UAE Team Emirates heads to the second Ardennes Classics of the season this Wednesday with hopes of bouncing back from a disappointing opening Amstel Gold Race that kicked off the series.
The team spoke of a desire to reach the podium of that race but lead rider Rui Costa could only finish 38th, bettered by team-mates Diego Ulissi (27), Manuele Mori (29) and Simone Petilli (33).
Costa is now targeting a top ten finish at La Fleche Wallone, the first of two races in Belgium that complete the Ardennes Classics trilogy.
“La Fleche Wallonne, is a peculiar race, and usually happens in the middle of the week and is the final rehearsal for the Liege–Bastogne–Liege,” said Costa. “The course is unique and some of the riders in our team like Diego Ulissi, have the necessary qualities for performing well on the very steep Mur de Huy.
“I cannot say it is one of my favourite Ardennes Classic. Generally, steep climbs are difficult for me, however on a day when my legs feel good I can achieve a good result, like last year where I finished in the top ten.”
The 200.5km race has nine climbs and concludes on top of the Mur de Huy (Wall of Huy), a steep 1.3km climb averaging a gradient of 9.3 % but maxing out at 26 %.
Ulissi, one of only two riders to ever win the Junior World Championships in consecutive years (2006 and 2007), has fonder memories than Costa when it comes to the Ardennes Classic.
“I like La Fleche Wallonne, as it was the first Ardennes Classic I ever took part in,” he said. “The best results I’ve had at this race have been placing in the top ten twice. I was ninth in 2012 and eighth in 2016.
“I like the frantic moments before the approach of the Mur de Huy; you need to be supported by a good team that push you and help you move to the front of the peloton.
“Each decision is critical and decisive on the climb of the Mur de Huy, if you attack too early or too late, you are out of the top ten. I’m looking forward to the race as I feel that I can achieve better results this year.”