La Flèche Wallonne has received another tweak for 2019, with the organisers extending the finale of the men's race for an extra lap of the finishing circuit that includes the Côte d'Ereffe, Côte de Cherave, and Mur de Huy. The women's course remains unchanged.
The second of the three Ardennes Classics is traditionally decided on the Mur de Huy, with the finish line at the top of the short but searingly steep climb. Not since 2003 has the winning move in the men's race come ahead of the final ascent.
In 2018, the status quo was maintained, with Julian Alaphilippe ending Alejandro Valverde's run on the Mur, but the race was more open and aggressive than previous years - perhaps due to the inclusion of extra climbs in the first half of the race, including the Côte de la Redoute of Liège-Bastogne-Liège fame.
La Redoute doesn't feature in 2019, and the first half of the route is more gentle but the organisers have made the business end of the race harder. The number of ascents of the Mur de Huy remains at three, but Ereffe and Cherave both appear three times, rather than two.
Whereas in previous editions the riders entered the 'finishing circuit' with 58km remaining, they now do so with 76.5km remaining. Instead of immediately hitting the Mur de Huy, they now face Ereffe and Cherave in an 18km stretch before effectively tackling the final 58km of the old course.
The change is unlikely to dramatically alter the race's entrenched format, but it does open the door to earlier aggression and at the very least will take more out of the legs ahead of the final surge up the Mur.
The race will start from Ans in 2019, the Belgian town having lost the finish of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The riders will tackle the Côte de Tancrémont after 47km, followed 10km later by the Côte des Forges, with those being the only two climbs ahead of the finishing circuit. The overall distance is down slightly, from 198.5km to 195.5km and the total number of climbs remains 11.
Rally UHC amongst seven wild card invitations
As well as unveiling the route for the 2019 edition, the organisers also revealed the seven Professional Continental teams that have received wildcard invitations to join the WorldTour outfits on the start line on April 24. Israel Cycling Academy have been handed a first appearance, along with US squad Rally UHC and Spanish team Euskadi-Murias, who won a stage at the Vuelta a España in September in their first year at Professional Continental level.
Native Belgian teams Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Wallonoie-Bruxelles, and Sport Vlaanderen Baloise are all invited once again, along with French team Cofidis, who are a mainstay of ASO events. There is no space, however, for Arkea-Samsic, meaning no Warren Barguil, who has twice finished in the top 10 and who must now content himself to just riding Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The Flèche Wallonne Feminine, women's race, is almost identical to 2018, the only change being a minor move of the start location to the Grand-Place square in Huy.
The riders will tackle the same 70km opening loop - including the early climb of the Côte de Warre climb - before entering the final circuit, where they will tackle the Ereffe-Cherave-Mur combination twice, with the finish line at the top of the second ascent of the Mur. The total distance is once again 118.5km with a total of seven climbs.
The red-hot favourite will once again be Anna van der Breggen, the world champion having won the past four editions of the race. Victory would put her level with Marianne Vos, whose five titles make her the current most successful rider in the race's 21-year history.
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