After a thrilling opening to the first full women’s Ardennes Week, the peloton rolls on to the stalwart of the region, La Flèche Wallonne. The one-day race has been part of the women’s calendar since 1998 and has an illustrious list of former winners including Nicole Cooke, Marianne Vos and Fabiana Luperini.
Anna van der Breggen is another past winner and will wear the number one on her back after claiming her second straight victory last season. After a storming solo win at the revived Amstel Gold Race last Sunday, the Dutchwoman will be watched like a hawk by her rivals. Her teammate Lizzie Deignan, who finished second in 2014, has come into form at just the right time, giving the team multiple options. Megan Guarnier also looks to be on her way back to full form, but after missing a big chunk of racing, she may not be a factor on Wednesday.
Former teammate, Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) will be a tough challenger for Van der Breggen on the Mur de Huy. Niewiadoma just missed out on the podium last season, but she proved at the Amstel Gold race that she is in strong form and the much tougher finish to Fleche Wallonne will be to her benefit.
Watch out for Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon-SRAM) and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla) too, who have both missed out on the key split in the bunch at the Amstel Gold Race, but appear to be in strong form and should be a factor on Wednesday. Annemiek van Vleuten can also always be relied on to enliven a race.
WorldTour leader Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) has had a really strong run and put in a solid performance to make the break last Sunday. The much punchier ascent of the Mur de Huy may, however, prove too difficult for the American to mix it up the front in the finale, but if Rivera has taught us anything, it is not to underestimate her abilities.
One thing in Rivera’s favour will be the reduction in the number of climbs in this year’s route. While most races have made use of the new regulations allowing longer courses, Fleche Wallonne will be 17 kilometres shorter than it was in 2017. This means three less climbs too, with only the Cote d’Ereffe and the Mur de Huy climbed twice. The Cote de Bellaire, Cote de Bohissau and Cote de Soliere have all be dispatched with too, and single rides up the Cote d’Amay and the Cote de Villers-le-Bouillet have been added.
Hopefully, these changes will not have a negative impact on it and the shorter nature will provide us with an action packed race. The Mur de Huy should also still deliver what it has over the last few years. The 1.3km climb with an average gradient of 9.8 per cent will make sure that riders are unlikely to be coming across the line in groups of more than one or two.