Marta Cavalli produced a brilliant final sprint to take her second victory of the Ardennes Classics season. The former Italian champion was able to mark an aggressive Annemiek van Vleuten on the Mur de Huy, overtaking the Dutchwoman with 50m to go.
Despite having two riders in a small group at the bottom of the climb, SD Worx could only manage third place, Demi Vollering crossing the line a few seconds back.
Sitting on the back of two Movistar team-mates, Van Vleuten seemed to hold the box hand at the bottom of the climb. But as soon as they led her onto the narrow section at the start of the steepest slopes she was alone.
The Dutch rider led nearly all the way, opening a small gap on the steepest section on the bends, just over 300m from the line. But a patient Cavalli closed the gap, sat on, and could not be shaken despite Van Vleuten’s best efforts.
It was a consummate performance from Cavalli’s FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope squad. With no one in the day’s breakaways they used Brodie Chapman, herself fresh from a race win at GP de Chambéry, and French champion Evita Muzic to control, chase and place Cavalli perfectly for the penultimate climb, where the final selection was made.
With three wins in just 11 days, the French squad will be riding the crest of a wave ahead of Liège-Bastogne-Liège this Sunday, where a repeat is possible.
How it happened
One of the oldest top tier races on the women’s calendar, Flèche Wallonne has been around since 1998, and two women have dominated. Between 2007 and ’13 Marianne Vos won five editions, but the undisputed queen of the Mur de Huy is Anna van der Breggen, who until today won every edition since 2015.
However, while she was in Wallonia on Wednesday, the Dutchwoman’s presence was as sports director for SD Worx, and with Vos not riding for Jumbo-Visma after contracting COVID, this year’s edition would bring a new winner.
Another change for 2022 was the route. At 133.4km it may not be the longest - that honour goes to 2016 when the race was 137km - but for the first time the peloton would race up the fabled Mur de Huy on three occasions.
Along with three ascents of the Côte de Cherave and two of the Côte d’Ereffe the race, which started and finished in Huy, would tackle eight classified climbs over two laps of a 31.2km closing circuit, which followed an opening 71km loop.
The race began in active fashion, a number of groups getting a small gap before being dragged back by a reluctant peloton, and no one was able to get up the road.
Only after 25km did three women get away; Katia Ragusa (Liv Xstra), Anastasia Carbonari (Valcar Travel and Service) and Kylie Waterrus (Lotto-Soudal) building a lead of 50 seconds before a counterattack from the peloton. The leading trio were eventually joined by Pauline Allin (Arkea), Silvia Zinardi (BePink), with Federica Piergiovanni making it two Valcar riders in the leading group.
Their lead approached two minutes, though as the race closed in on a return to Huy for the start of the circuits, that was closer to one minute, and with Waterrus dropped, the break crested the Mur for the first time with a lead of only 45 seconds.
Though that increased once over the top, the die was cast.
On the first ascent of the circuit’s opening climb, the Côte d’Ereffe DSM prefaced the action by sending young French rider, Léa Curinier up the road in pursuit. But the 20-year-old didn’t last long, the action kicking off behind, and a group bridging to leaders.
Brit Anna Shackley (SD Worx), Anouska Koster (Jumbo-Visma), Alena Amialiusik and Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM), Leah Thomas (Trek-Segafredo), Jelena Erić (Movistar), Esme Peperkamp (DSM), Krista Doebel-Hickok (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Amanda Spratt (BikeExchage-Jayco) and Yara Kastelijn (Plantur-Pura) joined the leading group. And, though the early escapees fell back on the Côte de Cherave, the new break was strong enough to go to the line. If they were allowed.
As they climbed the Mur for the penultimate time with a lead of 2-40 it seemed as though not only would the race have a new winner, but also a new winning formula. However, with FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope working on the front of the bunch, the leaders lost one minute on the long drag after the finishing line.
By the time the leaders reached the foot of the Côte d’Ereffe their advantage had reduced to just 1-06, Movistar sporadically assisting the pursuit. Then with 15km to go Erić dropped back to help, though FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, fresh from Marta Cavalli’s Amstel Gold win, persisted.
Kastelijn led onto the Côte de Cherave for the final time, though by then the peloton were within touching distance, the break drifting back into their clutches. Koster was the last to be caught, just short of the top, a group of 10 swallowing the former Dutch champion. With three representatives among the 11 leaders, SD Worx had superiority on the run to the bottom of the Mur de Huy, and their former New Zealand champion attacked hard as they rode along the banks of the Meuse river, the group swelling once more.
Eventually a group of 17 women reached the bottom of the climb well clear of any challengers, Movistar in charge, now with three leading the group onto the steepest section, though Annemiek van Vleuten was soon alone for the traditional slow motion sprint finish.
La Flèche Wallonne Féminine 2022: Huy - Huy (133.4km)
1. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, in 3-38-37
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar, at same time
3. Demi Vollering (Ned) SD Worx, at 10 sec
4. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) SD Worx, at 17 sec
5. Mavi García (Esp) UAE Team ADQ, at 21 sec
6. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 30 sec
7. Liane Lippert (Ger) DSM, at 33 sec
8. Krista Doebel-Hickok (USA) EF Education-Tibco-SVB, at 37 sec
9. Yara Kastelijn (Ned) Plantur-Pura, at 40 sec
10. Ane Santesteban (Esp) BikeExchange-Jayco, at 42 sec
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