La Fleche Wallonne 2016 preview: six riders to watch

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La Fleche Wallonne 2016 preview: who can stop Alejandro Valverde?

Valverde bids for third consecutive victory on the Mur de Huy

The second of the Ardennes Classics will see attention turn to the Mur de Huy for La Fleche Wallonne, which rolls out on Wednesday (April 20).

Alejandro Valverde leads the list of contenders, with the Spaniard having won both of the last two editions and three times in all during his career.

Alejandro Valverde celebrates his La Fleche Wallonne triumph atop the Mur de Huy in 2015 (pic: Sirotti)

One more victory for Valverde and the Movistar man will pull clear of the likes of Eddy Merckx and Moreno Argentin as the undisputed most successful rider in the race’s history.

– La Fleche Wallonne 2016: TV schedule –

In fact, the last four editions of the race have been won by Spanish riders, with Valverde’s now team-mate Daniel Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez, both of whom won for Katusha, winning in 2013 and 2012 respectively.

Valverde is undoubtedly the man to beat, but a change to the course and a star-studded list of contenders means he won’t have it all his own way on the Mur de Huy – we’ve taken a closer look at his form and the men out to stop him.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Alejandro Valverde won both La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2015, taking his tally of wins at both to three.

In fact, the Amstel Gold Race – where last year he finished second – is the only one of the three Ardennes Classics he is yet to win.

Alejandro Valverde will bid for a third La Fleche Wallonne triumph on Wednesday (pic: Sirotti)

This year he opted to skip the action on the Cauberg in favour of riding the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon instead, a decision which paid off as he won two stages and the overall classification.

Now he returns to a race he has made his own in the past couple of years bidding to seal an unprecedented fourth career win.

His form in Spain – where he also won the Ruta del Sol earlier this season – suggests he is in top shape, and with another former winner in Daniel Moreno alongside him, Movistar will be the team to beat again this year.

La Fleche Wallonne 2015: winner
2016 highlights: Ruta del Sol – one stage win, winner overall; Vuelta a Castilla y Leon – two stage wins, winner overall.

Daniel Martin (Etixx-QuickStep)

Birmingham-born Irishman Dan Martin opened his Etixx-QuickStep account at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and then took his form onto the WorldTour where he won one stage and finished third overall at the Volta a Catalunya.

It is traditionally the Ardennes Classics where Martin peaks, however, and as a former runner-up at La Fleche Wallonne has a point to prove.

Dan Martin won stage three of the Volta a Catalunya and will hope to peak for the Ardennes Classics (pic: Tim de Waele/EQS)

A crash killed his chances 12 months ago, while he mistimed his attack when last year’s Tour de France took in the Mur de Huy, and had to settle for fourth.

Etixx-QuickStep do have a number of cards to play in the race, with last year’s runner-up Julian Alaphilippe and De Brabantse Pijl winner Petr Vakoc both in their eight-man line-up too.

All three will need to be kept at close quarters, and if they get their tactics right could all put in some big digs on the final lap.

La Fleche Wallonne 2015: DNF
2016 highlights: Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana – one stage win; Volta a Catalunya – one stage win, third overall

Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal)

Tim Wellens showed more attacking intent at the Amstel Gold Race, with the sort of late attack with which the 24-year-old has already become synonymous.

And Lotto-Soudal have promised more to come from the team at La Fleche Wallonne where last year, surprise surprise, it was Wellens who ignited the finale again.

Tim Wellens was as active as ever at the Amstel Gold Race and is showing no signs of quelling his attacking intent (pic: Sirotti)

On that occasion his attack, on the Cote de Cherave, caused a selection to form on the run-in to the Mur de Huy, but ultimately his charge was halted on the lower slopes of the final climb.

In fact, Lotto-Soudal have said they’ll do “everything we can to avoid” a sprint on the Mur de Huy and have called on other teams to help Wellens, Tony Gallopin and Jelle Vanendert light it up on the final lap.

Gallopin was fifth on the Mur de Huy at last year’s Tour de France, and both he and Wellens will need to be marked carefully as the kilometres tick down.

La Fleche Wallonne 2015: 31st
2016 highlights: Paris-Nice – one stage win; Amstel Gold Race – tenth

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

Joaquim Rodriguez won La Fleche Wallonne in 2012 and was also victorious on the Mur de Huy in 2015 at the Tour de France.

But the veteran Spaniard goes into Wednesday’s race on the back of a crash and DNF at Amstel Gold Race, and the 36-year-old will need to recapture his top form and fitness if he wants a repeat of those results.

Joaquim Rodriguez suffered an early crash at the Amstel Gold Race and the 36-year-old will need to bounce back for La Fleche (pic: Sirotti)

Fourth last time out, Purito was coming into form nicely for the Ardennes Classics – where he is also a former Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner – after a strong showing in the Basque Country.

He is yet to record a win in 2016, however, and will need to step it up – and put Sunday’s crash behind him – if he is to change that, particularly with former team-mate Daniel Moreno no longer by his side but up against him instead.

La Fleche Wallonne 2015: 4th
2016 highlights: Tour of the Basque Country – fourth on stage five, fifth overall.

Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE)

Michael Albasini was in top shape at the Amstel Gold Race, putting in some huge shifts alongside Paris-Roubaix Mat Hayman to control the peloton.

Their efforts ultimately went unrewarded, as neither Michael Matthews (fifth) nor Simon Gerrans (11th) could finish the job off but it does bode well for La Fleche Wallonne.

Michael Albasini (middle) put in some big shifts for Orica-GreenEDGE at the Amstel Gold Race (pic: Sirotti)

The Swiss ace was third last time out and was also on the podium in 2012, when he was second behind Rodriguez.

In fact, Albasini has been in the top ten at La Fleche on no less than six occasions but is yet to taste to victory in the race.

With Hayman, Matthews and British ace Adam Yates all in Orica-GreenEDGE’s line-up for the race though, the 35-year-old Swiss rider can count on some serious support and if Orica-GreenEDGE control the riding like they did on Sunday it could be their race to lose.

La Fleche Wallonne 2015: 3rd
2016 highlights: N/A

Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty Groupe-Gobert)

Second at De Brabantse Pijl, winner of the Amstel Gold Race – it would be remiss not to mention Enrico Gasparotto but this is the Ardennes Classic he has enjoyed the least success in.

Also a former podium finisher at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Gasparotto has never even cracked the top ten at La Fleche and was 15th this time last year.

Enrico Gasparotto won Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race but has traditionally never done as well at La Fleche (pic: Sirotti)

But the Italian clearly has the form, and was comfortably near the front of the peloton throughout the Amstel Gold Race before his race-winning attack on the Cauberg.

If he can carry that form forward, he will be one to watch on the run-in to the Mur de Huy – but it will take a big improvement on his previous La Fleche performances to add to his Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold results.

La Fleche Wallonne 2015: 15th
2016 highlights: De Brabanste Pilj – second; Amstel Gold Race – winner

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