CYCLING Preview: Can Alaphilippe hold off Valverde again at “The Flemish Arrow” on Wednesday?

The Tour de France leader: France's Julian Alaphilippe

Another of the classic spring races – La Fleche Wallonne – comes Wednesday for both men and women. Originated in 1936 to help raise the circulation of the Belgian newspaper Les Sports, it has most recently been a showcase for Spain’s riders, who won six races in a row from 2012-17 until France’s Julian Alaphilippe got to the line first last year. The winners of the last five races will be on the line, with a total of nine former medal winners:

● Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) ~ Defending Champion
● Alejandro Valverde (ESP) ~ Winners in 2006-14-15-16-17, second in 2007-18
● Michael Albasini (SUI) ~ Second in 2012, third in 2015
● Dan Martin (IRL) ~ Second in 2017
● Sergio Henao (COL) ~ Second 2013
● Jelle Vanendert (BEL) ~ Third in 2018
● Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) ~ Third in 2014
● Dylan Teuns (BEL) ~ Third in 2017
● Carlos Betancur (COL) ~ Third in 2013

Valverde has dominated the race for the last five years, winning four and getting second last year. Now 38, he’s already had 28 riding days this year, winning one stage in the UAE Tour and finishing second in a state of the Volta a Catalunya. He was eighth in the mass finish of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, so he’s a threat.

Alaphilippe has been brilliant in 2019, winning Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo and individual stages in the Tirreno-Adriatico and Itzulia Basque Country. He was fourth in the wild finish last Sunday in the Amstel Gold Race after appearing a likely winner late in the race, so he will have plenty of motivation.

Other sure contenders are Dane Jakob Fuglsang, who also had a shot at winning at Amstel Gold and finished third, perennial contender Peter Sagan (SVK), having a rough season so far, Australia’s Michael Mathews, Britain’s Adam Yates and France’s Roman Bardet, among others.

The hilly course comprises 195 km and includes 14 climbs, finishing with a short, nasty ascent to the Mur de Huy. Look for results here.

The women’s La Fleche Wallonne started in 1998 and like Valverde among the men, this race has belonged to Dutch riders Marianne Vos and Anna van der Breggen. The returning medalists:

● Anna van der Breggen (NED) ~ Four wins in 2015-16-17-18
● Marianne Vos (NED) ~ Five wins in 2007-08-09-11-13; second in 2012
● Ashleigh Moolman (RSA) ~ Second in 2018; third in 2013
● Annemiek van Vleuten (NED) ~ Second in 2015
● Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA) ~ Second in 2013; third in 2014
● Lizzie Deignan (GBR) ~ Second in 2014-17
● Kasia Niewiadoma (POL) ~ Third in 2017

The 118.5 km course that begins and ends in Huy has seven significant climbs and ends with the run-up to the Mur de Huy as well.

While van der Breggen has owned this race of late, there are other contenders. Surely Niewiadoma, coming off a fine win over van Vleuten in the Amstel Gold Race, must be considered, along with Vos (still just 31), who was third. And what of Deignan, who returned from maternity in the Amstel Gold Race and actually pushed the pace at points, finally finishing 19th. Moolman was sixth at Strade Bianche, but has been quiet since; it may be time for a break-out.

Look for results here.