Former Italian champion Marta Cavalli took a courageous and tense first WorldTour victory for FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.
The 24 year-old attacked a group of eight women which had emerged at the top of the Cauberg, riding solo for the final 1.8km to win by the narrowest of margins.
Finishing second for the second consecutive edition, Demi Vollering was one of two SD Worx riders in the chasing group, and the others leant on the Dutch team to chase the Italian down. While the gap was closed she was not caught, Liane Lippert (DSM) taking the final podium place.
Though the race was entertaining throughout, somewhat predictably the Cauberg played a starring role in the result. A large peloton hit the bottom, and equally predictably Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) attacked at the bottom. It was a huge effort from the Dutchwoman, but she was unusually unable to gap her rivals, Lippert glued to her wheel the entire climb.
With Ashleigh Moolman Pasio keeping the pace high for team mate Vollering, it eased when no one responded to her flicked elbow. It was then that Cavalli launched her move from the back of the group.
Cavalli is one of the most promising riders in the bunch. Not only did she time Sunday’s attack to perfection last year she was perhaps unlucky to finish sixth at last year’s Giro d'Italia Donne after a stellar performance in the mountains. She has a series of top 10 results in some of the sport’s top races and a notable sprint for such a slight woman.
It’s also a huge victory for her French team. In recent seasons they have followed a deliberate strategy of internationalising their roster, with Cavalli joining the squad for last year.
That strategy has clearly paid off. While a stage of the 2020 Giro was their first WorldTour win, and Cecile Uttrup Ludwig won a stage at the Vuelta Burgos last season, Sunday’s first classics win though is huge, and will boost confidence.
Two British women distinguished themselves in the race. Anna Henderson had another excellent ride, the Jumbo-Visma rider always in perfect position to react to moves, infiltrating three breakaways. Le Col-Wahoo’s Lizzie Holden was also aggressive, attacking on each of the final two laps.
How it happened
At only 128.4km, this year’s Amstel Gold Race is the shortest Women’s WorldTour race of the year to date, and, after next week’s Paris-Roubaix, the shortest of the entire spring.
After the cancellation of the 2020 race and the abridged 2021 version, this year the race reverted to its traditional start in Maastricht. Tackling 19 classified climbs, it first looped north, before heading to the Cauberg for the first time after 70km, beginning three closing laps of 18km.
Unlike the men’s race, in which the final lap does not use the Cauberg, the women’s event has kept it as its final feature, the top coming some two kilometres from the line in Berg-en-Terblijt.
Only after 50km on Eyserbosweg did the race kick off. First British time trial champion Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma) and Pauliena Rooijakkers (Canyon-SRAM) got a small gap, before being caught by a larger group.
Kasia Niewiadoma made it two Canyon-SRAM riders in the leading group, and with Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) Yara Kastelijn (Plantur-Pura), and the SD Worx quartet of Marlen Reusser, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Demi Vollering and Niamh Fisher-Black it seemed like a winning move had gone early.
However, The SD Worx riders were unwilling to make the race, and with BikeExchange-Jayco, Jumbo-Visma and DSM all chasing, the leading group were caught before they entered the closing 60km.
Van Vleuten though, continued to ride, leading another breakaway up the road. Again she was joined by Henderson, Vollering and Niewiadoma, but also European champion Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo), Liane Lippert (DSM) and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (DSWorx) and the seven women crossed the finish line for the first time with a lead of 32 seconds, and waning cooperation.
Spanish climber Ane Santesteban (BIkeExchange-Jayco) bridged to the leaders, making eight women riding on the early part of the first local lap, and only on the approach to the Bemelerberg did the leaders gain any real traction, their lead finally exceeding one minute. Though not for long.
A flurry of attacks brought that gap down, and when UAE Team ADQ came to the front the deficit was reduced to less than 20 seconds, the team launching Sofia Bertizzolo across that gap ahead of the second ascent of the Cauberg.
The leaders were caught on the opening slopes and despite a series of attacks a large peloton crossed the line with 36km remaining.
The circuit’s first climb, the Geulemerberg brought more aggression, Henderson’s Jumbo-Visma team mate and Anouska Koster leading another group away, before Rooijakkers went solo. Unable to build a substantial gap, as she approached the Bemelerberg for the second time was joined by Arlenis Sierra (Movistar) and Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco).
The race failed to settle though and the leading group took a slim lead overt the finish line for the final time, Spanish champion Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ) eight seconds down, and a group of 13 the same distance further back.
As the final lap developed the peloton swelled, but with SD Worx doing the work, the lead began to drop slowly. Ahead of the Bemelerberg García just before the leading trio. SD Worx then played their first card, Niamh Fisher-Black going, with Marlen Reusser then attacking over the top.
This instigated a period of aggression, moves from Van Dijk and Holden putting thinning the bunch. Cavalli’s team mate Stine Borgli led on the descent towards Valkennburg, but the Cauberg was always likely to have its say.
Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition 2022: Maastricht - Berg-en-Terblijt (128.4km)
1. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, in 3-17-41
2. Demi Vollering (Ned) SD Worx, at 4s
3. Liane Lippert (Ger) DSM
4. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar
5. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM
6. Mavi García (Esp) UAE Team ADQ, all at same time
7. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) SD Worx, at 7s
8. Elisa Balsamo (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 9s
9. Coryn Rivera (USA) Jumbo-Visma
10. Sofia Bertizzolo (Ita) UAE Team ADQ, all at same time
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