Annemiek returned to form with a stunning solo win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, bringing back a lone leader on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons riding the final 10km alone.
A group of five had crested the climb only 15 seconds behind the Movistar rider, but despite working well together they were unable to catch her, a further unclassified climb allowing her to extend her lead.
That five woman group were left to battle for the podium places, with Grace Brown (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) winning the sprint for send place ahead of last year’s winner Demi Vollering (SD Worx).
It was an aggressive, combative ride from Van Vleuten. She first tried to replicate her 2019 winning move by attacking on La Redoute, and though she had a gap, Marlen Reusser (SD Worx) sat on her wheel and they were brought back.
Despite appearing under pressure, she tried again, using the final classified climb of Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons to bridge to Brown, who was alone up the road, and finally get her gap.
On the final run into the finish in Liège she was able to hold off a concerted chase from four strong women, who worked well, riding through and off, but were unable even to maintain their deficit, let alone close the gap on the rampaging Dutchwoman.
How it happened
The one-day Classics season came to an end with the sixth and longest women’s edition of what is one of the oldest races on the men’s calendar. Another difference from the men’s event is that the women start in Bastogne as opposed to Liège for the 142.1km race.
Lumpy all day, with barely a metre of true flat until the run into Liège, seven classified climbs were dotted along the route, the first of which, Côte de Mont-le-Soie, came after 55km.
The attacking began began early, though was hindered by a headwind and it took 13km for anything stick, Tamara Dronova (Roland-Cogeas-Edelwiess) leading the race through the outdoor sport resort of Houffalize, before being caught by Katia Ragusa (Liv-Xstra).
However, other teams sent riders to join them the general pace in the peloton increased and the leaders were reabsorbed. Liv-Xstra were in aggressive mood though, and after a brief hiatus Quinty Ton and Jeanne Korevaar got away with Magdeleine Vallieres (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) and Brit Flora Perkins (Le Col-Wahoo).
Finally, the day’s breakaway had formed, and by the time they had covered 45km the leading quartet had a gap of 1-30 and ahead of the day’s first classified climb.
They maintained that advantage over the top and onto the second climb, but as they reached the top of the third, the Côte de la Haute-Levée, the leaders were back in the peloton’s clutches, SD Worx doing much go the work to bring them back.
The race did not settle though, and on the descent towards the Col du Rosier a powerful break of eight women went clear.
With the exception of Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco), none of Marlen Reusser (SD Worx), Sara Martín (Movistar), Soraya Paladin (Canyon-SRAM), Leah Thomas (Trek-Segafredo), Evita Muzic (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope), Leah Kirchmann (DSM) and Carl Honsinger (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) were their team’s leaders, but all are incredibly capable riders, and representing all the main WorldTour teams might have been allowed to go all the way.
As they hit the fifth of the eight climbs, the Côte de Desnié, the eight-woman break had a lead of 1-30. Jumbo-Visma, still without Marianne Vos, and UAE Team ADQ led the chase behind. However, other than Martín, the breakaway were cooperating well, riding through and off they struggled to make an impact. But things changed on the approach to the race’s key climb of La Redoute, SD Worx, Movistar, and Trek-Segafredo coming to the front, and as the leaders passed the massed ranks of camper vans at the bottom, their advantage was less than 50 seconds.
And when Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio came to the front of the peloton for SD Worx, with 2019 winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) on her wheel, that gap was down to 20 seconds, long before the top of the climb.
With the gap down to 10 seconds Van Vleuten made her signature move on the steepest slopes, quickly catching the leaders, but unable to drop Reusser, the two women topping the climb with a lead of around 10 seconds on a group of eight different riders.
Last year’s winner Demi Vollering was joined by team-mate Moolman-Pasio, Trek-Segafredo had Paris-Roubaix winner Elisa Longo Borghini and Leah Thomas, while Flèche Wallonne winner Marta Cavalli had French champion Evita Muzic with her for FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, while Spratt and Paladin survived from the earlier move.
With her two SD Worx team-mates behind Reusser sat on Van Veluten’s wheel as the gap gradually came down, and with six further women getting back on a group of 16 formed, though only for a few seconds.
With 22km to go Grace Brown (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) attacked, and the Australian time trial champion, who finished second in 2020, instantly had a gap, taking a lead of 24 seconds onto the final classified climb. The Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons was where Brown had set off in pursuit of Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) in 2020, but there was to be no fairytale for the Australian as Van Veuten attacked again.
The Dutch rider reached Brown alone, a group of four chasing as she slowly opened a gap of around 15 seconds over the top. With Longo Borghini sat on, Brown, Cavalli, Moolman-Pasio and Vollering worked hard in the chase, dangling in sight of the leader, but Van Veluten took a lead of 20 seconds into the final 10km, which was largely downhill.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes 2022: Bastogne - Liège (142.1km)
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar, in 3-52-32
2. Grace Brown (Aus) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, at 43 sec
3. Demi Vollering (Ned) SD Worx
4. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) SD Worx
5. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, all at same time
6. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, at 47 sec
7. Arlenis Sierra (Cub) Movistar, at 1-58
8. Liane Lippert (Ger) Team DSM
9. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM
10. Amanda Spratt (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco, all at same time
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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.