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17-04-2024 | Frank Jansen

A tribute to the legendary Fleche de Wallonie

In 1936, the Flèche Wallonne for pros was first held. This race is still ongoing and is scheduled for today. Until last year, an amateur version known as Flèche de Wallonie also existed. Regrettably, this event will no longer occur in 2024, and the chances of it returning seem slim. This presents a bittersweet opportunity to reminisce about the mother of all Ardennes sportives.

Not a copy

Many professional races have amateur equivalents, like the Amstel Gold Race, Paris-Roubaix, and the Tour of Flanders. These sportives closely mirror their professional counterparts. The Flèche Wallonne, however, is an exception.

Until 1982, the pro version of the Flèche Wallonne started or finished in Spa—the same location used by the amateur version for many years. From 1983 onwards, the professional race moved its finish to Huy, featuring the iconic Mur of Huy, and has remained unchanged. The pro route, starting far west in cities like Mons or Charleroi—or from the northeast in Blegny as in 2022—is not comparable to the amateur courses.

Map comparison of the 2022 pro and amateur courses for the Walloon Arrow, with the pro route in blue and the amateur sportive in pink.
Picture: the courses of the 2022 pro version and the amateur version are not at all similar (blue = pros, pink = sportive)

Waalse Pijl?

If the sportive doesn't even resemble the professional race, why is it called the samew? Actually, it's not. The sportive was known as Fleche de Wallonie, while the name for the pro race is La Fleche Wallonne—making them distinct events, although both are referred to as 'Waalse Pijl' in Dutch.

The amateur version was initiated by the local cycling club, Cyclo Spa, aiming to create a counterpart to the pro race in 1978. Interestingly, the course also shares some challenging climbs with another classic, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, including La Redoute, Rosier, and the Wanne.

The history of the sportive is marked by highs and lows, typically held on the Saturday following Ascension Day. After 33 successful editions, it was canceled in 2011 due to permit issues. The then organizer, local cycling club Cyclo Spa, handed over the reins to Belgian organizer Golazo (later Proximus Cycling), who revived it in 2012. The editions in 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to COVID-19. The reasons for the discontinuation in 2024 remain unclear, but the interest has generally declined over the years, partly because of GPS advancements.

Outdated website

The sportives were known for their charming and somewhat amateurish organization back in the day. A 2005 website screenshot is quite telling:

Feed stations featured Liège waffles and nearly-expired dark chocolate, complemented by bottles of Spa blue mixed with Spontin flavored lemonade. The older volunteers were always enthusiastic, and routes were marked with distinctive yellow paint arrows, ideal for those who missed the event day and wished to follow the route later.

The organization might have been amateurish, but it was effective and affordable at only five euros.

Triptych stays

When Golazo took over in 2012, several changes were made: improved feed stations, new starting locations, GPX routes, and better signage. The route was also modified to start with the Maquisard and Redoute, with the longest version continuing to Roche-aux-Faucons and the middle distance to Chambralles. Due to permit issues, alternative loops were introduced.

Thankfully, the iconic Stockeu-Wanne-Thier de Coo triptych remained—a trio of the most challenging climbs in the Walloon Ardennes. Participants braced themselves for this grueling sequence all day. Even after conquering these, they still faced the Haute Levée and the Rosier before enjoying a cold Jupiler at the bustling BBQs.

Cult status

The Flèche Wallonne once achieved cult status among Dutch and Belgian cycling tourists as the toughest tour in the Benelux, a series of punishing climbs. The stories of heroism were widespread, and having this tour on your cycling résumé elevated your status within your cycling club. The license issues hit hard in the province of Liège. While Golazo managed to secure permits for the LBL Challenge, the Flèche Wallonne met its end. Fortunately, we still have the GPXs, and all the routes are available on our Komoot channel. Try them out and share your experience!

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