The traditional foray into Belgium embarked upon by worldwide riders, which kicked off with a spate of classics and semi-classics, provides a truly spectacular event on the road from Charleroi to Huy. With close to 200 km of route, frequently covered at an unrelenting pace in spite of the bad weather conditions and the difficulties encountered, this competition is an endurance race. Whatever the term used to describe them, breakaleg brutes, killer slopes, hills or bumps, the climbs on the programme certainly deserve the label: a hard slog. These preliminary ascents, an initial shaping section at first only semi-apparent as such, render an established team strategy a vital key to success for contenders to victory. Just like the cobblestone sections visited a few days earlier, the narrow routes oblige riders to master the art of positioning. Additional support from fellow team members must enable the leader to conserve maximum energy levels for the finale.
The focus is on entering the village, on concentrating hard on the last bend, to the right, the landmark that pinpoints the onset of the suffering. The focus is on visualising the modest little church that borders the finish line. Before reaching this point, preferably with arms raised in a gesture of triumph, the defining moment of truth must be braved, the longest kilometre in the entire cycling year. The Mur de Huy, ultimate and absolute judge of the Flèche Wallonne, is a bit like a mountain bike world championship. Tactics and control are superfl uous, replaced by brute force and aggressive hard-hitting. In the cycling world, any reference to the Mur resembles a guideline to boxing.
Director of the Tour de France