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72nd La Flèche Wallonne - 1.HC

Belgium, April 23, 2008

The Mur's madness

Huy to decide race marked by 10 leg-zapping côtes

By Gregor Brown

Last year Rebellin repeated his 2004 victory. Can he do it again?
Photo ©: AFP
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Every year as La Flèche Wallonne approaches there is always one thought that springs to mind: the Mur de Huy. The climb – a 1300-metre leg-snapping ascent in the city of Huy – will once again conclude the 72nd running of the Belgian Classic when it is run this Wednesday, 199.5 kilometres in length, starting from Charleroi.

The Ardennes Classic has been run for 73 years now and it can sometimes be overlooked as it is sandwiched in between the Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège; nonetheless, it is a race that packs a punch with 10 côtes (or 'hills' in this French-speaking part of Belgium).

The 'Wallonne Arrow' will travel eastward when it is shot off at 11:20 from Charleroi. The parcours kicks into action after the passage of Wanze, where the riders will encounter the 10 sharp and nasty côtes. The most feared ascent is the Mur de Huy – or the 'Wall of Huy' simply stated. It will be done three times, with the final ascent being the the race-ending climb, similar to the Cauberg in Amstel Gold or the Ans in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but one that is much steeper, with a 9.3 percent average gradient and some sections of 14, 19 and 25 percent.

"Last year, I bided my time, gabbling it all on the final climb of the Mur de Huy," said 2007 Winner Davide Rebellin to Cyclingnews this last week. Therefore, normally, the race comes to a slow-motion battle on final ascent in Huy. However, there are other climbs that will come into play before the final of three assents of Huy, namely in the final 104.5-kilometre loop with the côtes of Peu d'Eau, Haut-Bois, Thon, Bonneville, Bohissau and Ahin.

The climbs:
Km 65.5, Mur de Huy (1.3 km, 9.3%)
Km 84, Côte d'Ereffe (2.2 km, 5.6%)
Km 95, Mur de Huy (1.3 km, 9.3%)
Km 134.5, Côte de Peu d'Eau (2.5 km, 4.2%)
Km 140, Côte de Haut-Bois (1.4 km, 5.4%)
Km 149.5, Côte de Thon (1.2 km, 7.1%)
Km 157.5, Côte de Bonneville (1.1 km, 7.9%)
Km 170.5, Côte de Bohissau (3.4 km, 4%)
Km 188.5, Côte de Ahin (2.5 km, 6%)
Km 202.5, Mur de Huy (1.3 km, 9.3%)

The final assault is very steep – the Mur de Huy
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Belgians dominated early editions of La Flèche Wallonne, the race conceived by newspaper Les Sports. The hometown boys won since its inception, from first edition winner Philippe Demeersman up until the second win by André Dierickx in 1975. However, recent winners have come from further afield with Italy's Moreno Argentin (three-time winner), Michele Bartoli (1999), Rebellin (winner in 2004 and 2007) and Danilo Di Luca (2005), France's Laurent Jalabert (1995 and 1997) and USA's Lance Armstrong (1996).

Likewise, expect a non-Belgian to win on the Mur de Huy this year. Top favourites come from Italy with Amstel Gold winner Damiano Cunego of Team Lampre – the 26 year-old is backed by a convinced team and winning-confidence – and 'Tintin' Rebellin, who, with 17 years of professional racing experience and two Flèche victories to his name, can't be counted out.

Spain will lead the thrust with Alejandro Valverde of Team Caisse d'Epargne. The 2006 winner just missed out on Sunday in Valkenburg and will be looking for a bit of revenge; he will have the tranquillity of a past winner and the confidence from his third place in the Amstel Gold and recent win in Paris-Camembert Lepetit. Look for strong support, or perhaps the win, from Spanish team-mate Joaquím Rodríguez.

Team Rabobank will likely base its chances on Dutchman Robert Gesink, with options coming from compatriot Thomas Dekker and Spaniard Oscar Freire. Team CSC's Schleck bothers, Fränk and Andy, will likely find the Huy too stiff of an ascent for their liking, but don't count out the Denmark-based team to master-mind the situation. Keep an eye on Holland's Karsten Kroon or Spain's Carlos Sastre.

Other names to follow will be Kim Kirchen (High Road), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) and 2003 winner Igor Astarloa (Team Milram).