La Flèche Wallonne, 'the Walloon Arrow' is now held on the Wednesday between the Amstel Gold Race and Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Back in the mists of time it was part of ‘Le Weekend Ardennais’ when the race was run back-to-back with Liege-Bastogne-Liege over the Saturday and Sunday. The 194 kilometre event starts in Charleroi and heads east to Huy, where the race takes to a tough circuit which has to be completed three times, including the steep climb of the Mur de Huy ‘The wall of Huy’, which has several sections steeper than 15%. The race finishes at the top of the Mur after the third ascent. As well as the legendary Mur, there are seven other categorised climbs to contend with - and very little flat road in the finale.
I had the pleasure of riding this race in 2009 with Cervelo Test Team, working for this year’s Milan-San Remo winner, Simon Gerrans as our nominated leader.
I only arrived at the last minute; the team had struggled to get a squad together for the race and I got the call. I was down in Portugal, training for the Tour of Romandie – which starts the week after the Fleche – and I flew up from Faro to ride at short notice. But I knew a lot of the course from racing in Wallonia; the Tour of Belgium had gone up Huy twice the previous year when I rode with AN Post, so I was familiar with it. Despite the savageness of the Huy, we rode 39 inner rings, not compact chainsets. I think that the only climb where riders fit compacts is on the Angliru in the Vuelta. I was on 27 at the back, I would have got up on 25; but if you have the 27 then you use it.
I remember it being relatively hard in the first 20 minutes but then the break went - Christophe Moreau (France) got away with Fumiyuki Beppu (Japan) and the pace slowed right down to a pedestrian 130 watts average for the next hour. After this you could feel the pace picking up as the big teams took control to prevent the two leaders gap going out to more than 15 minutes - and ultimately to bring them back before the finish The first 15km go up and down a bit, but after that there’s maybe 50km which are relatively flat.
From around 60km to 130km there are certainly climbs - but from 130km to the finish it’s just one climb after another – nonstop, climb after climb, after climb.
The Moreau break was good for us, it took the pressure off; we had three riders – including me – who were to cover early breaks, but only if there were five or six riders in them.
The last hour was really hard, though; the peloton figured out that Moreau still had the 10 seconds per kilometre that you need to hold off the bunch, so the hammer went down, prior to that we had just been riding tempo – not exactly easy but not too hard.
I actually expected it to be harder from the start; it really only ‘turned on’ in the last 60 to 90 minutes. It was really good weather that day, I can see that if it was cold and wet it would be a grim race to ride. Positioning is just so important on the climbs; if you’re in the first 20 or thirty on them then you can’t really slide back, the roads are so narrow.
But if you’re back in 50th spot then you’re playing ‘catch up’ all the time. Focus too is very important - we came over the last climb inside the last 10 K and I thought; ‘great, that’s it, I’m with the leaders, I can think about saving my legs for the finish, now.’ Just for a minute I wasn’t paying attention and it split going across this plain over the top of the climb. Me, Thomas Dekker (Holland – now with Garmin, but then with Silence, ed.) and my team mate Xavier Florencio chased really hard to get back, we got within five metres of the commissar’s car but just couldn’t get on.
You have to be concentrating, paying attention and focused in the finale.
It ended a good race for us; Simon Gerrans was 8th behind the winner, Italy's Davide Rebellin, and we lead the Pro Tour standings – even though we we’re a Pro Continental Team not Pro Tour.
That was great for us because it meant we got first car in the convoy for the upcoming races!
Click here to see Dan Fleeman's race data on Trainingpeaks.