World champion Anna van der Breggen won an exciting edition of Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, taking a record seventh victory.
The SD Worx rider crossed the line around five seconds ahead of Kasia Niewiadoma who had aggressively taken the race to the Dutch rider, but was unable to match the rainbow jersey. Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) was third.
The race was animated by a late attack from Longo Borghini's team-mate, US champion Ruth Winder. Yorkshire born Winder had entered the final five kilometres with a lead of 30 seconds on a group of only nine chasers. This included Van der Breggen's team-mate, Demi Vollering who brought the gap down to just four seconds as the road ramped up on the Mur de Huy.
Van der Breggen took to the front with Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) on her wheel, the Polish rider moving up on the steepest section, the two women riding shoulder to shoulder. The Polish rider tried to attack with just over 150m to go, but Van der Breggen never let her go, coming round and finally dropping her rival with around 75m remaining.
Van der Breggen's domination on the Mur de Huy has seen challengers come and go, but though some have come close, no one has been able to match her. That will change next year as the Dutchwoman retires form racing to take on a sports director role with SD Worx.
How it happened
Running since 1998, Flèche Wallonne is the oldest one-day race on the Women’s WorldTour calendar and is always keenly contested, though Wednesday’s 130.2km was exceptionally exciting.
The race covered eight climbs, an opening loop of 98km taking the peloton out onto the constantly rolling Ardennes countryside before the first of two ascents of the brutal Mur de Huy and its 19 per cent slopes, where the finish line came.
After an aggressive opening 20km, with plenty of attacks, two women were finally allowed to make a move off the front; Polish champion Marta Lach (Ceratizit-WNT) and Femke Gerritse (Parkhotel Valkenburg) got away, building a lead of 45 seconds.
Behind them Camilla Alessio (BePink) and Carolin Schiff (Andy Schleck-CP NVST-Immo Losch) tried to bridge, but were soon caught. However, the leaders were never allowed too much leeway, and just after the first of eight climbs, the Côte de Thon, they were caught, Trek-Segafredo taking over at the head of the race.
It was the American team’s Lucinda Brand who led an attack shortly afterwards, the Dutch rider escaping with Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) and Jumbo-Visma’s British rider, Anna Henderson, the trio building a lead of 1-20. However, as the race approached Huy for the first pass of the finish line their advantage began to drop, especially when SD Worx’s Niamh Fisher-Black attempted to close them down.
However, when the New Zealander was caught the gap began to increase, though they only had 30 seconds lead when they crested the Mur, the thinning peloton behind them an indication of the speed.
With Fisher-Black having failed to bridge, over the top of the climb it was down to SD Worx to chase the breakaway, in pursuit of world champion Anna van der Breggen’s hopes of a seventh consecutive victory.
Inside the final 20km on the Côte d’Ereffe, as Henderson faded from the break, the gap plummeted, and they were caught before Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) made a dig off the front. Though the South African didn’t get far, US champion Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) attacked and entered the final 15km with a lead of 30 seconds.
Onto the penultimate climb the Côte de Chemin des Gueuses, Winder, led by 30 seconds but it seemed like she would be caught when Annemiek van Vleuten attacked and the lead reduced to only six seconds. But with the nine chasing women looking to each other Winder’s advantage expanded again despite a series of attacks from nearly all involved.
In the end only a concerted effort from Vollering brought the American within range, though she still managed to finish seventh.
La Flèche Wallonne Femmes 2021: Huy - Huy (130.2km)
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) SDWorx, in 3-28-27
2. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM at 2 sec
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segaredo at 6 sec
4. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar at same time
5. Mavi Garcia (Esp) Alé-BTC Ljubljana at 22 sec
6. Juliette Labous (Fra) DSM at 28 sec
7. Ruth Winder (USA) Trek-Segafredo at 31 sec
8. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 32 sec
9. Amanda Spratt (Aus) BikeExchange at 35 sec
10. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx, all same time at 42 sec.
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