– Photos & Words by Wei Yuet Wong –
Compared to the Cauberg at the Amstel Gold Race, the Mur de Huy at La Flèche Wallonne is narrower, steeper, and is more twisty. Well, it can be subjective because the perceived efforts of walking up and down can be different. However, it is more challenging to photograph because there are two races going on at the same time. And add that to moving through the crowds on the hill. The women’s and men’s races take turns to climb the Mur de Huy one after another. Because the climbs are narrow, it also makes it more difficult to move up and down the hill later in the afternoon as more people show up.
At the start, it’s interesting to see who lines up the front, and who goes to the back. Sometimes the interesting stuff happens in front, and sometimes at the back, so getting a great shot can be a bit of “hit or miss”. I went to the back, and saw Loes Gunnewijk of the Orica-AIS team, who’s been described as “one of the best road captains” by PelotonWatch.com. Maybe a kind of role played by George Hincapie, or Bernhard Eisel.
By noon, the hill is already looking very crowded, and yet more people are still arriving. I heard people panting and wheezing even as they are walking up the hill. No doubt, it is one difficult hill. The weather was good, and it’s another excuse to have a nice day out.
The hill is key. Deciding how to make a photo of it was also challenging. Was a bit of trial and error, and there’s only so many times the race passes. Sometimes the ideas work, sometimes they fail. I heard from riders (Julie Leth) that they heard some parts of the crowd laughing at them. The women’s peloton was broken into dozens of groups because it’s raced at a higher intensity from the go. It is a really punishing climb, and all the riders who rode are tough as nails.
The finish line of the Flèche is difficult to make photos because it’s so narrow. Add the number of officials (UCI and ASO), policemen, TV crew, radio crew, photographers, teams, and it’s really crowded. I had to push right to the spectators on my right to make this picture, and maybe I made a person or two annoyed with my elbow. It was really good to hear the crowd so excited, when they said, “Pauline! It’s Pauline!” A popular victory.
I am fascinated by how some riders are camera shy, and how some are not. I never really know what to expect. Sometimes I make some riders annoyed, get too close, or catch them at a bad time. Here Katarzyna Nieuwiadoma still looks very elegant after the punishing race. I made this picture as she was congratulating her teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prévot on her win.
I found this moment quite cute. A fan was taking a selfie with Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. She was very obliging, and even though she needed to go for the anti-doping control, she was still making time for the fans, making them happy.
When the women finished, there was about 30 minutes before the men would come around the summit of Huy for their second pass. This was the presentation of the UCI Women’s World Cup jerseys, and it had to be done very quickly, and without the music, as the men were only 3km away.
These two boys were in quite a good spot, just after the finish line, before the team buses. They were shouting, “Bidons!” to any rider who passed by. Not sure about their success rate, but I happened to see Trixi Worrack (Specialized-Lululemon) pass them, heard the “bidon!”, stop, ride back, and gave them her bottle. Nice!
At the finish, I heard Chris Anker Sørensen saying something like “sorry man, we did our best” to Roman Kreuiziger. They were both soaked, and visibly exhausted. Kreuiziger was chosen for anti-doping control, and Sørensen said, “ok, see you later.” I felt that this team looks like they are genuinely friends, and enjoy racing with each other.
I heard that the Classics can be described as “being in a bar fight for a few hours, over narrow, twisty, country roads”. Looked like he certainly had a rough & tumble day.
Compared to the Amstel Gold Race, or Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Flèche Wallonne is relatively short, at 199km. However, that also means that the racing can be harder from the off. According to Lars Petter Norhaug’s Garmin, 197.8km was covered in 4 hours 37 minutes. That’s an average of 42.8km/h!
I heard some sections of the crowd booing Alejandro Valverde. It looked like it took him back a little too. He looked accusingly at the crowd (just for a bit) as he stepped up to the stage. Whatever that he may or may not have done, the booing is not nice.
Lizze Armistead always looks happy on the podium, and she has reason to. She is having an excellent season. Before the race, she said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper that the Flèche Wallonne is the toughest for her. Second is an outstanding result. And she increases her lead in the UCI Women’s World Cup.
It’s great to see both a men’s and a women’s race at La Flèche Wallonne. Makes it a little more difficult to work because of the time schedules, and also both races start at different places at almost the same time. One cannot be everywhere. It’s still a debate whether both races should be run at the same time, or they should be separate events. Still, I feel it’s a good move for the sport, and people do want to see the women race. And, I feel it is a good time to be involved in women’s cycling.