2013 Fleche-Wallonne Race Preview: The Riders To Watch


The second leg of the Ardennes Classics is tomorrow, and here are the riders to keep an eye on. 

Roman Kreuziger took a massive win at Amstel Gold Sunday, a win that SaxoBank-Tinkoff sorely needed after a light spring campaign. While the team is built for the Grand Tours, and more specifically for Alberto Contador at the Grand Tours, they still have the firepower to target the hilly Ardennes races. Kreuziger’s style of riding won’t suit Fleche Wallone Wednesday, though don’t count him out at Liege-Bastogne-Liege this weekend.

Philippe Gilbert was close, but not close enough to catch Kreuziger at Amstel. Gilbert got a healthy dose of the Cancellara treatment; when Alejandro Valverde and eventually Simon Gerrans bridged up to the world champion’s wheel, they wouldn’t or couldn’t pull through. That kept the Czech rider up the road and Gilbert towing a growing group to the line. For BMC, the only solid performer this spring has been Greg van Avermaet. It’s Gilbert’s turn to step up and show his class, preferably that of 2010, when he won all three Ardennes races. He’s won at Fleche Wallone before, and it’s a huge race for the Walloon racer, but with punchier riders on the start list, it may not be his day.

Alberto Contador is one of those punchier riders, and he’s been confirmed to start Fleche and L-B-L. He’s finished on the podium at Fleche before, and the Muur de Huy finish suits his powerful, twitchy style of racing. However, Contador has admitted that his very busy race schedule this spring has him feeling tired, something the team is hoping to remedy with a lighter load after these races. He’s had a week or so off, so watch for Contador and Saxo using Nicki Sorensen or Michael Morkov as a probe up the road.

Alejandro Valverde took second Sunday, and he’ll be a dangerous rider at Fleche. The Movistar team is looking for results this spring, and Valverde’s steadily improving will, more likely than not, be the bringing of hardware if it’s going to come. The Spaniard has a checkered past, serving a doping ban and having his name come up in numerous doping cases, but he seems a changed rider. Bigger, more consistent and not as strong a climber, Valverde will be all in on the Muur if he can keep the climbers at bay early.

Maxim Iglinsky spearheads the Astana squad, one that took two of the three Ardennes races last year. They bring in the team known for its unfulfilled potential, at least so far. Janez Brajkovic and Jakob Fuglsang will both take starts, looking for some results to justify the “team leader” tag on their business cards. Janez doesn’t have a lot of pedigree for one day races, but Fuglsang’s style is actually well-suited for the Muur. For Astana to take anything away from this race, it will be down to this trio riding smart and playing the game for the team and not for themselves.

Richie Porte‘s win at Paris-Nice was a nice spring break for the perpetual domestique, and his time in yellow at the Volta, too, was a pleasant surprise. The Sky man will get his last green light of the year Wednesday, and don’t expect the Tasmanian to miss it. With their GC men at Giro del Trentino and in Italy just to train, Porte enters Fleche with a loaded support squad, including Sergio Henao, Jonathan Tierrnan-Locke and Rigoberto Uran. That quartet will be dangerous throughout the day, and with that much firepower and Sky’s commitment to riding as a team, don’t be surprised if they work to break up the race in the final 40km instead of the last 10.

Simon Gerrans was third Sunday, but Orica-GreenEdge will hope to get more from him in the final two races of the Ardennes. Gerro has the history and the talent to win every race he enters, but he needs to take a look at the timing and tactics of riders like Joaquin Rodriguez (out with injury), Philipe Gilbert, and Alberto Contador. Just making the selection doesn’t win you anything; making it and breaking it at the right time is how Roman Kreuziger won Sunday, and how the Ardennes Classics are attacked.

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