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by Shane Stokes
April 22, 2015
Photography by Kristoff Ramon
Second behind world champion Michal Kwiatkowski in Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, Alejandro Valverde will be one of the big favourites in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne. The defending champion, who also won in 2006, is in strong form this season and his Movistar team manager Jose-Luis Arrieta is convinced he will be a major protagonist.
Speaking on the eve of the race, Arrieta said that the riders from the team rode the final 50 kilometres early on Tuesday. He said that the new climb in the finale should shake things up, but he is unclear if it will be as decisive as some think.
“I believe there will be a lot of attacks on the Côte de Cherave, but it’ll be difficult to gain more than 30 seconds and hope to win at the top of the Mur de Huy. On the other hand, the selection will be a lot bigger than usual.”
As a result of that, he suggests that many of the big guns could be left without team-mates prior to the last climb, the famous Mur de Huy.
“For Alejandro, it’ll be important to adapt to the situation. Let’s not forget that he attacked far from the line when he won the Tour of Catalunya, for example.”
He added that 2014 Giro d’Italia champion Nairo Quintana is riding the race for experience and also to help Valverde, and doesn’t have pressure or expectation of fighting for the win.
The 2013 Tour de France champion Chris Froome is in a similar position; he wants to test his form, but isn’t the team’s designated number one rider.
Directeur sportif Gabriel Rasch said that Froome had just spent two weeks training in Tenerife with Richie Porte and Nicolas Roche.
“He took a plane to come here today and will ride his bike in the afternoon, but won’t check out the course,” he said, speaking Tuesday.
“For tomorrow, we’ll be mainly counting on Sergio Henao and Lars-Peter Nordhaug who have good cards to play on the climb of the Mur de Huy.”
He added that Froome’s main objective was to check out the course prior to the Tour de France using the Mur de Huy as the finish on stage three, and didn’t have plans to compete in Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Former winner Philippe Gilbert would love to add another triumph to his 2011 success, not least because he was unsuccessful in his bid to win the Amstel Gold Race.
However BMC Racing Team directeur sportif Valerio Piva said that he didn’t have the burden of expectation from his team.
“He’s in shape. Unfortunately he failed to make a difference on the Amstel Gold race like last year, but he was well present,” he said. “He won’t have as much pressure at the start as on the Amstel or for Liège that he dreams of winning again, and that might be a positive thing to get a good result.
“I believe that with the succession of the Cote d’Ereffe and the Cote de Cherave before the Mur, there won’t be a big group at the finish. Philippe likes that.”
Race director Jean-Michel Monin is responsible for the new course in the final kilometres of the event and said there were specific reasons for its adoption.
“This new one is both harder and closer to the finish [than the previous Côte d’Ahin – ed.].
“It is far more decisive and there will surely be a big battle not matter how it finishes, especially due to the fact that there are four hills in the last 30kms. Now will the riders make the best of it? To be able to break away from the pack and have a decent 30” lead and hang on to the lead until the end, you have to be among the favourites.”
He nominates Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali as one who he believes might try such an attack, pointing to his aggression in the Amstel Gold Race as a sign that he is hungry for success.