Open field ready to attack Fleche Wallonne
After Enrico Gasparotto's surprise victory in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, Wednesday's Fleche Wallonne could produce another unexpected winner.
The race through the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium, which starts in Charleroi and ends on the gruelling Mur de Huy climb, is the second of the Ardennes classics, sandwiched in between the Amstel Gold Race and this weekend's Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The 194km route is set to favour the climbers in the peloton, especially with the third ascent of the Mur de Huy – a 1.3km climb at an average gradient of over nine percent – coming right at the end.
Runner-up in each of the last two years, Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez has what it takes to go all the way this time around.
However, he admitted to finding it tough to adapt to the cold temperatures in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, where he finished 24th, and the weather is unlikely to be any more welcoming here.
Indeed, there is no stand-out favourite, with last year's winner Philippe Gilbert and Spain's Alejandro Valverde aiming to peak at Sunday's more prestigious Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
"I wasn't quite good enough in the Amstel Gold Race," Gilbert told Belgian media after finishing sixth in Limburg.
"But my performance was still encouraging ahead of the Walloon classics."
A sinus infection has ruled out 2010 winner Cadel Evans altogether, while his compatriot Simon Gerrans has also opted to sit this one out to rest up ahead of Sunday.
After just being edged into second in the Amstel Gold Race, Belgium's Jelle Vanendert will be hopeful of once again making an impression.
Other names to look out for include Canada's Ryder Hesjedal, Spain's Igor Anton and Luxembourg's Franck Schleck.