Fleche Wallonne 2016 – preview

The Alaphilippe,Matthews, Wellens, Barguil and Kelderman generation, all of whom were born in the 1990’s, have their chance for victory on the 80th edition of the Flèche Wallonne, this Wednesday 20 April. But Valverde and Rodriguez, among others, haven’t quite yet ridden off into the sunset.

A rider has to be able to do everything, on the Flèche Wallonne, which is best characterized as a physically draining race at nearly 200km in distance, with the difficulties scattered over the final two-thirds of the route and especially the electric finish where strategy must be added to the pure power needed for the Mur de Huy. While this multi-task exercise requires a certain level of maturity, the young guns who have made names for themselves on all fronts these past few years have also managed to shake up the group of known specialists of the Chemin des Chapelles. Julian Alaphilippe turned the most heads among them last year, finishing runner-up on both the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Based on his results on the Flèche Brabançonne (8th) and the Amstel Gold Race (6th) he is not feeling the after effects of his bout with mononucleosis over the winter. But the Frenchman will not be the only “youngster” to try to come up big on Wednesday. Michael Matthews has continued to show the extent of his talents with his ride on Paris-Nice and finishing ahead of Alaphilippe on the Amstel (5th). The highly energetic Tim Wellens, 10th Sunday at Valkenberg, could be the best Belgian chance in the peloton. Petr Vakoc, winner on the Flèche Brabançonne, has the profile of an ideal substitute leader to the defending runner-up while Warren Barguil, who returns from injury, and could be more at ease on the Mur de Huy than on the Cauberg (15th)… so much for the kids born in the 1990’s…

The challenge for these young riders will be particularly elevated, with experts of the calibre of Alejandro Valverde, who won in Huy for the first time 10 years ago. The Spaniard has changed his approach to the week in the Ardennes, preferring to ride on the Vuelta a Castilla y León, where he took two stage wins and the general classification, than the Amstel Gold Race… to confidently move up the ranks of the Movistar team, where they can also rely on another former winner, Dani Moreno. Spanish riders have won the last four editions and the chance of that string reaching five increases with a possible resurgence of another specialist, Joaquim Rodríguez, winner at Huy on the Tour de France last July and on the 2012 Flèche Wallonne.

25 teams and their leading riders

Orica-GreenEdge: Matthews (AUS), A.Yates (GBR), Albasini (SWI)

Etixx-Quick Step: D. Martin (IRL), Alaphilippe (FRA), Vakoc (CZE)

Lotto-Soudal: Gallopin (FRA), Vanendert, Wellens (BEL)

Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise: Van Hecke (BEL)

Wanty-Groupe Gobert: Gasparotto (ITA), Thurau (GER)

AG2R La Mondiale: Latour, Chérel (FRA), Bakelants (BEL)

FDJ: Vichot (FRA), Eiking (NOR)

Cofidis, Solutions Crédits: Jeannesson, Simon (FRA), Navarro (SPA)

Fortuneo-Vital Concept: B. Feillu, Ledanois (FRA)

Delko Marseille Provence KTM: Di Gregorio, El Fares (FRA), Diaz (ARG)

Team Giant-Alpecin: Barguil (FRA), Geschke (GER)

Stölting Service Group: Gerdemann (GER), Ciolek (GER)

Team Sky: Ser.Henao (COL), Nordhaug (NOR), Poels (NL)

Lampre-Merida: Costa (POR), Meintjes (RSA), Ulissi (ITA)

Astana Pro Team: Lutsenko (KAZ), L-L.Sanchez (SPA)

Team Lotto NL-Jumbo: Kelderman, Gesink (NL)

Roompot Oranje Peloton: Hoogerland, Weening (NL)

Team Katusha: Rodriguez (SPA), Byström (NOR), Van den Broeck (BEL)

Tinkoff: Kreuziger (CZE), Kiserlovski (CRO), Valgren (DEN)

Team Dimension Data: Anton (SPA), Pauwels (BEL)

Movistar Team: Valverde, Moreno (SPA)

IAM Cycling: Denifl (AUT), Pantano (COL)

BMC Racing Team: Gilbert (BEL), S. Sanchez (SPA)

Cannondale: Slagter (NL), Uran (COL)

Trek-Segafredo: Hesjedal (CAN), Schleck (LUX)