• Alejandro Valverde goes into Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne as the number one favourite. (Getty)
Out of the Ardennes triptych, La Flèche Wallonne is the least tactical and most predictable. Anthony Tan scrutinises the usual suspects in a race where the strongest always wins.
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21 Apr 2015 - 9:20 PM  UPDATED 21 Apr 2015 - 9:26 PM

"In the last 15 years a breakaway has survived only thrice..."

If you thought Amstel Gold was predictable, in that the winning group forms out of the third and final ascension of the Cauberg, La Flèche Wallonne, the midweek WorldTour classic slotted between Amstel and Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège is even more so, since it stands out as the only Classic with a summit finish.

In the last 15 years a breakaway has survived only thrice - strangely enough, in consecutive years between 2001-03, the last winner being Igor Astarloa; meaning that, the probability of it happening again is about 20 percent, or one-in-five.

Over the years, the predictability of La Flèche has prompted numerous course changes - including this year's edition - but with the vertiginous Mur de Huy always (since 1983, anyway) lurking as the final hurdle, nothing really alters that much. (Plus ça change...) It's very much a case of 'he with the best legs' on the 1.3 kilometre ramp that averages 9.3 percent and boasts sections of 17 percent, and steeper still 'round the corners; up to 26 percent, or so Wiki says...

The climbs of the 2015 Flèche Wallonne:

Km 22.0 - Côte des 36 Tournants: 2.9 kilometre-long climb at 4.8%
Km 92.0 - Côte de Bellaire: 1 kilometre-long climb at 6.3%
Km 100.0 - Côte de Bohissau: 2.4 kilometre-long climb at 5.5%
Km 118.0 - Mur de Huy: 1.3 kilometre-long climb at 9.6%
Km 131.0 - Côte d'Ereffe: 2.1 kilometre-long climb at 5%
Km 150.0 - Côte de Bellaire: 1 kilometre-long climb at 6.3%
Km 158.5 - Côte de Bohissau: 2.4 kilometre-long climb at 5.5%
Km 176.5 - Mur de Huy: 1.3 kilometre-long climb at 9.6%
Km 189.0 - Côte d'Ereffe: 2.1 kilometre-long climb at 5%
Km 200.0 - Côte de Cherave: 1.3 kilometre-long climb at 8.1%
Km 205.5 - Finish in Huy (Mur de Huy): 1.3 kilometre-long climb at 9.6%

So, what have they done this year?

"the Cherave should ensure a hundred-strong peloton does not descend en masse into Huy at breakneck speed..."

Well, this year, a climb immediately prior to the third and final ascension of the Mur de Huy and situated around five kilometres from the finish, Le Côte de Cherave, has been added.

Exactly the same length as the former though not quite as steep (8.1% versus 9.3%), the Cherave should ensure a hundred-strong peloton does not descend en masse into Huy at breakneck speed; always a frightening sight, even if in recent years crashes have luckily been few. More likely, expect a group of 30-40 to contest victory in the 79th edition of the Walloon Arrow, the race's literal English translation.

As well as borrowing elements of Paris-Roubaix - namely, the fourth stage from Seraing to Cambrai - this year's Tour de France pays homage to La Flèche the day previous with a finish atop the Mur de Huy. With a carbon copy finale, betting men, stage protagonists and GC contenders alike will be no doubt keep a furtive eye on Wednesday's proceedings prior to a visit by Le Tour on July 6.

"Pressure does not faze him."

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Why he can win: The bookies' favourite. Won twice before (2006, '14) and in superb nick (then again, when is he not?); Michal Kwiatkowski aside, was best of the rest at Amstel Gold. Pressure does not faze him.
Why he can't: Too heavily marked on the Mur.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "I'm still hungry... I want this."

Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha)

Why he can win: He's won before (2012); La Flèche and Liège suit him to a T.
Why he can't: Seems to be missing a little compared to years previous; trademark explosivity so far absent.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "J-Rod needs to show he's still got it. Then quit talking about himself in the third person."

"Since his 2011 annus mirabilis, a shadow of his former indomitable self."

Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing)

Why he can win: Won before (2011), and in good shape.
Why he can't: 2011 was long time ago. Since his 2011 annus mirabilis, a shadow of his former indomitable self.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "If I don't have a good Ardennes, I'm going to quit. Oh wait, I've said that before, haven't I?"

Daniel Martin (Cannondale-Garmin)

Why he can win: Because the lanky, idiosyncratic Irishman is made for the Mur.
Why he can't: Only glimpses of form so far this season; then again, Dan Martin is nothing if not erratic (2014 as an example: 84th road worlds in Ponferrada; seven days later, wins Il Lombardia).
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "Based on history and my lack of results to date this year, I should be in contention to win."

Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step)

Why he can win: With his victory at Amstel, the rainbow curse is, to quote our honourable PM Tony Abbott, dead, buried, and cremated. 5th in 2013, 3rd in 2014... 1st in 2015, no?
Why he can't: While we're quoting, his team manager Patrick Lefevere last week said of Kwiatkowski, 'He's a good rider but he doesn't win often'. Thanks, Patrick...
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "I don't care what Lefevere thinks. He's a good manager but doesn't praise often."

Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge)

Why he can win: Solid showing at Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of Basque Country), with three top-10s and 5th GC. Unmarked rider; can follow big names and, if he's still got some left in the tank, do his thing.
Why he can't: He's a 22-year-old second year pro, son! Give 'im a break, ol' boy!
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "I'll show those Sky guys what they missed out on, I will..."

"Nibbles is getting a little peckish..."

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

Why he can win: Because 'Lo Squalo' can pull a rabbit out of the hat. Aggressive in the finale of Amstel, and shorter race distance (205.5km) means he doesn't have to be in top form to win.
Why he can't: Because he's doing what he did last year, where for the first half of the season he won nothing apart from the national road championship, then spanked all and sundry at Le Tour, then won nothing again.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "Nibbles never bites more than he can chew. But Nibbles is getting a little peckish..."