The Fleche Wallonne is one of those races that offers an insight into riders’ form for the upcoming classic Leige-Bastone-Leige. But that’s not to say Fleche is just a throwaway race to stretch the legs. It is a challenging race of 201 kilometers that attracts cycling’s strongest. The main feature of this Belgian race is the 1.3 kilometer climb of the Mur de Huy.
I had a quick FaceTime chat with Floyd Landis, who raced this Belgian semi-classic during his Postal days and remembers it well.
“The Mur is really steep and filled with drunk Belgians,” recalls Landis. “They just go ape-shit crazy over there!”
When pressed about the Mur, Landis recalls it being really steep however he said, “We have steeper climbs here in Temecula and they’re better because once you’re at the top you don’t have to look at a fat Belgian in a Speedo or have to eat French fries with mayonnaise. Here I just turn around and roll down the hill to In-N-Out.”
By now Landis is fired up and willing to tell stories.
“In, I think, 2004 the weather was terrible and it was raining. Dave (Zabriskie) and I were riding for Postal. Dave wanted to quit so he snuck out and went underneath the race tape. He took a short cut and ended up on the Mur in the break away and was recorded as finishing 17th or something. Someone saw him getting back into the race and turned him in. It made the Belgian press the next day and Johan was pissed! He asked Dave why didn’t he tell him that he had dropped out and Dave just shrugged and said, ‘I don’t know.’ Oh it was great! All we wanted to do was quit and get back to the bus!”
As Zabriskie knew, the summit of the Mur is where the race finish line is drawn. The peloton will have to climb this brute three times. By the beginning of the third ascent a small group forms which odds are will be comprised of climbers. The hilly nature of this mid-week race favors the lightweight climber types.
One of those climbers is Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank. The Spaniard has been on a tear of late winning the Vuelta de Murcia and Volta a Catalunya. He might have won the recent Vuelta a Casilla y Leon if it hadn’t been for an untimely puncture during the second to last stage. However he made up for it by winning the following day’s time trial. So yeah, El Pistolero is cocked and ready to rock.
“I’ll try and recover as soon as possible but I think I have enough time for being fine for Fleche Wallonne,” said Contador. “But at least I’ll try to help my teammates.”
One rider who is out of the action is the defending champion Cadel Evans. The Australian hurt his right knee when he crashed while out training. This injury took him out of last Sunday’s Amstel Gold as well, but it doesn’t look to be a problem for the long-term. He said, “It’s just a little hiccup along the way.” Look for Cadel to return to action for the Tour of Romandie.
The BMC team will be riding in support of Greg Van Avermaet. He was 24th in Amstel Gold and 9th in Milan-San Remo, so who knows, he could do it. Look who has been winning this year – the riders flying under the radar.
The Leopard-Trek team is bringing the Shlecki – Andy and Frank to Fleche. Last week Andy came up 500 meters short of winning in Amstel. Perhaps he’ll time his attack to perfection for Fleche.
For those among us who like to make a bit if a side wager, smart money is on Andy Schleck or Rabobank’s Robert Gesink. They’re both born climbers and the course suits them. While we have seen the preemptive excuses from Contador, I might be tempted to put a little cash money on him as a longshot. Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha is also a solid pick for Wednesday. So place your bets and settle down with a bag of frites.