Anyone who complains that it is logistically impossible to stage a women’s race on the same day and course as a men’s race should be sat down on a stack of back numbers of L’Equipe, beaten by big green PMU fingers then forced to listen to the Tour lion explaining how they manage to co-ordinate things so that the men ride up the Mur of Huy three times, the women twice and somehow in the middle of all that the publicity caravan makes a couple of trips too. That should all guarantee some pretty big crowds out on the course and notch up the atmosphere for the riders, even if there does turn out to be a fight for the TV motos.
The Fleche Wallonne is so called because, at least in the men’s edition, the course resembles an arrow, with the shaft running from Charleroi to Huy. OK the arrow may look somewhat floppy at the tip, but I guess that’s the way of Belgian arrows. Do you remember reading histories about fearsome Belgian archers? Thought not. The women’s Fleche dispenses with that shaft entirely, making the name even more risible, but apart from cutting off that flat run in from Charleroi it follows the men’s course exactly. I’ll say that again. Exactly. None of that skirting round the nastiest climbs that we saw in the women’s version of the RVV, the parcours is identical. Leave Huy for an 80km circuit including six climbs:
Km 38.5 - Côte de Peu d'Eau - 2.7 km at 3.9 %
Km 44.0 - Côte de Haut-Bois - 1.6 km at 4.8 %
Km 49.0 - Côte de Groynne - 2.0 km at 3.5 %
Km 55.0 - Côte de Bohisseau - 1.3 km at 7.6 %
Km 68.0 - Côte de Bousalle - 1.7 km at 4.9 %
Km 69.0 - Côte d'Ahin - 2.3 km at 6.5 %
Then it’s back to the Mur and off on the shorter, 29km, circuit which includes just one climb, the Côte d'Ereffe - 2.1 km at 5.9 %, before coming back for the final blast up the hill to the finish line.
The Fleche Feminin was only raced for the first time back in 1998, but even so that last climb is such a selective beast that there have already been three three-time winners, Fabia Luperini, Nicole Cooke, and for the last three years Marianne Vos. Vos and Cooke return this year, and both must fancy their chances of getting a fourth win. Beyond them there are a few others who have a chance of sorts, but this really isn’t a race where you expect complete unknowns to appear from nowhere. Good outside bets, or to put it another way riders who can climb, can’t sprint, but might make themselves a lucky breakaway are Emma Pooley and Grace Verbeke. Not really the sort of names you expect to see called outsiders, are they. More likely to fill the podium are Emma Johansson and Claudia Hausler who did so last year (and who seems this year to be riding a schedule that even Lance Armstrong might find a bit light - I believe that this is her first race since last year's Worlds, and she only did Plouay and the Tour of the Ardeche between the Giro and then), and Judith Arndt who was there for every one of the preceding four years. And if Arndt doesn’t make it then HTC-Columbia have a second line of attack in Noemi Cantele who was fifth last year. No doubt the team plan is taken straight from Italy at last year’s Worlds, with Arndt and Cantele taking it in turns to attack Vos on the final climb. Trixi Worrack of Noris is another who has form here with a couple of third places back in 2001 and 2006, but she doesn’t seem to have found her form so far this year. Russian Olga Zabalinskaya is still on the start list, despite her accident last week. If she really is riding then her form on the climbs at Cittiglio suggests that she has a very good chance. Here’s the full start list, courtesy of ASO, and clicking on from there will give you all sorts of other goodies.
TV coverage? I don’t know, but I hope that Verbeke’s win in the RVV persuades Sporza to film a bit more this time. But then again, who watches more than the last ten minutes of the men’s race.
That Mur timetable in full
11:30 start of the women’s race from Huy. Not on top of the Mur but close enough.
12:00 The caravan passes for the first time
13:00 The men come past for the first time on the way from Charleroi
14:00 The women finish the large circuit
14:30 The caravan returns
14:45 The women’s race ends
15:30 The men finish the large circuit
16:15 The men’s race ends.