The winning move at La Flèche Wallonne hasn’t gone clear before the final haul up the Mur de Huy since Igor Astarloa’s victory in 2003, but the lessons of history seem unlikely to deter Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) from trying to pre-empt the finale on Wednesday.
Wellens attacked alone over the penultimate climb of the Côte de Cherave at last year’s edition of Flèche, only to be swept up at the base of the Mur de Huy, and he attempted a similar move at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, punching clear on the Bemelerberg before being pegged back on the final ascent of the Cauberg.
“It’s a shame, I had good legs,” Wellens said after eventually cross the line in 10th place on Sunday, in the group that came in four seconds down on winner Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert). “The headwind played against me. It was simply too strong to take it on alone. It would have been better if somebody had come with me.
“Then when the two [Gasparotto and Michael Valgren – ed.] attacked on the Cauberg, my legs were heavy and I couldn’t go with them.”
Though a native of Flanders, Wellens’ hometown of Sint-Truiden is just over 30 kilometres from the Mur de Huy, and he has been a mainstay of Lotto Soudal’s Ardennes Classics line-up since he turned professional in 2013. Victory at the GP Montréal last September was a boon to Wellens’ confidence but for all his aggression in April, Sunday’s 10th place at Amstel marked his best result in a Classic.
“I believe I’m capable of winning one of these Classics if I have a bit of luck, if the stars align and if everything comes together,” the 24-year-old told La Dernière Heure, hinting that he would again seek to anticipate the favourites at Flèche Wallonne by attacking ahead of the Mur de Huy.
“The Mur is a climb that should suit me, but in a race I’ve never climbed it with the best. Last year, I was caught at the base of the climb after my attack on the Cherave. I prefer to attack a bit earlier. I feel that if I want to win, I can’t wait for the final 300 metres, so I have to anticipate. The problem is to know where and when…”
In a bid to alter the tendency for Flèche Wallonne to boil down to a shoot-out on the Mur de Huy, organisers ASO last year introduced the climb of the Cherave in the finale. 1.3 kilometres in length with an average gradient of 8.1 per cent, its summit is positioned 5.5 kilometres from the line. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was the first to attack on its slopes last year, before Wellens forged clear alone closer to the summit.
“Last year, I certainly went too soon. I was alone too. You need a bit of luck – if I’d had one or two riders with me, we could have gone further,” Wellens said. “Guys like Valverde and Rodríguez are better than me at the moment on the Mur de Huy. It’s just a shame that the Cherave isn’t a kilometre or two longer: you’d only have 20 or 30 riders left at the bottom of Mur de Huy.”