Tonight's (AEST) La Flèche Wallone kicks off the first of Belgium's two Ardennes Classics and while the coronavirus pandemic has forced a change to the event's usual spring date, it's still one you won't want to miss.
Matt Keenan

30 Sep 2020 - 3:02 PM 

Primetime Flèche Wallone

Women’s cycling is entering an unprecedented phase of opportunity, to capture Australian audiences, and it all starts with Flèche Wallone in primetime (Wednesday, September 30 at 7pm AEST - LIVE on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand).

It’s dinner on the couch watching the world’s best in action.

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We’ll also have coverage of the women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege (Sunday 4 October) and the first edition of the women’s Paris-Roubaix (Sunday 25 October). All in primetime, on SBS, followed by the men’s races.

I’m looking forward to the men’s races but this progress has me even more excited about the women’s races.

Women’s Flèche Wallone

Finishing atop the Mur de Huy, after 124km, the red hot favourite is Anna van der Breggen (Boels - Dolmans).

Winning form is good form. She won the time trial and the road race at the recent world championships and has won Flèche for the past five years.

Can she be beaten? Yes, but it will take a full team effort.

The prime candidate is Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo). On a similar uphill finish, Longo Borghini got the better of Van der Breggen to win the queen stage of the Giro d’Italia.

She needs her teammates, all of them. Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Ruth Winder must put pressure on Boels-Dolmans early by getting in the breakaway. Then, before the second last climb, it’s Lizzie Deignan’s turn to attack for Trek-Segafredo. You have to chase Deignan.

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Meanwhile Longo Borghini, sits in the peloton with the support of Tayler Wiles, and rides the most boring 123km imaginable leaving as much as possible in the tank for the final climb.

Of course all of this can be brought undone by Anna van der Breggen being Anna van der Brilliant again or Boels-Dolmans making the most of Amy Pieters, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak or Christine Majerus. Their team is stacked too.

Other candidates include another five-time winner Marianne Vos and her teammate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon SRAM), Mavi Garcia (Ale BTC Ljubljana), Liane Lippert (Sunweb) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ).

Among the Australians, the most likely podium contender is Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott). In the absence of Annemiek van Vleuten, she’ll have to plenty of team support to get her to the bottom of the last climb with a few petrol tickets left and near the front of the group.

I’m also really keen to see how New Zealand’s Mikayla Harvey (Equipe Paule Ka) performs. Third in the queen stage at the Giro d’Italia and fifth overall, the 22-year-old has quickly become one of the world’s best climber.

Men’s Flèche Wallone

Since 2014 the men’s race has been won by either Alejandro Valverde or Julian Alaphilippe. They’re both non-starters so the window opens for a new winner.

The headline act on the start line, of the 202km race, is Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE). However, at the world championships, on Sunday, he clearly hadn’t recovered from the Tour. But don’t write him off.

Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) will be battling Tour de France fatigue, nappy changing exhaustion, world championship travel lethargy and a peloton full of riders fresh and super motivated having missed the Tour. Yet he has an air of relaxed confidence that puts him in the mix.

Mikel Landa, fourth at the Tour, has never won a one-day race. The Mur de Huy finish suits him but I’d be surprised if he won.

After their photo finish for the bronze medal, at the world championships, Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) and Michal Kwiatkowski (INEOS) are my two top favourites.

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They’re both instinctive winners and have clearly recovered well from the Tour, where they both won a stage.

Amongst the Australians Rob Power and Michael Storer will be riding in support of Hirschi and Cam Wurf will be on hand for Kwiatkowski. Simon Clarke will be the road captain at EF Pro Cycling, who will be hoping Rigoberto Uran or Dani Martinez can produce the goods.

Meanwhile Rory Sutherland (Israel StartUp Nation) will be starting the final phase of his career before hanging up his wheels at the end of the season.

The start list also shows how hard it will be for teams to manage the packed 2020 COVID calendar. Five teams, including INEOS and Jumbo-Visma, will have just six riders on the start line, instead of the allowed seven. Rider fatigue management is yet another 2020 challenge.

Catch all the action from the men's and women's La Flèche Wallone races LIVE on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand from 7pm (AEST) on Wednesday, September 30.