Unlike in previous seasons, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team did not prove successful on the Flèche Wallonne this Wednesday. After a very controlled race, which brought a sixty-rider bunch at the bottom of the last Mur de Huy, the race favorite Tadej Pogacar took the win while Valentin Madouas reached the summit in twenty-fourth place. Suffering from allergies, David Gaudu was forced to abandon earlier. On Sunday, Liège-Bastogne-Liège will bring the Ardennes campaign to a close.
It is often said that the Flèche Wallonne only comes down to the final time up its famous Mur de Huy. The 2023 edition did not fail to the reputation. It may even have strengthened it further. On Wednesday, it first took about ten kilometres for Jacob Hindsgaul (Uno-X), Søren Kragh Andersen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Johan Meens (Bingoal WB), Lawrence Naesen (AG2R-Citroën), Jetse Bol (Burgos- BH), Georg Zimmermann (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Daryl Impey (Israel-Premier Tech) and Raúl García Pierna (Kern-Pharma) to establish the day’s breakaway. The latter was however maintained all along with just a 3-minute lead by Tadej Pogacar’s teammates. The gap even dropped to one minute approaching the first ascent of the Mur de Huy, seventy-five kilometres from the finish, where David Gaudu was forced to withdraw following allergy problems. Despite a sequence of climbs thereafter, the peloton lost very few riders while the breakaway was reduced to two men. The Mur de Huy was climbed a second time with thirty-seven kilometres to go, but it did not create any real damage and it all came down to the last loop. A few attacks notably allowed Samuele Battistella and Louis Vervaeke to join the leading duo at the head of the race, but the bunch led by UAE Team Emirates always remained in control.
“We will keep our spirits up”, Philippe Mauduit
The Côte d’Ereffe and the Côte de Cherave certainly made a selection before heading towards the race’s last climb, but the pack was still compact and filled with some sixty riders before approaching Huy. “Quentin and Rudy weren’t in shape to compete for the finish because they were still sore from their crash in the Amstel Gold Race”, explained Philippe. “They tried to put Valentin in the best position, but it did not prove enough.” Starting the last 1300 meters averaging 9.5%, with maximal slopes of 22%, the Frenchman was positioned in the upper part of the bunch. However, he was unable to follow the best when the accelerations occurred 400 meters from the summit. “It was a hard climb, and that was the best I could do today”, he said. “I rode well all day, I have no regrets. Maybe I lacked a bit of freshness in the final after Sunday’s crash, but I couldn’t do much better on this climb. I was placed where I wanted to be, and we did the race we wanted to do as a team. I just lacked strength.” On the line, the puncher eventually placed twenty-fourth, fifteen seconds behind the winner Tadej Pogacar. “It was difficult, with the Amstel crashes combined with David’s seasonal respiratory distress”, concluded Philippe. “The guys fought as best they could to get a decent ranking. We’ll keep our spirits up because there is still Liège to come, and we’ll therefore go all-in on Sunday”. “We’ll now focus on the most beautiful of the Ardennes Classics in order to, hopefully, achieve a much better performance”, added Valentin.