Even if you’d imagine there are no secrets left in La Flèche Wallonne for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), the Spaniard has nonetheless left as little as possible to chance in his build-up for Wednesday's race.
Ever since 2016, when he became the first rider to take four wins in the men's La Flèche Wallonne, Valverde has only had himself to beat in the record books. Should he claim a sixth Flèche Wallonne, Valverde would become the first rider to win a major Classic road-race - Jacques Anquetil’s six GP Nations being a series of time trial victories - more than four years running.
"After the GP Amorebieta" - the same day as Paris-Roubaix, where Valverde finished second - "he came up here to check out the cobbled stage of the Tour de France with his teammates. But then rather than go home again, he stayed on to look over all the Ardennes courses in detail," Jose Luis Arrieta, Movistar sports director, told Cyclingnews on the eve of Flèche Wallonne.
"First he did the last part of Amstel, then we did a good chunk of Liège-Bastogne-Liège on the section over La Redoute and today [Tuesday] we went over the last two hours of Flèche Wallonne."
"Obviously, he knows it very well, but it's good to have another look, re-familiarize himself with Belgian roads, and coming into the Mur the first time [of three] it’s a bit different too, so we wanted to check that out."
Arrieta pointed out that the Movistar Team looked to be in good form collectively in Amstel, with powerhouses Andrey Amador Imanol Erviti putting in the spadework early on and Mikel Landa showing strongly in the second half of the course.
All eyes will logically be on Valverde on Wednesday on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy as he hunts for his sixth Flèche Wallonne and tenth victory of the season - although a fifth Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday remains the biggest prize of the week. Encouragingly for the Spaniard - as his fifth place on Sunday in Amstel Gold Race shows - as well as his relentless series of wins in the first third of the season, he shows no sign of waning.
"That's Alejandro. To be honest I don't think I've ever done a race with him where he's not been in top condition," says Arrieta. "After what happened last year in the Tour and at his age you'd have thought he's going to start to go downhill. But it's not happened yet.
"Whenever the race gets tough here, he's always there. The pressure's no different to other years, to be honest. Whenever it comes to the Ardennes, there's no questioning who's the favourite. And he's more than used to that."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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