What baseball is to Americans, cycling is to Belgians. It’s a national pastime. And the…
Opening weekend was over half a year ago. Six months ago, our riders were gearing up for the cobbled classics season. A lot has happened since our riders lined up for what they thought would be the start of the classics season at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but after a break, the cycling season is underway again and our riders are ready to pick things up where they left off this week with La Flèche Wallonne.
The hillier cousins to the cobbled classics, the Ardennes are composed of three one-day races: Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The first is wholly Dutch, set in the hills of Limburg rather than the neighboring Ardennes, the latter two take place in Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonie region. This year, Amstel Gold Race will fall after the two Belgian races, but who’s keeping track anymore.
“The Cobbled Classics are like cheap thrills, where the action comes quickly, where there’s something happening every five seconds, from the left and right,” said EF Education First Pro Cycling sport director Tom Southam. “The Ardennes are more of a slow burn. It’s a real wearing-down process.”
The Ardennes Classics attract the light-weight one-day specialists, including riders that typically excel as general contenders in the longer stage races. While the races lack high mountains, the non-stop undulation favors those who like to climb. This year’s preparatory stage race? The Tour de France so you can be sure to see many of the same names you saw for three weeks in France duking it out in the hills of Belgium and the Netherlands.
This year’s edition of La Flèche Wallonne will include a course we have become accustomed to seeing over the past years. The 200 kilometer route will include over 3300 meters of elevation with the traditional finish on the Mur de Huy. Unlike the climbs in France which span 18 kilometers the Mur de Huy is short, 1.3 kilometers in length to be exact, but it never fails to shatter the peloton with its steep gradients maxing out at 20%.
Flèche will be followed by Liège–Bastogne–Liège just a few days later. La Doyenne (“The Old Lady”) as it is known by the locals, is the oldest of cycling’s five monuments, with the first edition being held in 1892. Much like La Flèche Wallonne, the course is long and demanding, spanning nearly 260 kilometers and featuring 4,500 meter of climbing.
In this backwards year, where the Tour de France falls before the Giro d’Italia and where the Ardennes fall before the Cobbled classics, expecting the unexpected has become a bit of a cliche. Regardless, Sep Vanmarcke’s words from february this year still ring true today, “these are the most beautiful races of the year” and we can’t wait to get back to them.
Our roster for La Flèche Wallonne