Demi Vollering took the highest-profile win of her three-year professional career at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, winning a five-woman sprint.
The group had gone clear on the day's final climb, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, with Vollering's team-mate, world champion Anna van der Breggen, riding on the front for the entire 13km run-in, allowing her compatriot to save her legs.
Annemiek van Vleuten launched her sprint with 300m to go, but Vollering came past her, the Movistar rider finishing second with Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) taking third place.
The 24-year-old was set up by a consummate performance from her SDWorx squad who dominated the race from start to finish. Niamh Fisher-Black off the front early in the race and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio leading the way over La Redoute.
Then, Van der Breggen pushed hard onto the Roche-aux-Faucons, dropping the sprinters, before leading all the way into the final 300m.
The race is one the Dutch rider enjoys. Third place in 2019 behind Van Vleuten was her breakout performance, and the podium tears from two years ago when she realised her potential re-emerged during Sunday's post-race interview when she finally proved it.
How it happened
While the men’s version of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the oldest of the Monuments, the women’s version only began in 2017 and has been dominated by the Dutch. Anna van der Breggen won the first two editions finishing in the Liègeois suburb of Ans, and Annemiek van Vleuten took the first city centre finish in 2019.
After finishing second behind then team-mate Van der Breggen in the inaugural edition, last year Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) broke their stranglehold with a solo victory. However, illness prevented the Brit from defending her crown and neither second-placed Grace Brown (BikeExchange) or Deignan’s third-placed teammate Ellen van Dijk could take part, the latter recovering from Covid-19. Not only that, but the entire DSM and Parkhotel-Valkenburg squads were also forced to withdraw.
As such a young race the route is still evolving, and at 140.9km this year’s edition is the longest yet, and with the extra distance come extra climbs, the addition of the Côte de Desnié and des Forges taking the total to seven. However, the Belgian provinces of Liège and Luxembourg, the latter hosting the start in Bastogne, are notoriously lumpy and there was barely a flat kilometre.
A few kilometres Claire Faber (Andy Schleck-CP NVST Immo Losch) and Silvia Zanardi (BePink) attacked the 127 rider bunch, and by the time 20km were behind them had a lead of one minute.
Though their lead dropped to only 30 seconds as they passed through the outdoor resort town of Houffalize, it eventually increased to three minutes. But as they crested the day’s first climb, the Côte de Wanne, a small group of counter attackers were closing in.
That ten woman group contained some big names, and with more than 80km remaining, the peloton was never likely to allow them space, and when they crossed the Côte de la Haute Levée only SDWorx’s Niamh Fisher-Black remained off the front.
On the Col du Rosier, with 58km remaining, she was joined by six others, though when they were caught just ahead of the Côte de Desnié the New Zealander went once again, the peloton thinning out behind as she built a lead of around 25 seconds.
As the town of Remouchamps and the race’s signature climb, La Redoute approached the pace lifted, and as the gradient kicked up Fisher-Black was caught, only for her team-mate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio to lead a group of three women off the front.
Initially joined by Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Katrine Aalerud (Movistar), on the steepest slopes they were unable to hold the wheel and the South African forged on alone.
But by the time she reached the top Moolman-Pasio has been joined by Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo), Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) was unable to bridge the gap and was consumed by a group of big guns battling for position behind.
Entering the closing 30km the trio had a lead of 25 seconds with two climbs to go, while Annemiek van Vleuten’s Movistar, Kasia Niewiadoma’s Canyon-SRAM and Vos’s Jumbo-Visma monitored the head of the chasing group.
But over the penultimate climb, the Côte des Forges cooperation among the leaders waned and the gap closed, the three women caught as they entered the final 20km, with only the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons remaining.
Here, with a large group still at the front as the gradient kicked up, and only 14km to go, Anna Van der Breggen (SDWorx) led the way, slowly lifting the pace in an attempt to drop get sprinters, and especially Vos.
Sure enough, just at the top of the climb the former world champion finally cracked and was distanced and five women had a gap with only 13km to go.
Vos was not done though and worked with Uttrup Ludwig to get back on, though as they did so Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) attacked, and five women entered the final 13km to fight for victory.
Van Vleuten, Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and the SDWorx pair of Van der Breggen and Demi Vollering gradually built a lead of 40 seconds as they began the final five kilometres, while Vos and Uttrup Ludwig struggled behind. And such as the rainbow jersey’s strength on the front, no one was able to attack, a five-woman sprint inevitable.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, Bastogne - Liège (140.9km)
1. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx in 3-54-31
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
4. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM, all at same time
5. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) SDWorx, at 2 second
6. Marianne Vos (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-27
7. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) SDWorx
8. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, both at same time
9. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-59
10. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Bike Exchange, at same time
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