2023 Flèche Wallonne Preview – Men

Herve > Mur de Huy 194km

Pogačar continues his pursuit of world domination, can anyone find his kryptonite? There’s been a bit of talk about how he’s making cycling boring, I’m not there yet, I think his performances are still exciting. We approach this race the same as Amstel Gold, is it possible to stop him? The good news for those wanting to try is that his record in this race isn’t great, some crumbs of comfort for his rivals.

Weather

Cloudy, no rain, not too cold.

The Climbs

Côte de Cherave, it’s not that hard.

The mighty Mur de Huy. Some say this is boring, they are wrong.

Tactics

Okay, three laps of the circuit, but damage can only really be done on the Mur de Huy. With Pogačar starting as the overwhelming favourite, will some of his main rivals go all adventurous and attack second time up? The problem is this comes with 37km to go, that’s a long way with UAE chasing behind. Going early isn’t easy in this race, it needs a strong group which doesn’t include a certain dude from Slovenia.

After getting help from other teams in Amstel, surely the time has come from everyone to sit back and allow UAE to take full control of the race. A few teams will be on the phone to each other, trying to dream up a plan of getting a strong break up the road, and then forcing UAE to chase. The problem they’ll have is UAE have riders like Hirschi and Ulissi who are strong enough to infiltrate an attack on the Mur de Huy. I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom, but anything but the race being altogether for the final time up the climb is highly unlikely.

Is it possible to beat Pogačar in this scenario? Well, it’s hard to win this race from a poor position, just ask Dan Martin and Michael Woods. The key to beating Pogačar is to have teammates for the finale, use them to nail a lead out into the foot of the Mur and pray to God that Pogačar gets swamped. I know it’s thin, but you try and think of a way to beat him.

Contenders

Tadej Pogačar – turns out he’s not too bad on a bike. His current level of domination is hard to comprehend, maybe unless you lived through the Merckx era. He’s blown everyone away this year, you can blame Vingegaard for making him angry. Now that he’s gone full Hulk, beating him is almost impossible. This race will be a good one to watch, he’ll wait until the final kilometre and not attack from 30km. If he’s near the front at the foot of the Mur, he wins.

Tom Pidcock – 6th here on debut in 2021, it’s a finish that suits him well. After showing weakness in the longer races recently, I hope the shorter distance suits him better. He managed to follow Pogačar quite a long way up the Keutenberg, he’ll still believe he can beat him.

Michael Woods – is it finally his year? If he’s going to win, his position for the final climb needs to be good, sometimes he’s started too far back. This season hasn’t been great, but one win would change all of that.

Enric Mas – he’s shown that he can follow Pogačar on steep slopes, but he’s been unable to beat him, apart from Emilia last year. He wasn’t at his best in the Basque Country, but he wasn’t far off, he’ll hope to have found that little bit extra in the last week.

Victor Lafay – just imagine if Cofidis won this race. The form is good, he was excellent in winning on Friday, but can he really beat those already mentioned? I think the answer is no, but the top 5 is possible.

Maxim Van Gils – another who loves steep slopes, I see him finishing in the top 10.

Ilan Van Wilder – will he get the nod or Bagioli? Given the way he’s been going this year, I think the Belgian deserves team leadership. He’s just back from altitude camp, I’m hoping he’s flying as he’s a genuine contender for the podium.

Prediction Time

A very typical Flèche Wallonne, and a very typical winner.

Embed from Getty Images

It’s another win for Tadej Pogačar.

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