The 2020 Ardennes Classics – as with many races this season – come in a wildly unfamiliar spot on this year's calendar, and in an unfamiliar order to boot. La Flèche Wallonne kicks off the week this year on September 30, sticking with its usual midweek slot before Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but also before Amstel Gold Race.
Besides that, little else has changed since last year, though there is a change in the route. The steep finish up the Mur de Huy remains, with the peloton tackling the hill twice on the long laps before the finish.
It's the only one-day race on the WorldTour which features such a finish quite as fearsome as the Mur de Huy, which was first introduced in 1984. As ever, the climb will be the decisive moment of the race, with the slow-motion sprint to the line certain to play out once again in the finale.
The 1.3km-long climb averages just over nine per cent and hits leg-aching gradients of 25 per cent along the way, perfect for pure puncheurs and mountain goats with a kick. Such is the brutality of the climb that the race has been decided from a large group there every year since 2003, when Igor Astarloa and Aitor Osa contested the victory having attacked 11km out.
The race is seven kilometres longer than 2019 and there's a new climb on the closing circuit, too. While the Côte d'Ereffe (2.3km at 5.1 per cent) remains at 83.5km, 52km and 21km from the line, the Côte du Chemin des Gueuses (1.6km at 6.3 per cent) takes the place of the Côte de Cherave as the penultimate climb of the race.
With the top of the climb coming 12.5km from the line, however, it's unlikely that a long-range winner effort will be launched there.
This year it could be a strange edition of La Flèche Wallonne, with the winner from the last two years Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) not featuring, instead taking time to recover from his Worlds victory on Sunday.
2011 winner Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) will be at the BinckBank Tour instead, while five-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will also miss the race to focus his efforts on taking a fifth Liège-Bastogne-Liège title.
So, a new winner will be crowned on Wednesday, then. And even without past winners on the start list, there are plenty of big names lining up to fight for victory on the Mur de Huy. Five of the top 10 riders at the Tour de France will take the start, led by Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) will take part for a second time, while Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling) and Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) will also race. However, the best chances of those GC men might come from the more explosive climbers like Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren).
Tour de France double-stage winner and Worlds bronze medallist Marc Hirschi will head up Team Sunweb, while EF's Colombian climber Daniel Martínez, the Dauphiné winner, is also on the start list along with teammate Sergio Higuita.
While there are no previous winners to start, there are several past podium finishers in contention for the win. Double runner-up Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) will be among the top favourites following 10 days of rest after the Tour, while the third-placed man in Dylan Teuns should lead Bahrain McLaren.
Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) finished third in 2014 and is in good form after his fourth place at the Worlds. The UAE Team Emirates duo of Diego Ulissi and Sergio Henao have also finished on the podium of Flèche before, as have veterans Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott) and Jelle Vanendert (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles).
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