It was a repeat performance for Anna van der Breggen at La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, as the Olympic champion bagged her third consecutive victory on the Mur de Huy.
The day’s podium was identical to that of the Amstel Gold Race with van der Breggen’s Boels-Dolmans team mate Lizzie Deignan second and Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Energie) third. Annemiek van Vleuten, who finished joint third on Sunday was in fourth place.
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The race followed a similar format to that of Sunday’s, with van der Breggen bridging to Niewiadoma and Deignan, before powering clear in the final few kilometres to take on the 22 per cent slopes of the final climb alone, just as she did last year.
Deignan and her companion attacked late on, catching two riders who had escaped after the penultimate climb of the Mur. It was only when those two riders had been dropped that van der Breggen made her move across the gap from a small peloton of around 35 riders.
The race began in aggressive fashion, with some riders attacking before the Cote d’Ereffe, the first of seven climbs the riders would tackle in the the 120km race.
However, with most of the climbs towards the end of the course, the pace settled and Katia Ragusa (BePink-Cogeas) and Sofie de Vuyst (Lares-Waowdeals) were able to build a 30 second gap. Despite the windy conditions on the plateau of the Ardennes hills, the pair were joined by Anisha Vekemans (Alé-Cipollini) and Allie Dragoo (Cervélo-Bigla), and the quartet were allowed to establish an advantage, which topped out at three minutes by the half way point.
Behind them, those strong winds whipping across the open fields were having an effect, and more riders struggled to maintain contact with the peloton as Boels-Dolmans controlled the front.
With the first of two ascents of the Mur de Huy approaching they were joined at the front by Team Sunweb, whose Coryn Rivera currently leads the WorldTour rankings, and the gap began to tumble, two minutes being eroded with round 10km.
However, before the catch was made, Dragoo’s team mate, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio attacked from the peloton, soon catching the break, which itself had begun to explode. The escape dropped, South-African Moolman-Pasio made her way up the Mur on her own, though the peloton, led by Lizzie Deignan and Niewiadoma, was in close attendance, catching her just over the top.
The race was marred when six riders were caught in a crash at the back of the peloton, four of those were forced to abandon ,with two of those taken to hospital.
The next Women’s WorldTour race – the final of the first ever women’s Ardennes week – will be Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In contrast to Flèche Wallonne – which has been running since 1998 – it will be the first ever edition of the race.
La Flèche Wallonne Femmes: Huy to Huy (120km)
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans 3-21-06
2. Lizzie Deignan (Gbr) Boels-Dolmans at 16 secs
3. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) WM3 Energie at 25 secs
4. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Orica-Scott at 43 secs
5. Shara Gillow (Aus) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 49 secs
6. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) Cervélo-Bigla at 54 secs
7. Coryn Rivera (USA) Sunweb at 56 secs
8. Janneke Ensing (Ned) Alé-Cipollini at 58 secs
8. Katrin Garfoot (Aus) Orica-Scott at 1-00
10.Flavia Olivera (Bra) Lares-Waowdeals at 1-02