The stranglehold Boels-Dolmans have had on the Women’s WorldTour was finally broken this afternoon, when Anna van der Breggen of Rabo-Liv won Flèche Wallonne for the second consecutive year. Behind her, however, Americans Evie Stevens and Megan Guarnier of Boels-Dolmans completed the podium, meaning the day was not a lost cause for the Dutch team.
After attacking one the penultimate climb, as she did last year, Van der Breggen led Stevens most of the way up the final ascent of the Mur de Huy, before leaving her behind in the final few metres.
Earlier in the race, a break of seven riders escaped and created a gap of 3.30, though as they reached the bottom of the first accent of the Mur de Huy the peloton were beginning to reel them in, the catch being made with 34 kilometres left to to race. From then it was a race of attrition, the bigger teams upping the pace over the new climb, the Côte de Solières, before Van der Breggen’s attack on the Côte de Cherave.
“I couldn’t believe it [her victory],” Van der Breggen said afterwards. “A lot of girls are in shape and want to win the race, so crossing that line the second time. I hoped for it but a lot of girls hope for it but if you can really do it it’s great.”
I wanted to try again on that climb [Côte de Cherave], we really had to make the climb hard because if you are with four strong girls and wait until the last climb you cannot use each other’s strength.”
According to Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead, who finished 28th, 1.28 down having raced as a domestique de-luxe, her Boels-Dolmans team were pleased with the result.
“We’re really happy actually,” Armitstead told Cycling Weekly. “We went into the race with two leaders and obviously you want to get the win, but on the day Anna Was strongest. We raced the perfect race tactically and you have to chapeau to Anna really.
“I was able to do all the work that I wanted. It’s satisfying to do a job, I don’t get the opportunity to do that very often, to really suffer. In most races it’s all about waiting and being patient and it’s not in my character to do that, so it was nice to put it on the line for the girls today.”
Boels-Dolmans have had a stellar season, winning the preceding five WorldTour races, as well as the general classification at the Energiewacht Tour and a number of other one day events. However, Van der Breggen’s Rabo-Liv team have an excellent record in Huy, winning the preceding three editions with Pauline Ferrand-Prevot winning in 2014 and Marianne Vos’ 2013 victory being the most recent of her four successes in the Ardennes.
The race marks a change of gear for the Women’s WorldTour with stage races now taking prominence. This could also see Boels-Dolmans winning fewer races, with teams like Rabo-Liv more suited to longer format events.
“It will bring a new perspective to the calendar,” Koos Moerenhout, Rabo-Liv’s directeur sportif told us.
“We have different races later in the season, you have the Giro Rosa, a race that we like and have won in previous years and it will be interesting to see what will happen at the Tour of California.”
The first of those WorldTour stage races is the Tour of Chongming Island which takes place in China between May 6 and 8. However, despite its WorldTour status many top teams are likely to skip the event.