The 2021 editions of La Flèche Wallonne will take place tomorrow, April 21st in Wallonia. The race is the second of three Ardennes classics, but it is the first of the trio in Belgium.
The race is defined by the Mur de Huy. The Mur is a short, brutally steep climb that takes place in the final kilometer. With the finish line coming at the top, the winner of the race is the rider who times their effort on the Mur to perfection.
A season ago, we got two very different storylines in La Flèche Wallonne. In the women’s race, Anna van der Breggen won her sixth straight Flèche title. On the men’s side of things, Marc Hirschi won his first.
— La Flèche Wallonne (@flechewallonne) April 19, 2021
🏹 It’s the Netherlands vs the rest of the World on #FWwomen!
— La Flèche Wallonne (@flechewallonne) April 15, 2021
You do not win six straight editions of a WorldTour cycling race without simply being the best in the world on a specific type of terrain. With that in mind, Anna van der Breggen enters 2021 as the prohibitive favorite for La Flèche.
Van der Breggen already holds the record for most victories at La Flèche, one ahead of Marianne Vos and Alejandro Valverde. Given that the Dutch rider is set to retire at the end of the season, 2021 will be her final opportunity to add to that total.
Recent history would suggest that van der Breggen is virtually unbeatable at this race. However, she will be up against some very accomplished riders who will be motivated to pull off the upset.
The leading candidate to flip the script is likely to be Annemiek van Vleuten. The Movistar rider has twice finished second behind van der Breggen at this race, in 2015 and 2019.
Marriane Vos picked up five victories at La Flèche between 2007 and 2013. She has not finished on the podium since her last victory, but she has been on great form so far this season.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig finished second behind van der Breggen a season ago. She has already improved upon several of last year’s results and could be a real contender for another podium.
Kasia Niewiadoma finished third at this race in 2017. She is a great bet to secure at least a top ten on Wednesday.
Trek-Segafredo’s Elisa Longo Borghini has two podium places to her name at La Flèche Wallonne.
Lastly, Liane Lippert finished 8th a season ago in her second attempt at this race. She is a bit of an outsider, but if she can build on that result Wednesday could be a great day for her.
🏹 For whom is the Mur?
🤩 The #FlecheWallonne 2021 will be showing off some racing royalty!
— La Flèche Wallonne (@flechewallonne) April 14, 2021
Last year’s winner, Marc Hirschi, has not quite had his form from a season ago. Still, he should not be ruled out.
Julian Alaphilippe, the current World Champion, won this race in 2018 and 2019. In 2021, Alaphilippe also has not quite had the legs that he displayed last season. However, a sixth place at Amstel Gold could indicate that he is trending upwards at the perfect time.
Alejandro Valverde has five victories at La Flèche Wallonne, including four straight from 2014 to 2017. He may be turning 41 on Sunday, but the elder statesmen of the men’s peloton has not shown any signs of slowing down.
Outside of those three, there are a whole host of riders who have podiumed this race in the past that certainly could do so again. Benoît Cosnefroy, Michael Woods, Jakob Fuglsang, Diego Ulissi and Dylan Teuns all fall into this category.
Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar are two Tour de France contenders who could use Wednesday to make an early statement of intent.
Ineos is bringing a very strong team to the race, with Tom Pidcock, Michal Kwiatkowski and Richard Carapaz looking the most likely to contend. BORA is in a similar situation with their trio of Max Schachmann, Ide Schelling and Patrick Konrad all in good form.
Sergio Higuita, Warren Barguil and Guillame Martin are all riders who could be around the top ten when it is all said and done.
Finally, Biniam Ghirmay is a young rider to keep an eye on. The Eritrean is just 21, and La Flèche will be his second ever WorldTour race. Ghirmay has shown impressive potential so far, and could use Wednesday to elevate his stock even further.
In many ways, La Flèche Wallonne is as much about positioning and timing as it is about power. The serial winners of this race know exactly when to make their move in order to avoid burning out before the top of the Mur de Huy.
While the women’s race has a clear favorite, the men’s race is about as wide open as it can be.
It is entirely possible that we will get two contrasting storylines once again in 2021.
My Picks: Anna van der Breggen and Julian Alaphilippe
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