The cobbled Classics are over for another year, with Sunday's Paris-Roubaix drawing a spring season of thrilling racing in Belgium and northern France to a close.
However, the spring Classics continue, at least for the next few days, as the men's and women's pelotons convene in Wallonia to tackle the Ardennes Classics. Wednesday sees the 86th edition of La Flèche Wallonne and the 25th of La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, before the final Monument of spring, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, on Sunday.
The fearsome climb of the Mur de Huy awaits the riders at Flèche, with the traditional slow-motion sprint up the steep slopes of the hill once again expected to decide the outcome of the two races.
Ahead of the races, we've looked through the start lists and compiled five top contenders from the men's and women's pelotons. Here are our 10 riders to watch at La Flèche Wallonne.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Kasia Niewiadoma is knocking on victory's door. The Polish rider finished fourth at Strade Bianche, eighth at Tour of Flanders, fifth at Amstel Gold Race and second at Brabantse Pijl so far this spring.
She annually targets the Ardennes Classics and has the perfect power for steep pitches, especially at the end of the tough races. She has twice finished on the podium atop the Mur de Huy, and was second to Anna van der Breggen last year.
Niewiadoma has expressed her disappointment in not being able to give her team a victory yet this season, but this could be her year to finally take that top step on the podium at La Flèche Wallonne. (KF)
Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl)
It's an obvious choice but it's impossible to leave out the world champion, given he's won the race three times in the past. When he's on top form, few can match his sprint on terrain like the steep slopes of the Mur de Huy, as he showed in 2018, 2019, and 2021.
Alaphiliippe started the month at Itzulia Basque Country, where he looked in great form as he easily won one stage and narrowly missed out on victory at two others. He was last in action at Brabantse Pijl, where he hit the headlines after being taken out in a crash sparked by his own team car.
He didn't suffer any major injuries in the fall, though, and should be all OK to compete for a fourth title, form permitting. Mauri Vansevenant and Remco Evenepoel will provide key support, though on the Mur de Huy it's every man for himself. (DO)
Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
SD Worx will also field two potential winners, and former podium finishers, at La Flèche Wallonne with Demi Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, in hopes to continue on Anna van der Breggen's run of success in the last seven editions.
In all likelihood, Van der Breggen will be directing SD Worx from the team car, and who better to provide on-road advice – even if it's through an ear piece - than the record seven-time champion of the Mur de Huy.
It would be nice to see Moolman Pasio take the victory in what is her last season as a professional before retiring, however, Vollering has shown great form with second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold Race and a solo victory at Brabantse Pijl.
Vollering finished third in 2020, and her strengths and skills are widely compared to that of Van der Breggen's, and so it would be reasonable to expect her to be the team's leader on Wednesday. (KF)
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
Like Alaphilippe's inclusion, Pogačar's is another no-brainer. The two-time Tour de France winner has started the race twice before, finishing a pretty distant ninth in 2020, but he's a contender at any race he lines up at.
So far in 2022 Pogačar has finished top 10 at every race he's started, having won the UAE Tour, Strade Bianche, and Tirreno-Adriatico and also finishing top five at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders.
Later in the week he'll be targeting a defence of his Liège-Bastogne-Liège title, and so Flèche might serve as more of a warm-up, in as much as that concept exists in Pogačar's calendar. He'll be joined at the start by teammates, teenage climber Juan Ayuso and 2020 race winner Marc Hirschi. (DO)
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)
One of the sport's most prolific winners, Annemiek van Vleuten, has numerous podium finishes at the Ardennes Classics, but remarkably only one victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2019. However, this could very well be her year to shine, especially on the Mur de Huy, as she will line up as one of the strongest climbers in the peloton.
She opted to skip Paris-Roubaix last weekend, particularly after a bad crash left her recovering from fractures to her shoulder and pelvis last year. Van Vleuten next lines up for the final two Ardennes Classics on Wednesday and Sunday.
She has great form this spring classics campaign with a victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, two second places at Strade Bianche and Tour of Flanders, and fourth at Amstel Gold Race.
On the Mur de Huy, Van Vleuten has finished second to Van der Breggen in 2015 and 2019. She hasn't raced since Amstel Gold Race two weekends ago, and may be coming into La Flèche Wallonne with fresher legs compared to some of her rivals. (KF)
Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers)
Ineos Grenadiers have been the team of the Classics in recent weeks, taking out victories at Amstel Gold Race via Kwiatkowski, Brabantse Pijl via Magnus Sheffield, and then Paris-Roubaix via Dylan Van Baarle.
The team's strength in numbers has served them well, though the slow-motion sprint up the Mur de Huy is a different scenario altogether in comparison to those races. The Pole looks perhaps the man best placed to challenge for the win in the final, clearly being on good form and having twice finished top five in the past.
Tom Pidcock, who finished sixth last year, and Dani Martínez, fresh off his Itzulia victory, come into the race as co-leaders for Ineos, who have one of the strongest squads at the race with Geraint Thomas and Carlos Rodríguez also competing. (DO)
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
Elisa Longo Borghini is one of the most versatile riders in the women's peloton and her sustained high power serves her well when she launches a breakaway or grinds her way up a steep ascent like the Mur de Huy.
The Italian Champion secured one of the biggest wins of her career at Paris-Roubaix Femmes on Sunday and will bring that form into La Flèche Wallonne.
She is recovered from a bout of sinusitis that prevented her from performing to her own expectations this spring. However, with newfound form and confidence, watch for Longo Borghini to salvage the remaining races of her spring campaign at La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. (KF)
Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën)
Frenchman Cosnefroy was second here two years ago, missing out to Marc Hirschi in the final dash to the line. Finishing second has been a theme for him in recent weeks, too.
He comes to Wallonia having taken the runner-up spot in every race he's started in April – the Circuit de la Sarthe, Amstel Gold Race, and Brabantse Pijl. Cosnefroy is clearly in top form, then, but just missing a bit of strength – or luck.
He'll be the outright leader for AG2R on Wednesday and at Liège as he closes out a strong Classics campaign. Despite winning the Bretagne Classic last year, a win at either of this week's higher profile races would represent something of a breakthrough, and it would be hard to begrudge him one after so many recent near misses. (DO)
Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig was forced to sit out of Amstel Gold Race after a positive Covid-19 test and she will not return to compete at La Flèche Wallonne.
The Danish all-rounder targets the Ardennes Classics year after year with much success, having finished second to Van der Breggen in the 2020 edition.
This year, however, the team will rely on Italian Marta Cavalli, who secured the biggest win of her career at Amstel Gold Race. Cavalli is emerging as one of the strongest women in the peloton, who can climb and sprint, and is always keen to force a winning breakaway.
La Flèche Wallonne typically comes down to the slopes of the Mur de Huy and Cavalli has shown that she is every bit a powerful, punchy climber as riders like Elisa Longo Borghini and Demi Vollering.
It would be another big success for the French team to take the win on the Mur de Huy. (KF)
Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe)
The other riders on our list have taken on La Flèche Wallonne and scored top-10 finishes before, but Vlasov stands out as the only rider here to be making his debut on the Mur de Huy this week.
Bora-Hansgrohe's leader is in fine form, though, having started his year with victory at the Volta a Valenciana and recently taking podium spots at the GP Indurain and Itzulia. Vlasov is strong on steep slopes and has a good burst of acceleration so should be well-suited to Wednesday's finish, too.
So even if he doesn't have the Flèche pedigree of his rivals, he's still one to watch. Volta a Catalunya winner Sergio Higuita joins him on the start line, as does 2020 Giro runner-up Jai Hindley. (DO)
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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