Lotto Belisol still hoping to fire on the Mur de Huy
Having impressed with second place at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, Lotto Belisol's Jelle Vanendert enters the 78th La Flèche Wallonne under an injury cloud. The 199km race which makes three ascensions of the famously steep Mur de Huy is the second of the three Ardennes Classics and an event for the climbers.
The infamous climb is 1.3km in length with an average gradient of 9.3% with a maximum gradient of 26%, although the elevation of the Mur is only 121m.
After the second climb of the Mur, there is just 23.5km left to race with the Côte d'Ereffe the only obstacle before the final ascent of the climb which defines the race.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is chasing his second Ardennes triple after his 2011 success and enters the race as a favourite as does last year's third place getter Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and last year's winner Dani Moreno (Katusha).
While Vanendert impressed on the Cauberg, his race was almost ended by a crash. "I'm definitely happy that I'm back on the level I wanted and that I've shown that I'm one of the better riders in the climb classics. These two days I mainly used to rest. Especially after my crash in the Amstel," Vanendert said.
"I have nuisance at my knee and almost can't ride my bike. My knee is swollen and there's fluid in it, which will possibly be extracted. Hopefully the night will make it better as well. We have to wait and see.
"Starting will be possible, but it's uncertain if I will be able to ride the final. This is definitely not optimal to start the Flèche Wallonne."
With his afflication, Vanendert explained that he is unlkiey to make a move until the very last moment that he can.
"The race developments will show of course, but mostly it's not a good plan to attack before the final ascent of the Mur de Huy. Eventually you won't have enough power on the climb, it's not a race of 250km but nearly 200. Usually it's the best to spare yourself as long as possible."
Lotto Belisol enter the race with several other cards to play and in Jurgen Van den Broeck they have a certified climber who will be crucial to helping Vanendert perform well.
The best finish that Vanendert has enjoyed at La Flèche was fourth place in 2012 and was sixth in 2011, the year he won a stage at the Tour de France.
"The knee has priority, then we'll see how far I can come. At this point I don't know with what kind of ambition I can come to the start. We'll try to get into the final with five of our riders, so Tony Gallopin, Jurgen Van den Broeck and I can be dropped off at the Mur de Huy.”
Lotto Belisol for La Flèche: Sander Armée, Bart De Clercq, Gert Dockx, Tony Gallopin, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Dennis Vanendert, Jelle Vanendert and Tim Wellens.
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