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Michele Bartoli leads Maarten Den Bakker during Fleche Wallone 1999. The Italian won the race but paid for his efforts a few days later in Liege
1999 Flèche Wallonne winner on the mid-week Belgian Classic
One of the great 1990s Classics riders, Michele Bartoli, has told Belgian newspaper Le Soir that he considers the Mur de Huy to be the hardest single climb in the Ardennes.
A double Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner, Bartoli took a memorable victory in the Flèche Wallone in 1999, battling through snow and sleet storms on a day of truly appalling weather to neatly drop Maarten Den Bakker on the steepest part of the Mur itself and claim the victory - by 14 seconds, an impressive margin given Bartoli’s attack was so late. Reigning world champion Oskar Camenzind was also part of the leading break of three but had a tussle with his rain jacket when it got blocked in one of his wheels and was forced to drop back, ultimately finishing fourth.
“For me, Flèche boils down to the Mur and nothing more,” Bartoli told Le Soir. “It’s the toughest climb there is, normally a mountain-top finish is hard but that one seems interminable. But it’s also the most beautiful finish of all the classics, too.”
According to Bartoli, having to tackle the Mur three times does not alter anything. “It’s the final assault which counts, that’s when the riders’ faces change and they have to concentrate really hard.”
On another tough day of bad weather, Kim Kirchen managed to take the win in 2008. “You can’t take too many risks if you want to win it, it’s impossible to follow every attack [on the Mur]. You have to choose,” he told Le Soir.
“Then on the last of the climbs, really your rivals don’t matter too much. It’s what you are capable to doing on the hill itself, you’re alone on those 1,100 metres, eyeball to eyeball with the climb.”
Unless the forecasters have got it very wrong, this year’s competitors will be relieved to hear that the weather this year at the very least will not be as bad as in 2008 and 1999. Current predictions are for a balmy 20 degrees mid-afternoon, although it will be overcast all day.