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Laura Weislo

La Flèche Wallonne 2024 - Analysing the contenders

Demi Vollering and Tom Pidcock are among the top favourites for success on the Mur de Huy on Wednesday.

La Flèche Wallonne and La Flèche Wallonne Femmes are Classics unique among the calendar of WorldTour races, culminating with the leg-breakingly steep climb, the 1.3km Mur de Huy which hits 22% in places as it winds up beyond the Walloon town of Huy.

The race is somewhat unique for a one-day Classic in that all the deciding action is confined to the final 1.3km of the race up the double-digit gradients of the 'wall'. As such, it suits puncheurs and pure climbs with explosivity in their legs.

Tadej Pogačar and Demi Vollering are the reigning champions of the two races, though the Slovenian star won't be back to defend his title on the 199km men's course. Vollering will be back in the number 1 bib number at the women's race, however, as they tackle a similar 146km route.

But beyond Vollering, and the man who took victory at the first of the Ardennes triple at Amstel Gold Race at the weekend, Tom Pidcock, there are plenty of other candidates for victory on one of the toughest hillclimbing challenges of the pro season.

We've pored through the start lists to pick out 10 of the best bets for glory at La Flèche Wallonne and La Flèche Wallonne Femmes, so read on for our top contenders at Wednesday's races.

Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime)

Demi Vollering winning La Flèche Wallonne in 2023 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Last year's Ardennes triple winner has had an uncharacteristically slow start to the season: two podiums would hardly be a bad start for most riders but Demi Vollering was almost unbeatable in 2023 and has yet to win so far this year.

The start of the Ardennes Classics is a chance for the 27-year-old to shine and to shake off the media scrutiny that's followed her since rumours emerged in February that UAE Team ADQ offered her €1 million to jump ship from SD Worx-Protime and the subsequent breakdown in negotiations with her current team.

Vollering's main goals of the season are much later in the summer: a defence of her Tour de France title and the high pressure of the Paris Olympics, so it's understandable if she has intentionally taken a slower start. But winning races removes pressure and provides momentum for the rest of the calendar, and a race like La Flèche Wallonne is a chance to renew her status as the world's best climber.

If she isn't up to it, Niamh Fisher-Black has been climbing extremely well, as the Volta a Valenciana showed, so SD Worx have a strong backup plan. (LW)

Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers)

Pidcock sprinted to the win at the weekend's Amstel Gold Race  (Image credit: Getty Images)

Tom Pidcock has raced La Flèche Wallonne three times during his career, not yet finishing any higher than sixth place. However, the Ineos Grenadiers leader comes into the race in hot form after picking up his first win of the season at Amstel Gold Race at the weekend.

He made a swift return to racing following a crash during the opening stage recon at Itzulia Basque Country, getting back on the bike six days later for a surprise Paris-Roubaix debut. He's certainly back up to speed now after finishing 17th at the Hell of North with no real preparation. At Amstel Gold Race he took the win with a long sprint from a small group of elite names, outlasting Marc Hirschi and Tiesj Benoot into the headwind.

Of course, Flèche is a very different race with its brutally steep and punchy finish, but Pidcock has a good sprint and he's punchy in the hills as his results in races such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Brabantse Pijl, and Strade Bianche suggest. Could he take the second step of the Ardennes triple on Wednesday? (DO)

Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek)

Elisa Longo Borghini winning Brabantse Pijl last week (Image credit: Getty Images)

If Vollering hasn't been Vollering this season, it might be because Elisa Longo Borghini has taken her place. The Italian champion's focus from the start of the year was the Ardennes Classics, but she's already won the Tour of Flanders, Brabantse Pijl and Trofeo Oro, along with podiums in Strade Bianche and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Longo Borghini sacrificed a chance to go for a second Paris-Roubaix title when she was on incredible form and sticking to her plan. She's already shown impressive power on the climbs as well as astute tactics and will be the rider to beat on the Mur de Huy.

If she can't add La Flèche Wallonne to her impressive palmares, her teammate Gaia Realini has finished on the podium in Huy and will be ready to step in if anything goes wrong for Longo Borghini. (LW)

Benoît Cosnefroy (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale)

Cosnefroy was recently triumphant at Brabantse Pijl (Image credit: Getty Images)

He may have only finished in 16th place among the chase group at Amstel Gold Race, but Cosnefroy has been a man in form to start the 2024 campaign. He already has four wins to his name this season including from a small group in the uphill finish at Brabantse Pijl.

The field will be stronger this Wednesday, granted, though you can only beat what's in front of you. And so far, Cosnefroy has done that more than in any full season since 2019.

