Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Mur de Huy: More Than Just A Hill

This is what the riders of tomorrows Fleche Wallonne will face, for the third time, at the end of the 194 gruelling kilometres. Whoever reaches the summit of the Mur de Huy first will take the honours and be crowned winner of La Fleche Wallonne 2012. This small, 1300 metre long stretch of tarmac in the tiny, sleepy town of Huy in southern Belgium is not to be underestimated. Its short, but its also the steepest finishing climb in cycling. Period.

Cut through the Huy and this is what you will see

At a mere 1300 metres, the Mur de Huy would be easy to sniff at - after all, what about all those Alpine climbs in the Giro and the Tour de France, the ones that stretch for miles on end, the ones that break riders both physically and mentally? The climbs where hero's are made, Armstrong, Contador, Pantani...the greats. Forget it, because after 10 categorised climbs and 200ish Kilometres this 1300 metres feels more like 13 miles. Part-way up the climb a local sign suggests a gradient of 19%, well forget that as well because in reality it reaches more like 26% - And this is on a bend, not the best place to be grinding out a big gear with a peloton sniffing up your backside. The Grand Tour Climbers can survive here, but the puncheurs can thrive. Sprinters? Forget it. 

The Race has finished here since 1983, before it's arrival Fleche Wallonne was a pretty mundane affair - in fact the first 180km still are, but it's worth watching purely for the Mur. The first winner on the Mur was Bernard Hinault, the last was Philippe Gilbert which gives an accurate measure of the kind of class needed to take the win here. The climb starts rather modestly and then even flattens out, leading riders like lambs to the slaughter into a false sense of security, then it starts to rise again to around 11% and then into the brutal 26% snaking bend that will make or break a riders chances of victory - get it wrong here and your race is lost, if you are not within the first 15 riders at this segment then its pretty much game over. Riders will be bustling here to get to the front, if a big bunch remains then you can't risk slowing down. Its either put your foot on the gas or find yourself entangled within the frame of another riders bicycle. The winner will almost certainly make the final move on this bend having tried hard to conserve as much energy as possible until this point, sure there will still be a small bunch but it will have been thinned out over the last 2 ascents of the finishing climb but the race leaders will all attack, almost in unison at this point - its almost tradition, the winner will be the man with the strongest legs, its a real battle of brute force rather than tactics.

The road itself is known as le Chemin des Chapelles or 'The Path Of The Chapels' to you and I, a nod to the seven brick chapels that line the side of the climb. The tarmac is usually strewn with the word Huy, touched up with fresh paint each year almost mocking the riders from beneath their feet - like the gut wrenching agony of the climb wasn't advert enough of its existence they thought to remind you of it in big white letters every couple of yards or so. This climb is undoubtedly one of the all time classics, the race shares that word by name but isn't really considered a monument - hence it's sandwiched between Amstel and Liege-Bastogne-Liege on a Wednesday of all days, for those of us with Jobs, highlights will be available on Eurosport in the evening and if I'm honest, you only really need to tune in for the last 15 minutes though that doesn't take away from what a fantastic 15 minute this climb creates.

Its hard to pick a winner here, persistent inconsistencies in form for many riders has thrown me out a little prediction wise but all of the riders will know this climb, if only by the 2 previous ascents, they will all know what to expect come the finish. It's definitely one for the explosive, powerful climbers though so look out for the usual suspects in the form of Joaquim Rodriquez, Valverde or even Nibali, after watching a certain Belgian show signs of form at last weeks Amstel Gold Race though, my money is on Philippe Gilbert to take the honours once again.


  1. Nice post.

    All new to me, and really interesting. THank you.


  2. Thanks Roff, much appreciated!

  3. Good read, I'll be sure to tune in tomorrow to see the finale, cheers! Alex