Blegny > Mur de Huy 201.9km
It’s time for the Mur de Huy. The lap circuit has changed back to what it was in 2019, with the reintroduction of Côte de Cherave, a harder climb than the one that replaced it in the last three editions. Hopefully it teases some long-range attacks, just like it used to do.
Cloudy sun and temperatures will be around 15 degrees. The wind will be around 15km/h and will come from east, I doubt it has any impact on the race.
The downhill run into the tight left corner that starts the Cherave climb is hugely important, it shouldn’t be underestimated. The Cherave climb is 1.5km at 7.8%, the start of it is very steep. Once it’s been crested, then it’s the run for the Mur de Huy. I don’t have to bore you with another rant about positioning.
The Mur is 1.3km at 10%, one of my favourite climbs in cycling. Attacking at the right point is crucial, Alaphilippe knows when to go.
Is it inevitable we get another finish on the Mur de Huy? I don’t think it is, the presence of Remco increases the chances of a long-range attacking sticking, but it depends on how UAE ride the race. They have the strength to hold it together, but by bringing Cherave back into the race, it means the front group will be relatively small after the final ascent. If the right break gets away, it could mean no grandstand finish on the Mur de Huy. I’d quite like to see that.
I think we’ll see Ineos ride an attacking race, there’s no point simply waiting until the Mur de Huy. They do have strong riders for the finish, but not a big favourite. If they can put the squeeze on, you just never know what can happen. I expect to see them attack on the penultimate lap and try to force a strong break. A group will escape the peloton, but it’s likely to contain a UAE rider, which will lead to it not cooperating and getting caught by the peloton. Once on the final ascent of Cherave, I think Ineos will roll the dice again, they have the riders to do this, but the race is still likely to come back together for the finish.
Tadej Pogačar – UAE arrive with a good team. Pogačar looks perfect for this race, but as he’s not raced since Flanders, will he be a little rusty? With attacks likely to fly in the lap circuit, UAE have the men to always have a rider at the head of the race. If it does come back together, Pogačar will step forward and see if he can add this race to his growing palmarès. I think we’d all love to see him and Alaphilippe slog it out on the Mur de Huy, that would be special.
Julian Alaphilippe – I hear you telling me that he’s not on form, and I agree, but the world champion is always capable of hitting his peak just at the right time. With Remco to help him, he’ll be put in the best possible position for the final climb. He’s won this race three times in the last four years, can he do it again? QuickStep have endured a poor period of late, their hopes lie on his shoulders.
Benoît Cosnefroy – 2nd in Sarthe, 2nd in Amstel, 2nd in De Brabantse Pijl. What’s the chances of him extending that run here? It seems that the likeable Frenchman is back to his very best, something I’m delighted to see. At his best, he can challenge to win this race, but he needs a good position for the final climb and I’m not sure which of his teammates will be there to help him.
Ineos – the team of the moment, but can they continue the amazing run? Just like in recent races they arrive with a very strong team. Not only do they have Martínez and Pidcock, but they also have Kwiatkowski, Rodríguez, Fraile, Thomas and an improving De Plus. I hope they continue to attack early and not simply wait for the “sprint” finish. Pidcock seems to be just a tiny bit away from top form, but it’s coming. Martínez is flying just now, he does like steep slopes, he’ll fancy his chances of doing something.
Michael Woods – can he eventually start the climb from a good position? If the likes of Fuglsang, Clarke and Impey can survive the climbs, he’ll have help to get to the front at the right time. He is one of the best in the world on a climb like this, but he needs to be at his very best, and I’m not sure he’s quite there yet.
Alejandro Valverde – he had to abandon Catalunya due to illness, it’s unlikely he’ll be in the form to challenge to win this race. I think the team will look towards Enric Mas, someone who is a good candidate for the top 5.
Jonas Vingegaard – looked very strong in the Basque Country but walked away empty handed. He’ll be challenging for the top 5, but I don’t think he’s got the kick required to win this race.
Aleksandr Vlasov – he always impresses me on steep climbs, he’s very consistent. He performed very well in the Basque Country, eventually finishing 3rd on GC, but without that silly crash he could have won the race. This is his debut at the race, hopefully he knows how important a good position is for the Mur de Huy.
Victor Lafay – I sense he’ll attack from distance and take his chances. His recent form has been very impressive, he’s already catching the eye of some of the bigger teams, despite being signed up until the end of 2023 with Cofidis.
I’m not sure how, but Ineos will continue their winning run and Dani Martínez will become the first Colombian to win Flèche Wallonne.