La Flèche Wallonne is the second of the three Ardennes classics; it starts in the town of Seraing and finishes at the top of the iconic Mur de Huy.
While the midweek start and a roll out from the construction-zone town of Seraing might seem less-than-perfect conditions for a major bike race, this year’s Flèche promised a good show, thanks to an absolutely stacked start list featuring some of the biggest names in the sport. With the presence of Alejandro Valverde, who seems to have made this race his own after winning the last four editions, the stage was set for some fireworks.
The race itself is a bit of a slow burner, with the majority of the action taking place on the short but steep Mur de Huy; everyone was anxious to get to the “wall” of Huy, where the race would surely be decided.
Battling our way through the crowds to get into position for the first ascent, we ended up atop a garage roof, where we’d climbed up using a conveniently placed—but very rickety—homemade ladder. I hasten add, the homeowner kindly consented to allow us through the garden, and we ultimately had a grandstand view of the passing peloton.
For the next ascent we made our way slightly further up the climb; with temperatures in the 20s, shade was in short supply for the thirty minute wait between climbs.
Each successive climb saw a frenetic burst of activity as the now-fragmenting peloton passed; the race began to bite, with the main contenders beginning to show their hands.
Making our way up the steep finishing climb required us to dodge through crowds that were about five deep by this point. As with all races nervous energy begins to build as the riders approach. Crouched in my favourite position at the front of the press pack, I heard the roar of the crowd increase once the riders came into view; after just a few seconds of frenetic activity, the winner—Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe—crossed the line and it was pretty much all over.
Words & Images: Chris Auld
Subscribe to our print edition for the best of New Zealand Cycling.