to the finish line without blowing up too early. The likes of Valverde and Anna van der Breggen on the women’s side are examples of riders who managed to perfect this skill during their respective careers. Healy doesn’t have any experience of going for the win in Flèche Wallonne before and this could be his downfall. He also struggled to perform in the sprint against Dorian Godon of AG2R Citroën Team in the final run-in to the line at the end of Brabantse Pijl, so a race that is so reliant on finishing speed might not play to Healy’s strengths.
Should Healy struggle on the gradients of the Mur de Huy, EF Education-EasyPost are certainly not short of other options. Nielson Powless has been in stunning form so far this year with a top-five finish in the Tour of Flanders. The American rider finished in the top-20 of Flèche Wallonne last season and eighth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, so he is clearly adept at responding to the steep gradients that the Ardennes throw at riders. Esteban Chaves has also been in the top-10 at Flèche Wallonne in the past, he is a strong climber who will be able to put up a good challenge if the race does come down to a final sprint on the Mur de Huy.
After his exploits at the 2022 Amstel Gold Race where he finished so narrowly second behind Michał Kwiatkowski in that photo finish, AG2R Citroën Team’s Benoît Cosnefroy has been one to watch in the hilly Classics. The French rider has continued his impressive form this season, finishing in third place in Brabantse Pijl a few weeks ago and producing a strong ride at Amstel Gold Race.Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Cosnefroy has a good history at Flèche Wallonne, finishing in 13th place last year and second in 2020’s edition of the race behind Marc Hirschi. Cosnefroy is a rider with experience on the Mur de Huy who will be able to match the attacks on the ultimate ascent of the climb, but he could struggle to respond to Pogačar if the Slovenian rider produces multiple stinging attacks earlier on in the race.
One rider who sits at the other end of the spectrum to the likes of Ben Healy in terms of experience is Dylan Teuns of Israel-Premier Tech. The Belgian rider is the defending champion in Flèche Wallonne after beating Valverde last year with an impressive performance on the slopes of the Mur de Huy. The 31-year-old hasn’t quite shown the same form so far this season and opted not to start in the Amstel Gold race due to illness, so it might be that he isn’t able to fight for victory again in 2023. However, Teuns does have experience with how to ride the Mur de Huy so if he starts the race and opts to ride as conservatively as possible towards the final climb, his timing and tactical nous might be enough to give him the edge. Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
If Teuns is not in winning form, however, Israel-Premier Tech are not without options. Simon Clarke performed well at Amstel Gold race with a top-20 finish and is another experienced puncheur who could ride well on the Mur de Huy if the team opts to lead him out for the final ascent of the climb.
Michael Woods is another contender for Israel-Premier Tech who consistently performs well in Flèche Wallonne, finishing fourth and sixth in the last two editions respectively. Woods didn’t finish the Amstel Gold race with his team citing crashes and mechanical issues as taking him out of the race, so this may make the Canadian even hungrier for victory in Flèche. When it comes to knowing how to measure an effort on the Mur du Huy, Woods is one of the most experienced in the peloton so should have no problems here. The only issue that could arise for the likes of Teuns, Clarke and Woods is Pogačar riding away from them before they get their chance at sprinting against him on the Huy, they will need to be alert to the Slovenian’s attacks which we can expect to come earlier on in the race.
Ineos Grenadiers’ Tom Pidcock has had somewhat of a rollercoaster season so far, starting strongly with a victory in Strade Bianche before crashes and injuries hampered his Belgian Classics campaign. Pidcock returned to racing well with his third place at Amstel Gold Race, however, able to follow the moves of Healy and Pogačar before being distanced on the final run-in to the finish line. Pidcock said after the race that he struggled with the distance of Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne is roughly 60 kilometres shorter than Amstel, so this might play into the British rider’s favour here. Pidcock can handle short, sharp accelerations well – his off-season in the cyclo-cross field likely helping here – so he should be well-suited to the finish on the Mur de Huy. The 23-year-old finished sixth in Flèche Wallonne in 2021, so does have a history of riding well in this race.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Should Pidcock struggle in La Flèche Wallonne, however, the Ineos Grenadiers have a strong team around him which includes riders with a chance at victory in their own right. Daniel Felipe Martínez finished fifth in Flèche Wallonne last year and the Colombian rider has been in great form so far this season, winning the Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta a few months ago. Having Martínez in their line-up gives the Ineos Grenadiers more options tactically when it comes to following the expected attacks of the likes of Tadej Pogačar and also could give Pidcock the strength in numbers that he lacked in the finale of the Amstel Gold Race.
Another rider who is having a stand-out season so far this year is Groupama-FDJ’s Valentin Madouas. The 26-year-old is consistently strong in one-day races, he finished third in the Tour of Flanders last year and second behind Tom Pidcock in Strade Bianche earlier this season. Madouas unleashed an impressive turn of speed to outsprint Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma) on the steep climb to the Piazza del Campo in Strade, so he could be suited to the gradients of the Mur du Huy. Madouas finished 11th in the Amstel Gold Race as further proof of his liking towards the steep gradients of the Ardennes races.
Image: Tim de Waele/Getty
Madouas will be in a team with David Gaudu, a rider who performed exceptionally well in the Ardennes Classics in 2021, finishing seventh in Flèche Wallonne and third in Liège-Bastogne-Liège that year. Gaudu hasn’t since shown such good form and retired from the Amstel Gold Race last week still with 68km remaining so it’s unknown if he will be able to repeat his 2021 performances in this year’s edition of the race, but he is still a rider to look out for if things go right for him on the day.
While Jumbo-Visma were undoubtedly the team to beat in many of the cobbled Classics, they’re yet to stamp the same sort of authority on the Ardennes. Tiesj Benoot was the Dutch team’s best finisher at Amstel Gold Race last weekend in 15th place, with Attila Valter finishing four minutes down in 30th position. Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Both Valter and Benoot could be more suited to the terrain of Flèche Wallonne, however. It is less challenging than that in Amstel Gold and has the similar sort of punchy terrain seen in Strade Bianche earlier this year, where both riders performed well, finishing in third and fifth respectively. Jumbo-Visma have good options with both riders, as well as the British young talent Thomas Gloag who is on the team’s provisional line-up for Wednesday. Gloag has had an impressive first season with Jumbo-Visma with top-10 stage finishes at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the UAE Tour earlier this year. It will be interesting to see how he performs in a one-day race.
Enric Mas of Movistar could perform well here, he is suited to steep climbs as he showed in the recent Itzulia Basque Country stage race, as is Mikel Landa of Bahrain-Victorious. Sergio Higuita of Bora-Hansgrohe could be another rider to keep an eye on, he enjoys a punchy finish, as does his teammate and Giro d'Italia winner Jai Hindley. Andrea Bagioli of Soudal-Quick-Step performed well at Amstel Gold and is the team’s main hope without Julian Alaphilippe, while Andreas Kron of Lotto-Dstny could also play a part. Intermarché-Circus-Wanty’s Rui Costa shouldn’t be counted out, neither should experienced puncheur Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo or former winner of this race Marc Hirschi from UAE Team Emirates. Alexey Lutsenko of Astana Qazaqstan also performed well at Amstel Gold Race and could do the same here.
We are betting on Tom Pidcock to take the victory at the 2023 edition of Flèche Wallonne. The Ineos Grenadiers rider has a strong team around him to support him and will flourish in the shorter distance of this race.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix