It’s Fleche Wallonne and it’s all about the Mur de Huy.

Anyone who’s ridden it knows it is a very steep hill. And, at 1,300 metres, it’s not that short either.

It starts out pretty steep, then kicks up, then takes an S-shaped bend and kicks up some more.

Basically, this is the equivalent of a Tour de France sprint finish in super slow-mo.

So, if you want to win here, you need to be an excellent climber but also have enough zip in your legs to make a gap.

It all points towards Alejandro Valverde, winner here in 2006 and runner-up last year. So, with no further ado, here are our top ten favourites.

1 Alejandro Valverde

Spain / Caisse d’Epargne
Best Fleche Wallonne: 1st in 2006
Unibet’s odds to win: 6.00
CW’s verdict: Yes, we picked him to win Amstel Gold, and yes he came up short on the Cauberg. But the Mur de Huy is a different musette of bocadillos altogether (that’s Spanish for sandwiches, by the way).

2 Damiano Cunego

Italy / Lampre
Best Fleche Wallonne: 14th in 2005
Unibet’s odds to win: 6.00
CW’s verdict: We under-estimated the Italian somewhat on Sunday. Partly that was because he had no history at Amstel Gold. Partly it was because we felt he’d target Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Now we’ve seen he means business we’ve shunted him up the list a bit. It won’t be a surprise if he wins in Huy to set up the Triple Crown.

3 Robert Gesink

Netherlands / Rabobank
Best Fleche Wallonne: 9th in 2007
Unibet’s odds to win: 14.00
CW’s verdict: We may be getting a bit carried away bigging up the young Dutchman, but remember last year when he started the final ascent of the Mur way back and snaked his way past dozens of bodies to finish ninth. If he positions himself better at the foot of the climb he can make the podium.

4 Kim Kirchen

Luxembourg / High Road
Best Fleche Wallonne: 2nd in 2005
Unibet’s odds to win: 17.00
CW’s verdict: Tried to get things started at Amstel Gold and, alarmingly, was made to look a bit pedestrian on Eyersbosweg by Johan Van Summeren – the giraffe. We’re not being discouraged, though. Kirchen has at least one good ride in him this week.

5 Frank Schleck

Luxembourg / CSC
Best Fleche Wallonne: 4th in 2006
Unibet’s odds to win: 7.00
CW’s verdict: Went for a long one on the Cauberg and was caught out by Cunego, who scored revenge for Alpe d’Huez in 2006. Schleck is more of a power climber and we’d have thought the Cauberg would suit him more than the Mur de Huy. There are better candidates here.

6 Joaquin Rodriguez

Spain / Caisse d’Epargne
Best Fleche Wallonne: 24th in 2005
Unibet’s odds to win: 4.50
CW’s verdict: Unibet.com must have done some business on the Spanish champion because he’s currently their favourite. Okay, so he was in decent form at Amstel Gold and he won on that insanely steep hill in Tirreno-Adriatico last month, but a winner here? We think not. His captain is Valverde and he won’t forget it. Could be an interesting foot soldier though, so look for him to attack just before or early on the final ascent of the Mur.

7 Davide Rebellin

Italy / Gerolsteiner
Best Fleche Wallonne: 1st in 2004 and 2007
Unibet’s odds to win: 6.00
CW’s verdict: Made to look a bit ponderous on the Cauberg. How will he cope on the Mur? At his age, 12 months is a long, long time and although he’s not lost his tactical edge, his legs are beginning to fade ever so slightly. It’ll be a surprise if he wins but not if he’s in the top five or so.

8 Thomas Dekker

Netherlands / Raboabank
Best Fleche Wallonne: 39th in 2006
Unibet’s odds to win: 20.00
CW’s verdict: The Dutch were disappointed in his performance on Sunday, but then the expectations were sky high in his home country. Has never fared well in Fleche Wallonne before but there’s a first time for everything.

9 Fabian Wegmann

Germany / Gerolsteiner
Best Fleche Wallonne: 10th in 2005
Unibet’s odds to win: 25.00
CW’s verdict: With Stefan Schumacher under par, Wegmann is likely to be Gerolsteiner’s number two. He’s got a good pedigree too – eleventh in each of the past two years, tenth in 2006 and 13th in 2005. Could break into the top ten this time.

10 Rinaldo Nocentini

Italy/ Ag2r
Best Fleche Wallonne: 6th in 2007
Unibet’s odds to win: N/A
CW’s verdict: Wild card who could upset the applecart and set the cat among the pigeons, if that isn’t too many analogies. Italian climber who loves hills like the Mur de Huy.

DARK HORSES
Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) – Did nicely at the Tour of the Basque Country so clearly in good form. Will probably save himself for Sunday.

Karsten Kroon (Rabobank) – Not good enough on the hills to be a danger on the Mur.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) – Needs it to be an unconventional race for him to have a chance.

Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) – Not in good enough form.

Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) – A better bet than Evans.

Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) – Belgian team desperately needs a leader. He could be the one.

Maxime Montfort (Cofidis) – Didn’t perform on Sunday. Must do better. Local boy here, so will be super motivated.

John Gadret (Ag2r) – Was a revelation last year. Hasn’t done much since. Will he climb out of the shadows once again? No, probably not.

Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) – Assuming he’s over the fever that kept him out of Amstel Gold. His fan club were on the Mur de Huy very early on race day so they are obviously expecting a decent ride.

RECENT WINNERS

2007 Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner
2006 Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse d?Epargne
2005 Danilo Di Luca (Italy) Liquigas
2004 Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner
2003 Igor Astarloa (Spain) Saeco
2002 Mario Aerts (Belgium) Lotto-Adecco
2001 Rik Verbrugghe (Belgium) Lotto-Adecco
2000 Francesco Casagrande (Italy) Vini Caldirola
1999 Michele Bartoli (Italy) Mapei
1998 Bo Hamburger (Denmark) Casino

FLECHE WALLONNE ON YOU TUBE

1996: This is one for the Lance Armstrong fans among you, from the days when Tour de France victories were a distant dream. It’s Lance, the Classics rider, out-doing Didier Rous on the Mur de Huy.

1996 Armstrong wins

THE BRITS

Chris Froome, the 22-year-old Barloworld climber who used to ride for Kenya is now a bona fide Brit. He’s even listed on the official start sheet as a British rider. So hands off him, he’s ours. David Millar leads the Slipstream-Chipotle team. Dan Martin, who rides for Ireland, is a former British junior national champion. His uncle is Stephen Roche, you know.

BRITS AT FLECHE WALLONNE

3rd
Tom Simpson 1965

4th
Brian Robinson 1955

6th
Paul Watson 1987

7th
Tom Simpson 1960

9th
Robert Millar 1990

10th
Tom Simpson 1963

11th
Alan Ramsbottom 1963
Alan Ramsbottom 1965

12th
Robert Millar 1987

13th
Michael Wright 1965

14th
John Kennedy 1960

18th
Barry Hoban 1969

20th
Barry Hoban 1968

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