The 2013 La Fleche Wallonne could be the rain to break Belgian Philippe Gilbert’s drought, with the World Champion still yet to win a race in the rainbow jersey. We’ll have live updates from 11.00pm AEST.
On Sunday he launched an attack on the Cauberg during the Amstel Gold Race but it lacked the ferocity of his World’s win when he soloed to victory on the same roads and ended the race in fifth.
Gilbert won La Fleche Wallonne in 2011 during his all conquering week when he became only the second rider to win all three Ardennes races after Davide Rebellin was the first in 2004.
In his defence of the Ardennes Triple Crown in 2012, Gilbert’s best performance was third place at La Fleche Wallonne behind Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha).
Although since the 2009 edition of this race, Gilbert has only finished outside of the top six once at all three Ardennes races.
Rodríguez crashed out of Amstel Gold leaving his participation in the ‘Walloon Arrow’ uncertain and likelihood of a good result an even more unlikely scenario.
Albasini will be riding in support of teammate Simon Gerrans after his third placing at Amstel Gold. This ensures Gilbert will enter the race as the favourite but he will face a stern test if he is to add a second arrow to his quiver.
He will face competition from a strong Movistar squad with Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Sergio Henao (Team Sky), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) all capable of pulling off an upset on the day.
The race rolls out of Binche, just south of Brussels, and heads east to the finish of Huy.
The race arrives in Huy after 108kms and makes its way up the Mur de Huy on the first of three ascents.
The race then becomes two circuits roughly south and north of the town.
The first circuit is 65kms in length and takes in five climbs along the way before the Mur de Huy confront the riders again who then head north for the second circuit.
The second circuit is just 31kms in length and in comparison takes in only two climbs. The third climb of the circuit will be toughest as the peloton face the Mur de Huy for the third and final time.
This is where the fireworks will go off. The peloton will be trimmed on each ascent of the 1.3km climb as BMC in particular will want to deliver Gilbert to the base of the Mur de Huy, primed to launch the winning move.
There will be plenty of teams trying to control the race that will use up several riders before the final climb to ensure a chance at victory.
With Rodríguez uncertain to start, compatriot Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will be carrying Spanish expectations. Valverde won the race in 2006 and like Gilbert he will want another victory here.
If Valverde isn’t on it, teammate Nairo Quintana could be allowed to chase the win. Peter Sagan won’t enter the race as the outright favourite for almost the first time this year.
The heat got to Sagan at Amstel on Sunday but with treacherously steep Mur de Huy, Fleche isn’t a race entirely suited to his characteristics.
Roman Kreuziger showed that upsets are always on the cards during the Ardennes but looking back over the last several years, the cream has risen to the top.
Cadel Evans won here in 2010, Rebellin also won in 2009 and ’07 to add to his ’04 victory and Kim Kirchen in 2008.
The recent winners Valverde, Gilbert and Rodríguez will be favourites to add another win to their palmares and Valverde and Gilbert will start as the favourites to do so.
The following video is in French but the action is on the road, here are the final few kilometres of the 2011 edition of the race as Gilbert kicks away for victory.