Image credit: A.S.O. / G.Demouveaux

The Ardennes portion of the season is a unique part of the year where riders are called upon to show their muscle at the end of tiring races. In this atypical week, the Flèche Wallonne often pushes the concept to the extreme, with the race decided on the fearsome Mur de Huy slope. In this kilometre of pain for the legs and spectacle for the eyes, the young Marc Hirschi was the most dazzling last September in the wake of an already impressive Tour de France by winning in his first participation on the Flèche. The Swiss revelation of 2020 doesn’t have such a flattering roadmap for the defence of his title, especially since among his new teammates at UAE Team Emirates is the winner of the Tour de France Tadej Pogacar (9th in 2020). The competition in the rival teams will be formidable, with the two other grand tour winners of last year have also entered: Tao Geohegan Hart, who won’t necessarily be the trump card of Ineos Grenadiers, will be present at the start with Kwiatkowski, Carapaz, Pidcock and Adam Yates; whereas Primoz Roglic is riding on a wave of success with 3 stage wins on Paris-Nice (but also a resounding “miss” on the last day!) and a week of controlled domination in the Tour of the Basque Country. He will naturally be expected to make his first attempt at the Flèche Wallonne.

You have to go back to 2010 to find a world champion raising his arms at the top of the Chemin des Chapelles. Cadel Evans wasn’t the favourite that day, but Julian Alaphilippe, who will be back in his preferred race after having gotten off his bike almost seven months ago to concentrate (not quite enough!) on Liège-Baston-Liège, will be. In four participations, “Alaf” has never been beaten by another rider than Alejandro Valverde on the Flèche, and the Spaniard is taking a pass this year. A third Flèche Wallonne victory would be a boost to his early part of the season. But French chances do not rest on the shoulders of the rainbow jersey alone. In 2020, Benoit Cosnefroy was the last rider to threaten Hirschi and will aim next Wednesday for the big win that is still missing from his list of achievements if his knee stops giving him trouble. Warren Barguil (4th in 2020), and why not of Valentin Madouas, who finished just outside the Top 10 that day (11th) and certainly more so of his leader David Gaudu (9th in 2017), who was particularly competitive in the Tour of the Basque Country (winner of the final stage in Arrate), will all have the same goal. The French and the Slovenians are not the only contenders. There are several credible candidates, like Sergio Higuita and Esteban Chaves. A Spanish successor to Valverde could be found at Astana-Premier Tech with Ion Izagirre or at Movistar with Enric Mas. The Germans can bet on Max Schachmann and Lennard Kämna, and the Belgians could be represented at the sharp end of the classification by Dylan Teuns (3rd in 2017) and Tim Wellens.

25 teams, the leading riders

Team BikeExchange: Chaves (Col), Matthews (Aus)

Bahrain Victorious: Poels (Ned), Teuns (Bel), Mohoric (Slo)


Deceuninck-Quick Step: Alaphilippe (Fra), Cattaneo (Ita), Vansevenant (Bel)
Lotto-Soudal: Gilbert, Wellens (Bel)
Intermarché-Wanty Gobert: Eiking (Nor)
Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise: Verwilst, Vanhoof (Bel)
Bingoal Pauweles Sauces WB: Vanendert (Bel)
Alpecin-Fenix: Vervaeke (Bel)

AG2R Citroën Team: Cosnefroy, Paret-Peintre (Fra)
Groupama-FDJ: Madouas, Gaudu, Molard (Fra)
Cofidis: Martin (Fra), Herrada, Barceló (Spa)
Team Arkéa-Samsic: Barguil (Fra)
Delko: Finetto (Ita)

Bora-Hansgrohe: Schachmann, Kämna (All)
Team DSM: Greensman (Ned), Haga (Usa)

Great Britain
Ineos Grenadiers: Kwiatkowski (Pol), Carapaz (Ecu), Geoghegan Hart, Pidcock, Yates (Gbr)

Israel Start-Up Nation: Woods (Can), De Marchi (Ita)

Astana-Premier Tech: Fuglsang (Den), Fraile, I. Izagirre (Spa), Lutsenko (Kaz)

Gazprom-RusVelo: Kuznetsov (Rus), Canola (Ita), Kreuziger (Rtc)

Movistar Team: Mas (Spa), Jorgenson (Usa)

South Africa
Team Qhubeka Assos: Aru (Ita), Henao (Col)

The Netherlands
Jumbo-Visma: Roglic (Slo), Oomen (Ned), Vingegaard (Ned)

United Arab Emirates
UAE Team Emirates: Hirschi (Swi), Pogacar (Slo), Formolo, Ulissi (Ita)

United States
Trek-Segafredo: Mollema (Ned), Skujins (Let)
EF Education-Nippo: Higuita, Uran (Col)