Taking her first victory since winning last year’s World Championships, Anna van der Breggen won La Flèche Wallonne Femmes on Wednesday.
The Dutchwoman attacked her remaining rivals from around 200m, slowly grinding clear to take her fifth consecutive victory on the Mur de Huy, equalling Marianne Vos’s (CCC-Liv) record.
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With her gap established on the slow run to the line, the win was never in doubt for the 29-year-old, though Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) closed in at speed to take second place.
Van der Breggen’s Boels-Dolmans team-mate, Annika Langvad at one point seemed able to catch the Van der Breggen, but eventually faded taking third, though the former mountain bike world champion now has three top-five finishes in three Women’s WorldTour starts.
Though the race came down to the customary slow-motion sprint up the Mur de Huy, the final brought a flurry of attacks and a concerted effort from Sunweb’s Floortje Mackaij.
The Dutch rider had 15 seconds lead at the flamme rouge, but was caught as the climb reached its steepest pitches, on the bend with 300 metres remaining.
Boels-Dolmans have been the dominant team in recent seasons, but have failed to fire this year and Wednesday’s success will relieve the inevitable pressure.
How it happened
Despite a strong wind blowing across the exposed opening sections of the race immediately after the start in Huy, attacks did not take long to go, with a number of riders trying their luck. However, only when 15km did anyone get any sort of gap, though even that was short-lived.
It was only with 20km that Roxanne Knetemann (Parkhotel-Valkenburg) escaped, and with one leader up the road, the peloton seemed happy and she soon gained a lead of 40 seconds.
The peloton though were in unforgiving mood, and when a further three riders tried to join her the gap tumbled and she was caught.
Then, on one of the long but unclassified ascents at the south of the opening loop of 89km, six riders slipped off the front.
Małgorzata Jasinska (Movistar), Diana Peñuela (Alé-Cipollini), Marie Blais (Astana) Lauren Stephens (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank), Loes Adegeest and Tatiana Riabchenko established a lead of 40 seconds with 83 of the 118.5km gone.
Adegest was soon dropped and as the race entered a second exposed section with 62km remaining, the peloton lifted the pace and splits began to appear, with Trek-Segafredo leading the way.
In a matter of less than 10km the gap dropped to just 1-25, and by the time they reached the top of the first ascent of Côte d’Ereffe they were caught, though Riabchenko just managed to get over the top first.
Trek-Segafredo’s Lizzie Deignan set the pace on the first pass of the Côte de Cherave, further thinning a diminished bunch, though she was back in the bunch by the time they crested the Mur de Huy the first time. It was a reduced peloton, led by Mitchelton-Scott that took on the headwinds on the open countryside in the final 28km.
A lull allowed a group of four to get away, staying clear until the Côte d’Ereffe for the second and final time, but they were eventually caught on the descent.
As the bunch ran back towards the river-side town of Huy, first Alsion Jackosn (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) attacked, then Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race winner, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) tried her luck.
When Van Vleuten’s team mate Amanda Spratt attacked over the top of the penultimate climb, the Côte de Cherave there were only 13 remaining though a number got back on before Mackaij made her ill-fated attack.
La Flèche Wallonne Femmes: Huy to Huy (118.5km)
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, in 3-17-04
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1 sec
3. Annika Langvad (Den) Boels-Dolmans, at 4 sec
4. Marianne Vos (Ned) CCC-Liv, at 14 sec
5. Demi Vollering (Ned) Parkhotel-Valkenburg, at 16 sec
6. Kasia Niewidoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM, at 27 sec
7. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) CCC-Liv, at 20 sec
8. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) Bigla, at 23 sec
9. Brodie Chapman (Aus) Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank, at 26 sec
10. Margarita Garcia (Esp) Movistar, at 33 sec
23. Lizzie Deignan (GBr) Trek-Segafredo at 1.09 nbsp;