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The Mur de Huy is one of the truly definitive climbs. It’s the one thing everyone knows about the Belgian Spring classic, La Fleche Wallone. It defines the race, and typically, it decides who will win it.
The city of Huy holds an important place in the history of cycling. Just a kilometer away from the town centre, a small hill is visited by thousands of spectators every spring, who come to enjoy one of the most intense battles of the cycling season. Holding pride of place as the finish of the Flèche Wallonne since 1984, the Chemin des Chapelles, also known as the Mur de Huy, hurts the legs and lungs of the greatest champions with hill gradients of close to 20 %, the longest kilometer in the cycling world.
The Mur was host to a brilliant stage finish during the 2015 Tour de France. The 2012 winner of the Flèche wallonne, Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez of Katusha, found the way to glory again atop the Mur de Huy. After a disastrous second stage marked by crashes, Rodriguez made a stunning late attack up the steep climb.
Runner up Chris Froome (Sky) took the yellow jersey with an advantage of only one second over Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step) who missed out on the lead for the third consecutive day. The 2013 winner of the Tour de France was already 36 seconds ahead of arch-rival Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the overall classification ahead of stage 4 on the cobblestones in north of France.
La Fleche Wallonne (Vlaamse Pijl in Dutch) is the 2nd in a series of 3 Cycling Spring Classics also known as the Ardennes classics alongside Liege Bastogne Liege and Amstel Gold. Each of the three takes place around the Ardennes (Even though the Amstel Gold Race actually runs through Limburg in the Netherlands) and the races are known for their short, sharp climbs.
Take a look at our 10 day trip to all the Ardennes classics here.
La Fleche Wallonne is a maze of tight streets and peppered with steep climbs. The Mur actually appears three times, making it a defining feature of the event. The first two ascents fall about half way into the race and then again with about 30km to go. The last appearance of this wall, however, marks the race to the finish.
The top of the Mur marks the end of the race, and has led to some spectacular finishes in the past. Since Fleche Wallonne is relatively short for a Spring Classic, there is typically a huge leading bunch arriving at the base of the climb. The pace hots up and the elbows come out as riders jostle to get a good position at the front of the bunch.
A riders’ positioning at the base of the climb is key for success so that a rider is able to pick their line of ascent and not be hindered by others. Once the climb starts, it’s a frenzy of attacks from those who still have energy, and a painful grind from those who’ve burnt their matches in the preceding 195km. This is one heck of a climb. Sure, it’s only 1.3km, but at an average gradient of 9.8% it’s an absolute brute. What’s more, the bottom half includes shallow gradients and even a flat section… so that means the rest of it is STEEP!
If you’re thinking of ever tackling this yourself, we have prepared this guide for approaching and climbing the Mur de Huy:
The climb starts innocuously enough down by a river on the outskirts of town, at a gradient varying between about 6% and 2%. Keep your powder dry here! Don’t get excited and push too hard, thinking that this climb is going to be a walk in the park.
After a short while you will turn onto Chemin des Chappelles, where the remainder of the climb will be fought. It’s named after the seven chapels that stand along its length. If you aren’t staring at the wall of tarmac that lies beneath your handlebars as you climb, you could try to ease the pain of what is to come by counting them down.
But you will probably have other things on your mind… Almost as soon as you’ve hit the Chemin des Chappelles, you’ll see a sign warning of a 19% gradient approaching. The road will have ramped up to 11% by now, warming your legs for what’s to come. The road lazily snakes left and right a little, and the huge painted words HUY HUY HUY come into view. These could well be there to distract you, because if you look up you’ll see the defining S-bend of the climb up in front of you. Take a deep breath and get ready…
As you take these bends, the gradient hits 25% for a sustained 50m or so, and you’re well into the red. There’s no possibility of going easy here, if you don’t pedal hard you’ll fall off! Be mindful of your technique; you’ll want to get out of the saddle to wrestle the bars and put every bit of strength you have into the bike, but if you don’t keep your weight far forward enough, the front wheel will be bucking all over the place. If you choose to stay seated and keep your centre of balance easier to control, clench your core, grip on to the tops of the bars for dear life, and grind it out.
Once you’re around the bends, the gradient lessens to ‘only’ 14% for the final 400m. These could well be the longest 400m of your life, as your legs are going to scream! Just keep pushing and eventually you’ll hit the point marking the finish line of the Fleche Wallone, where you can hope there’s someone there to catch you before you fall off your bike!
We absolutely love this one! You will see a fantastic 5 live race passages in the comfort of the VIP zone on top of the Mur de Huy at La Fleche Wallonne. The Elite Women pass by twice and the men 3 times. This really is one of the best VIP experiences in cycling for the true fan.
Exclusive VIP Hospitality on the Mur de Huy during La Fleche Wallonne!
Huy is one of the main tourist centres in the Meuse Basin, boasting many natural treasures and a rich heritage. In the town centre, colourful terraces, eye-catching shops, shady parks and lively pedestrian areas allow visitors to enjoy a taste of the town’s warmth.
The Flèche Wallonne Men’s race finishes on the Mur, but also the Women’s Flèche Wallone whose finish line was first established there in 1998. This will be to the delight of thousands of cycling fans, but to the dread of the peloton, who will be obliged to suffer in order to overcome the 19% gradient of the renowned Mur de Huy and its impressive “S” which has now been named “the Claudy Criquielion” bend.
Written with input from Jim Cotton, 2017
Jim is a passionate and experienced cyclist who has ridden with us for various Haute Routes, the Etape du Tour, and La Marmotte. He keeps a blog of his musings and experiences on the bike here: https://mountainmutton.wordpress.com
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