The spring Classics are known for their epic rides, big rivalries, and brutal parcours – each race coming with its own flashpoint, a famed cobbled sector or a punishing climb.
Few of the hills that colour the month-long set of one-day races across northern Europe can match La Flèche Wallonne‘s decisive challenge though, the Mur de Huy and its double-digit gradients stand clear of the rest.
The race itself may not be the most prestigious of the spring Classics, but the climb at the race’s denouement stands as one of the icons of the racing period.
Whether you’ve raced, ridden, or walked up – or witnessed a peloton of riders powering up it on TV – the 1.3km hill is always one of the season’s most memorable ascents.
The Mur de Huy – French for ‘wall of Huy’, the Walloon town it overlooks, if you were wondering – has marked the finish line of La Flèche Wallonne since 1985, also featuring at the women’s race since its inception in 1998.
Before then, a flatter finish in Huy played host to the race, though the Mur was added in 1982 before moving to the finale two years later. Since then, it has proved almost without exception to be the deciding factor in the race, with puncheurs and climbers dominating the results sheet over the past four decades.
The modern method of taking on the race, which sees the peloton largely stick together through the hills until the final ascent, didn’t fully take hold until the turn of the Millennium, however, with the 1980s and 1990s featuring plenty of solo wins and large time gaps.
In 1986 Laurent Fignon soloed home three minutes ahead of the rest, while 1994 saw Moreno Argentin lead an infamous Gewiss-Ballan podium sweep atop the Mur de Huy with a long-range attack. In 2003, the breakaway even won, with soon-to-be world champion Igor Astarloa taking a surprise win.
The climb now bears witness to a full peloton pounding the tarmac on the way to the top after 200km (130km for the women) of trekking across the hills of Wallonia. It’s a highly specialised challenge of positioning, timing, and power sprinting, with a certain profile of puncheur usually experiencing great success.
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