World Cup Round Table: Flèche Wallonne

Wed 23 Apr 2014

World Cup racing continues at Flèche Wallone. Belgium again plays host to the series, although the peloton has moved from the Flemish speaking region of Flanders to French speaking region of Wallonia. As it did at Ronde van Vlaanderen, the women’s field will share a race circuit and finish line with the men’s field, adding an extra sense of importance to the race as it unfolds in front of the massive beer-drinking, frite-eating crowd.

Emma Johansson has rode herself onto the Flèche Wallone podium three times in the last five years. Twice second and one time third, Johansson has clearly shown that she is well-suited to the explosiveness required by the infamous Mur de Huy. The 1.3 kilometre climb with an average gradient of 8.9 percent is a key feature in the fourth round of the World Cup. The women’s race starts atop the climb and tackles it twice – the final ascent leading to victory for the first across the line.

While the Mur de Huy is the best known feature on the 127 kilometre course, it is only one of the many hills that dot the circuit. Look at the day’s profile and note the constant ups and downs. The first hill comes just outside the opening ten kilometres and marks that start of an undulating, testing day.

The Flèche Wallonne World Cup round table is fan-directed. The UCI Women’s Cycling production company came out to tape the discussion. Together, we put out a call for questions. We chose our favourites, including several non-race specific inquiries, to include in the conversation. Nettie Edmondson took on the role of question-asker.  The rest of the team voiced their thoughts on your queries below.

Q: How hard is the Mur de Huy?

 Emma - It is hard because it’s steep but it’s different because it’s quite short. I wouldn’t call it the hardest, but it obviously depends on how it is ridden. It can be one of the hardest we face all season.

Loes – Because it’s the last one and the finish is on the top and it’s a World Cup, that makes the finish more heavy. If you had it halfway in the race and with a flat finish, that would make it totally different.

Carlee – The crowds cheering give motivation and help.

Emma – That doesn’t make the climb any easier.

Carlee – It clearly doesn’t. I rode with a compact chain ring and a 28 last year.

Loes – It’s the same with the sausage and the potatoes smell. It doesn’t make it easier.

Carlee – But it’s good having people cheering. It might not be any easier, but it’s slightly less painful.

Q: What about the rest of the course? What’s it like to race Flèche?

 Loes – I think it’s a roller coaster from the start line to the finish line. Before you know, you already hit the first climb and then it’s downhill and then up again. It’s fast. It’s narrow climbs. It’s heavy. It’s nice with all the spectators. It’s one of the Classics, and that makes it special.

Emma – Together with Ronde van Vlaanderen, I think it’s one of the most beautiful races that we do all year, one of the most beautiful in Belgium, for sure. The Mur de Huy is hard, but it’s also special as well. Once again, I think you need to be there to be able to get the atmosphere. You need to be a part of it. It’s hard to describe.

Q: The strengths seem to be more evenly spread across the teams this year. Will that make Flèche harder to control?

 Carlee – I think there are a few riders whose form we haven’t seen yet this year like Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) and Emma Pooley (Lotto Belisol). Those two have both won the race in the past. They’re strong riders to watch, but no one knows exactly how they’re going. The strong riders are definitely more dispersed throughout the teams this year. You’ve got Ashleigh Moolman on Hitec and…

Emma –…together with Elisa Longo Borghini. I think that’s the thing. A lot of teams have different cards they can play. That’s a bit different than last year and one of the bigger challenges. More teams have more than one rider that could get a result.

Valentina – That’s made the previous World Cups a lot more interesting in my way of seeing. You never know how it’s going to end.

Q: How do you cope mentally to push through the pain when your body is screaming at you to relent?

 Shara – That’s just racing. It’s good fun. I think you have to enjoy it or we wouldn’t be doing it.

Carlee – The crowds make it easier as well.

Q: How much coffee do you drink before a race?

 Valentina – If it’s a good coffee, you can have one or more – but it has to be a real Italian coffee. In this area, I didn’t find yet a good coffee.

Carlee – What about the coffee machine?

Valentina – We don’t need to tell everyone about that or we’ll have line outside the camper.

Q: What’s a common pre-race meal?

 Emma – Brekky. I could do brekky all day long. I don’t need lunch of dinner if I could have brekky for every meal.

Loes – Just brekky before a race is fine when you start at 11 o’clock.

Emma – Museli, yogurt, fruit, break, ham cheese, eggs.

Q: As a team, do you have any pre-race or post-race rituals?

 Carlee – We have a post-race dancing ritual.

Loes – It’s less a ritual and more about having fun. That usually happens at team presentation.

Carlee – It happens pretty naturally. It’s not hard for us to have fun.

Emma – I think it’s important to be serious but to have fun along the way. We’re quite good at that. We can be serious when we need to, and we have a lot of fun, too. That’s one thing we do really well.

Nettie – We also say what went well and what can go better. We always do that in our team meetings after the race.

Q: We hear there’s a bit of a photo bombing rivalry between Lululemon and ORICA-AIS. Who’s ahead at the moment?

Emma – Definitely us.

Carlee – Gracie [Elvin] has done some really good ones.

Emma – Nothing happened during Energiewacht, and we definitely had some good ones at Flanders. Not what I saw.

Carlee – Tiff [Cromwell] doesn’t just photo bomb, she poses.

Q: What about superstitions? Emma – we know you’ve got some. What about everyone else.

Emma – I have some. I use the same pins the whole season. If I lose one, I lose one. That can happen, but I wouldn’t change it just to change it. They get a bit crooked towards the end.

Nettie – Do you change them at the end of the season?

Emma – If I couldn’t find the old ones, I would – but this year, I still had them in my bag, so I’m still on the last year’s pins.

Carlee – If I start with new socks or a new crop top, it generally means I want to have a good race. Full new kit – then I’m getting serious.

Nettie – Do you ever get to the season with unused kit?

Carlee – You know the answer to that. Yes! And it’s really annoying if I’m changing teams and I’ve never worn it. That’s happened a few times.

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