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"Concerning Froome, he comes to check out the course before the Tour de France but won’t take part in Liège-Bastogne-Liège next Sunday.”

Photo: Sirotti

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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CHRIS FROOME

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FLECHE WALLONNE

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PHILIPPE GILBERT

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21.04.2015 @ 19:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The appearance of the Côte de Cherave in the final moments of the Fleche Wallonne could change the usual scenario of the Ardennes classic. It could give new options to several of the favourites including World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski. Title-holder Alejandro Valverde is also ready to adapt while Chris Froome will be at the start to get used to the Fleche before coming back in July for stage 3 of the Tour de France.
 
COTE DE CHERAVE: A LAUNCH PAD FOR NIBALI ?
On the Flèche Wallonne, the decision is almost systematically made on the final climb up the Mur de Huy. Indeed, one has to go way back to 2001 to find the last winner to have made it clear from the pack all the way to the finish. His name: Rik Verbrugghe. But this year, the appearance of a new hill shortly before the famous Chemin des Chapelles could give a few ideas to several favourites. A scenario that race director Jean-Michel Monin, who came up with the idea, would warmly welcome. “We thought about it last year but we had decided to choose the Côte d’Ahin that wasn’t really used as a decisive spot. This new one is both harder and closer to the finish. It is far more decisive and there will surely be a big battle not matter how it finishes, especially due to the fact that there are 4 hills in the last 30kms. Now will the riders make the best of it? To be able to break away from the pack and have a decent 30” lead and hang on to the lead until the end, you have to be among the favourites. It’s possible because there’s no rest until the finish line: a nice descent and just a kilometre of flat before the Mur de Huy. Someone like Nibali can do it and we saw last Sunday during the Amstel that he was eager to attack! So be careful…”
 
14 WORLD CHAMPIONS ON THE FLECHE VICTORY LIST…
The Flèche Wallonne often suits World Champions. A total of 14 riders are indeed on the winner’s lists of both races ever since the creation of the Ardennes classic back in 1936. Fausto Coppi, Stan Ockers, Joop Zoetemelk, Francesco Moser, Bernard Hinault or the likes of Philippe Gilbert are part of the prestigious club. But only five men have ever victoriously crossed the finish line with the rainbow jersey. An honour that Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski, 3rd  in 2014 and winner of the Amstel Gold Race would dream of witnessing. In case of a victory he would join a list of legendary riders: Ferdi Kübler (1952), Rik van Steenbergen (1958), Eddy Merckx (1972), Claude Criquielion (1985) and Cadel Evans (2010).
 
VALVERDE, READY TO ANTICIPATE
The title-holder naturally shows up with the highest ambitions but the Spaniard has different strategies based on the new course, as explains his Movistar team manager Jose-Luis Arrieta: “We went to check out the last 50 kilometres this morning with the team. I believe there will be a lot of attacks on the Côte de Cherave, but it’ll be difficult to gain more than 30” and hope and win at the top of the Mur de Huy. On the other hand, the selection will be a lot bigger than usually. The consequence is that the leaders might not have team mates to prepare for the final climb. For Alejandro, it’ll be important to adapt to the situation. Let’s not forget that he attacked far from the line when he won on the Tour of Catalunya for example. Concerning Quintana, he comes to learn before the Tour de France. His goal isn’t to really perform. He has to get used to these roads. He’ll also be in Liège to help Valverde.”
 
FROOME AT THE START OF THE FLECHE, BUT NOT OF LIEGE
The 2013 Tour de France champion’s decision to take part in the Fleche Wallonne was finally confirmed by Team Sky at the very last moment. Just before the team manager’s meeting, Gabriel Rasch indeed detailed the time schedule of his race leader who had just arrived in Belgium by plane: “Chris spent two weeks training in Tenerife with a major block that he did with Richie Porte and Nicolas Roche. He took a plane to come here today and will ride his bike in the afternoon, but won’t check out the course. For tomorrow, we’ll be mainly counting on Sergio Henao and Lars-Peter Nordhaug who have good cards to play on the climb of the Mur de Huy. Concerning Froome, he comes to check out the course before the Tour de France but won’t take part in Liège-Bastogne-Liège next Sunday.”
 
NO PRESSURE FOR GILBERT
After a fine but vain attempt last Sunday on the Amstel Gold Race, the winner of the 2011 edition of the Fleche Wallonne shows up in fine shape but with slightly lower ambitions. His BMC directeur sportif, Valerio Piva believes that the new race itinerary could actually favour his leader: “He’s in shape. Unfortunately he failed to make a difference on the Amstel Gold Race like last year, but he was well present. He won’t have as much pressure at the start as on the Amstel or for Liège that he dreams of winning again, and that might be a positive thing to get a good result. I believe that with the succession of the Cote d’Ereffe and the Cote de Cherave before the Mur, there won’t be a big group at the finish. Philippe likes that’’.

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