He hasn't won a race at WorldTour level since 2022, but he's been on the podium here before, back in 2020. He's in form at the right time and has the tools needed to succeed, so why not here? (DO)

Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram)

Kasia Niewiadoma is always a contender at Flèche (Image credit: Getty Images)

The gravel world champion was on another level in the Tour of Flanders, coming heartbreakingly close to winning the race in a sprint against Longo Borghini. Unfortunately, she was at a disadvantage with Lidl-Trek's two-pronged attack.

Niewiadoma is always in the mix, also racking up top finishes this season in the Volta a Valenciana and Strade Bianche. La Flèche Wallonne will be no exception. She's been second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth up the Mur de Huy and 2024 looks like a good chance to finally climb on the top step for the Polish rider. (LW)

Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates)

Marc Hirschi is one of only two previous winners taking on the men's race (Image credit: Getty Images)

Previous winners at La Flèche Wallonne are always up there among the contenders for success at the race. Of the starters on Wednesday, only Hirschi, winner in 2020, and Dylan Teuns, who won two years ago, will line up with the title on their palmarès.

The Swiss rider, who also finished second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège during that COVID-rearranged season, has endured a few lean years since his Flèche title, but showed signs of getting back to his best last season with nine wins, even if none came at WorldTour level.

He's put on several strong displays throughout the spring this season, too, including a win at the Faun Drôme Classic, third at Milano-Torino, and, most importantly, a second place to Pidcock at Amstel Gold Race. A win here would be his first in the WorldTour since that Flèche four years ago. 

Aside from Hirschi, UAE Team Emirates will boast an impressive lineup which also includes Juan Ayuso, Diego Ulissi, and Brandon McNulty. (DO)

Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Suez)

Marta Cavalli is a former winner at the race (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Italian Marta Cavalli could have been the second woman to win the Ardennes triple when she won the first two races in 2022, but a flying Annemiek van Vleuten was uncatchable in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. She definitely is the kind of rider who can win on the Mur de Huy again – but where has she been all season?

She's been in Tenerife at a lengthy altitude camp that is ending just in time for the Ardennes Classics. Cavalli has taken three weeks to train on Mount Teide for these races, and though she has only a single race day in her legs, Cavalli will be prepared.

Cavalli also had teammate Évita Music at her side during the camp, and last year, Muzic was sixth on the Mur de Huy. They'll also have Jade Wiel, who has been racing impressively this season, so they have options. (LW)

Aleksandr Vlasov Bora-Hansgrohe)

Aleksandr Vlasov has already tasted success this spring, winning the penultimate stage Paris-Nice (Image credit: Getty Images)

Vlasov has only raced La Flèche Wallonne once during his career, but he finished on the podium just behind Dylan Teuns and Alejandro Valverde two years ago.

With Primož Roglič out of action following his crash at Itzulia Basque Country, the Russian leads Bora-Hansgrohe on the road to the Mur de Huy, and he's heading into the race in solid and consistent form.

So far this year he's racked up seven podium places, from the early races in Spain to the penultimate stage at Paris-Nice. There have also been top five finishes both there and in his most recent outing at the Volta a Catalunya.

That last race did end three weeks ago now, though, so it's hard to truly gauge his form as he takes on Flèche and Liège. Still, he's shown what he can do at the race and he's there or thereabouts at most of the races he takes on, so he's a sure-fire contender. (DO)

Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal)

Sarah Gigante was victorious at the start of the year in the Tour Down Under (Image credit: Getty Images)

One wildcard in the climbing mix is AG Insurance-Soudal's Sarah Gigante. The Australian hasn't featured much in the Spring Classics after a few unproductive years with Movistar.

Gigante was invigorated by the move to the Belgian team and crushed Willunga Hill to win the Tour Down Under, climbing 15 spots in one stage. That kind of climbing prowess cannot be ignored when it comes to a race so singularly focused on one steep climb.

Most riders will be watching her teammates Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio or Belgian Justine Ghekiere but Gigante is definitely a potential winner on Wednesday. (LW)

David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ)

David Gaudu leads Groupama-FDJ onto the steep slopes of the Mur de Huy (Image credit: ANNECHRISTINE POUJOULATAFP via Getty Images)

With young talent Lenny Martinez in flying form following his wins at the Classic Grand Besançon Doubs and the Tour du Doubs, it's perhaps surprising not to see him take on any of the Ardennes Classics this week as he instead sticks to the plan of racing the Tour de Romandie later in the month.

Instead, it will be Groupama-FDJ leader David Gaudu who heads up the squad at Flèche. He's in fine form himself, having taken third at Besançon and then won the Tour du Jura on Saturday.

They're not the biggest races, but Gaudu will be confident this week heading into a race he's twice finished among the top 10 at, even if he hasn't yet challenged for the very top placings. As a lightweight climber, he's well-suited to the steep slopes at the finish, though some of the other big favourites might just have that extra punch on the run to the line. (DO)

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