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"Apart from a few inhabitants of Liège, few are familiar with Rue Naniot and its 550 m climb (over a 10.5% gradient) and its little paving stones which require the skills of an acrobat. Less than two kilometres from the finish l...

Photo: Sirotti




23.02.2016 @ 14:39 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

La Flèche Wallonne Féminine and La Flèche Wallonne on April 20, followed by Liège-Bastogne-Liège a few days later on April 24, will bring down the curtain on the spring classics season. A few small but significant changes have been made to the course, potentially shaking up the traditional hierarchy among punchy riders.


The Mur de Huy will set the scene for two spectacular events on April 20. The ladies will fire the opening salvoes in the battle for the Mur. It has become a tradition for the champions to test their legs in a clash that often sets the tune for the entire season. Last year, Anna van der Breggen opened her World Cup account here and went on to finish at the top of the classification in December! More generally, La Flèche boasts a formidable list of winners, including prolific hunters such as Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Marianne Vos and Nicole Cooke. Even more remarkably, the progression in performances says a lot about the overall growth of female cycling. The course is over 40 kilometres longer than ten years ago, and it contains more climbs (e.g. 6 in 2002 vs 11 in 2016), yet average speeds keep getting higher. The ladies know how to put on a show.

Later that afternoon, fireworks will light up the Chemin des Chapelles as the world's best punchers storm onto the stage. The final kilometre tilts towards the sky (9.6% average gradient with sections approaching 20%) and brings the most explosive riders in the peloton to the fore. Raw power will not be enough —strategic intuition will be needed to adapt to a series of course modifications that could change the face of the race. The start of the race in the pretty town of Marche-en-Famenne does not stray away from the tradition of La Flèche Wallonne. However, following the addition of the Côte de Cherave to the final stretch of the race last year, the introduction of the Côte de Solières about 40 kilometres from the finish could push fatigue in the peloton to critical levels. Riders will have to keep some of their gunpowder dry for the finale.


"Come winter, cyclists take stock. Then they launch themselves into «preparation» mode: it's hard and demanding to go out, but the mental cogs continue to turn, focusing on the major challenges of the season ahead," race director Christian Prudhomme said.


"Goals are set and (more or less) achievable strategies to reach them are put into place. At this stage, there is still time to dream. And the dream of a perfect day on the roads of the Flèche Wallonne is one of the most frequent in cyclists' imaginations. The fantasy finishes with a burst of energy on the Mur de Huy, at the hardest part of this infernal climb, a kilometre of punishment for the thighs and calves. Riders have to achieve a state of grace in order to overcome this obstacle, and need to feel lighter than air when everything is working against them to keep them firmly on the tarmac. Each year, a single rider achieves this form of ecstasy. A joy which is so intense that it erases all the pain and uncertainty. Just like in a dream."

The approach of the Liège–Bastogne–Liège weekend heralds the end of the classics season for the peloton. In Belgium, Classics specialists will squeeze every last ounce of energy to try and win one of the most prestigious races. La Doyenne rewards the bravest of the handful of pretenders still in the mix on the final climb in Ans. A new sequence making its debut this year is likely to whittle down their numbers even further. Riders will tackle the toughest side of the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons (1.3 km at an average gradient of 11%) with 20 km to go. A short detour will separate the men from the boys in the final kilometres as the riders tackle a 550-metre stretch of Rue Naniot, a narrow street with a gradient of 10.5% and little cobblestones which could turn the race on its head.


"Judging by the number of aspiring riders, this year's Doyenne, the grande dame of the road racing calendar, promises to be nothing like a tired old lady," race director Christian Prudhomme said.


"Instead, the one race which all cyclists seek to conquer, exudes an inimitable charm, and is the envy of all spring chickens. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is about both excess and balance: at the start, everyone knows that the parade could last nearly seven hours. The riders have to stay strong throughout the 253 kilometres, without underestimating any of the 10 climbs on the route ... while keeping something in their tanks for the final sprint!


"This year, there is a new challenge on the cards to conclude this unique race. Apart from a few inhabitants of Liège, few are familiar with Rue Naniot and its 550 m climb (over a 10.5% gradient) and its little paving stones which require the skills of an acrobat. Less than two kilometres from the finish line, it is about to go down in history. The old lady still knows how to seduce us..."


The organizers have also announced the wild cards for the two races:


Wildcards for Liege-Bastogne-Liege: Bora-Argon 18, Cofidis, Direct Energie, Fortuneo-Vital Concept, Roompot Oranje Peloton, Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Wanty-Groupe Gobert.


Wildcards for Fleche Wallonne: Cofidis, Delko Marseille Provence KTM, Fortuneo-Vital Concept, Roompot Oranje Peloton, Team Stoelting, Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Wanty-Groupe Gobert.

Sixth edition of the Liège–Bastogne–Liège Challenge
Over 8,000 amateur riders are expected to inaugurate the new finale of La Doyenne on the eve of the elite race. The three distances on the menu will make sure there is something for riders of all levels:
. 267 km: amateurs will start from the Halles des Foires Exhibition Centre and ride a 15-kilometre "appetiser" before tackling the same course as the professionals.
. 154 km: instead of pushing on to Bastogne, this peloton will join the course of La Doyenne in Stavelot and ride the final 73 kilometres.
. 77 km: an especially challenging course, with the Liège–Remouchamps–Liège loop featuring the Côte de la Redoute, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas and more…


Profile Fleche Wallone


Profile Liege-Bastogne-Liege



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