Pogacar climbs Huy like a GOAT
April 19 th 2023 - 16:47
No dice. Every conversation ahead of the 2023 Flèche Wallonne revolved around who and how could prevent Tadej Pogacar from triumphing atop the Mur de Huy. In the end, no one could. UAE Team Emirates kept the race on a tight leash all the way to the final climb, where its Slovenian leader unfurled yet another lethal acceleration to get his first win in this Classic – the 12th victory in his history-making season. Matthias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) stood with him on the podium after crossing the finish line in second and third position.
173 riders took the start at 11:51 on the 87th edition of the Flèche Wallonne, that was held over 194,2 kilometres between Herve and the Mur de Huy. There were two non-starters, Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r-Citröen) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), both sick. It took 16 kilometres until an 8-man breakaway was established at the head of the race with Jacob Hindsgaul Madsen (Uno-X), Daryl Impey (Israel-Premier Tech), Lawrence Naesen (AG2R-Citroen), Georg Zimmermann (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty), Soren Kragh Andersen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Raul Garcia Pierna (Kern Pharma), Johan Meens (Bingoal WB) and Jetse Bol (Burgos BH).
Tadej Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates and Tom Pidcock’s Ineos Grenadiers took turns at the head of the peloton to control the gap of the breakaway, which amounted up to 3’50” at kilometer 64. The distance was not worrying for the bunch, though, as it narrowed the gap on every climb. By the first time the race hit the Mur de Huy (km 119,8), the lead was down to 1’15” and Naesen had been dropped from the front group.
The race situation only changed when the breakaway hit the Côte d’Ereffe (km 138,6) for the second time. Kragh Andersen accelerated at the front and Zimmermann was the only one who could match his pace. At the time of cresting the Mur de Huy (km 157,1) for a last passage through the finish line, they kept a 57” advantage over a peloton where Samuele Battistella (Astana Qazaqstan) launched an attack that was later echoed by Louis Vervaeke (Soudal-Quick Step). The newly-formed chasing duo joined the two riders at the head of the race with 31 kilometres to go. The menace of crosswinds prompted the bunch to speed up, and the gap between the front group and the pack was down to 25” with 25 kilometres left.
Vervaeke, last man standing
The climb to the Côte d’Ereffe (km 175,8) saw Zimmermann lose ground to the breakaway, while UAE kept pulling for a steady gap of 30”. Vervaeke took off solo in the last Côte de Cherave (km 188,6), reaching its summit with a mere 12” advantage on a bunch where Pogacar’s team kept speeding up. Clutch time came with the Mur de Huy, as the lone leader was caught right under the red kite signaling one kilometer to go. All favorites bid their time in the slopes of Huy. Romain Bardet (Team DSM) was the first to attack with just 250 meters left, yet he was quickly overtaken by Pogacar, who claimed an excellent victory by a comfortable margin.