Anna van der Breggen gets five
Curse of the rainbow bands, or just high expectations? Anna van der Breggen has yet to win since becoming world champion in September in Innsbruck, but then again she’s only taken part in four races this season after taking some time away from the road to race the Cape Epic.
Still, an 11th place in her first race at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and ninth in defence of her Strade Bianche title weren’t what would have been expected from the Dutchwoman, while she looked in contention for Amstel Gold Race on Sunday before fading on the final ascent of the Cauberg to finish 13th.
But then along comes old faithful, the race to which she holds the not-so-secret formula, La Flèche Wallonne. Sprinting ahead with 200m go on the Mur de Huy seems to have worked in the last five editions, and it worked again today, giving her a record-equalling fifth title (joint with Marianne Vos) at Flèche.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) gave it a good go at chasing her down before the line, but there was no repeat of La Course here. After Amstel Gold you may have given some of the other contenders a bit more chance at stopping Van der Breggen’s run at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, but if she’s back on top form again you’d be hard pressed to stop her making it three in a row.
Alaphilippe vs Fuglsang, round three
AND THIS TIME, IT’S PERSONAL.
It’s the rivalry of the year so far and it played out once again in the men’s Flèche Wallonne on the Mur de Huy, presumably much to Jakob Fuglang’s chagrin.
The Astana man (whose name means ‘birdsong’ in Danish in case you missed Eurosport telling you every, single time he attacks) must be starting to feel a bit hard done by at this point. He lost out to Julian Alaphilippe at Strade Bianche, managed to beat him at Amstel Gold Race but still only finish third after that sprint by Mathieu van der Poel, and then take runner-up to him again today.
Fuglsang attacked quite early on the finish slopes of the Mur de Huy, and really did his French rival a bit of favour by giving him a wheel to follow. There was no coming back once Alaphilippe had accelerated past him, but he might just be glad he only had to spend a few seconds rather than an hour with him in a break today.
Meanwhile, Alaphilippe can do very little wrong when Mathieu van der Poel isn’t around. Despite missing out on what looked like almost sure things in De Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold Race last week, the 26-year-old has still had an amazing spring.
In addition to his Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche titles, Alaphilippe seems to have bought Alejandro Valverde’s secret to La Flèche Wallonne as he raced to two titles in a row. Another perfectly timed sprint up the Mur de Huy did the job again, and he must surely enter Liège-Bastogne-Liège almost completely free from pressure – a win there would just top what has been a phenomenal season so far.
Here we go again
In some ways I really don’t mind Flèche Wallonne. What else is there to do on a Wednesday afternoon? At least it’s not on a Saturday. It’s like that movie or TV show you know isn’t that great, but you watch it over and over again anyway even though you know what the ending will be because it’s a kind of comforting familiarity. Just me? OK.
Nevertheless, it’s still a bike race and sport, and should probably conform to the widely agreed thought that it should be in some way entertaining and/or exciting.
There can’t be a bike race on the calendar that is so hampered by it’s own course but yet relies on it for historical relevance. La Flèche Wallonne is the Mur de Huy, and to take it out of the finish is almost unthinkable.
Amstel Gold, a relatively younger race, removed the Cauberg from its finale for the same reason that it had just turned into a predictable bunch dash up the climb to the line, but it’s far from imaginable that organiser ASO would do this for Flèche.
This year it even added in some more climbs closer to the finish and another ascent of the Mur de Huy just for good measure, however to very little noticeable effect. The men’s race is still not long enough at 195km (potentially because no-one wants to ride another 250km Classic mid-week between Amstel and Liège) to thin things hugely, and every rider knows that it will simply come down to timing the final dash on the Mur.
Same time next year?
Crashes ruin chances
Riders will always talk up their chances ahead of a race, more so riders who are currently out of form and are now getting desperate for a result.
Roman Kreuziger is one such rider, as his Dimension Data team begin to reflect on an extremely barren spring. Unfortunately, any chance he had disintegrated with a horrible thud as he was brought down in a nasty crash with still over 30km to go.
Domenico Pozzovivo, who would have more likely been supporting Bahrain-Merida team-mate Dylan Theuns, looked to come off worse as he suffered facial injuries in the same incident.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was an in form rider talking up his chances before the race, but he also came down in the same crash and suffered some road rash, although remounted his bike. Yates has never performed that well at Flèche, and like Kreuziger, he’ll hope he can recover in time for a potential shot at Liège where he’s performed better in the past.
It was somewhat of a surprise to find Peter Sagan added into Bora-Hansgrohe’s team on the eve of Flèche on Tuesday. The three-time world champion has only ridden the race once before and it is most certainly not an event that has been on his radar since he took that 12th place in 2013.
Sagan has looked jaded through much of the Classics campaign this year, putting up a fight in Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, but wandering fairly anonymously through the Tour of Flanders earlier this month. A DNF in Amstel Gold on Sunday didn’t bode well for his chances next Sunday on Liège’s new flatter finish, so we can only assume he was thrown in today to try and rediscover some form ahead of this weekend’s Monument. (Ed. Update, Sagan has since pulled out of Liège).
It difficult to know if it had the desired effect, after doing some stints for his team-mates Sagan was dropped with 35km to go, later abandoning at the top of the second ascent of the Mur de Huy. After the dip in form he’s suffered this spring, you’d be brave to put money on him coming back to take victory on the long, arduous roads of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.