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La Flèche Preview and Survival Guide

La Flèche Wallonne is easily the greatest of the Wednesday Classics. Sure, this grandiose statement boils down to, it has a glitzier startlist than Gent-Wevelgem; otherwise, the two are equally high in profile and generally easy to predict. In this case, Immutable Law of Cycling No. 1,275 is that the race will be decided on the Mur de Huy.

And by "decided," I mean nothing decisive is likely to happen before the last (of three) ascents of the finishing strait: 1.3km at 9% average grade, ramping up to 16%. Of course, 16% is hardly a record... the Koppenberg is noted for riders coming to a complete standstill where it hits 26% and occasionally getting run over. Nothing like that here on the Mur. Instead, the enduring image is of incredibly strong, smallish riders flying up the Mur at immortal speeds, with the fastest guy winning the race.

This is what happened last year, when Davide Rebellin swung around Matti Kessler (then emitting a metallic burning smell), and leaving DiLuca, Valverde and others in his wake. This also happened the previous year, when Valverde won a three-up sprint; and in '05 when DiLuca beat eight others; and in '04 when Rebellin led the whole peloton home. Only once in recent history* has a legitimate "breakaway" made it home, in 2003 when Igor Astarloa and Aitor Osa jumped away on the Côte d'Ahin and duoed home for the last 11km. That was a fluke. End of strategy discussion.

The climbs:

Km 65.5, Mur de Huy (1.3 km, 9.3%)
Km 84, Côte d'Ereffe (2.2 km, 5.6%)
Km 95, Mur de Huy (1.3 km, 9.3%)
Km 134.5, Côte de Peu d'Eau (2.5 km, 4.2%)
Km 140, Côte de Haut-Bois (1.4 km, 5.4%)
Km 149.5, Côte de Thon (1.2 km, 7.1%)
Km 157.5, Côte de Bonneville (1.1 km, 7.9%)
Km 170.5, Côte de Bohissau (3.4 km, 4%)
Km 188.5, Côte de Ahin (2.5 km, 6%)
Km 202.5, Mur de Huy (1.3 km, 9.3%)

The Ahin is a dangerous place for all but the strongest, coming as it does after five other climbs in steady succession. Assuming speeds on the Bohissau are high, a lot of tongues will be wagging (n.b. Moreau is on the startlist) from then on. And strategies do play out on the Ahin, where the decisive splits often occur. Just don't expect any of the stars to get left behind.

Odds: Courtesy of Unibet...

Joaquim Rodriguez: 4.50 [editor's note, by chris] Whoa!
Davide Rebellin: 6.00
Damiano Cunego: 6.00
Alejandro Valverde: 6.00
Frank Schleck: 7.00
Robert Gesink: 14.00
Kim Kirchen: 17.00
Cadel Evans: 20.00
Karsten Kroon: 20.00
Thomas Dekker: 20.00  

Video! Not a ton to choose from, but this one from 2007 gives you a decent idea.

Live broadcast is on Cycling.TV, sometime around 6.30am Pacific. And here, of course. My pick is Cunego. Big shocker... what say ye?

[* I refuse to review results older than five years, for fear of having to use the word "hematocrit" in an otherwise innocent preview.]