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Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv) has emerged victorious from a spectacular finale to La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, beating Annemiek van Vleuten (Bigla) who survived from a two-rider escape that formed nearly 20 kilometres from the finish. Strade Bianche winner Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) rounded out the podium.
It was a rare happy podium. Van der Breggen was elated with the strong team performance that netted her a career-first World Cup win. Van Vleuten was thrilled to hang on for second following her bold attack. Guarnier expressed pride in her result. Despite an impressive palamares, the American had never appeared on the podium at the World Cup until Wednesday.
“I feel that this is a team victory,” van der Breggen told Ella CyclingTips. “I can tell that this is the feeling of my teammates, too. Everyone contributed to my win. We were very strong as a team.”
Van der Breggen’s teammate Roxane Knetemann played the most obvious role in the result. Knetemann and van Vleuten were up the road with a 45 second advantage when van der Breggen attacked out of an elite chase group to bridge across to the two leaders. Knowing that her chances of beating van Vleuten up the Mur were slim, Knetemann hadn’t been working the break and had fresh legs when Van der Breggen made contact. Sacrificing her own chances, Knetemann drove the break up the lower slopes of the Mur.
“This was the plan today,” explained van der Breggen. “My attack was one of our options. The other option was Pauline [Ferrand-Prévot]. We had her for the finish if my attack didn’t work.”
The plan played out to perfection. Van der Breggen jumped 450 metres from the finish, ultimately winning the race by 12 seconds.
Despite the work she did in the breakaway, van Vleuten proved strong enough to keep the chasers at bay. Like van der Breggen, van Vleuten crossed the line alone. Guarnier would follow eight seconds later.
“Normally this isn’t a race for me,” explained van Vleuten in an Ella interview. “I would not expect a result here. My team was great today. I didn’t have to do anything until the end, and I gave everything I had to make something of my opportunity.”
“I knew I was climbing well because I was able to stay with Anna for a long time on the Mur,” van Vleuten added. “It was only at the very end that I started to believe it was possible I would stand on the podium. Ususally I’m not very happy with second place. Today, I am very happy with this result.”
Guarnier echoed similar sentiments. The American was full of praise for her team and satisifed with her result.
“The team was brilliant,” Guarnier told Ella. “We started the day with a bit of an open plan. We had three good options in me, Lizzie [Armitstead] and Evie [Stevens]. During the race, Lizzie said the team would ride for me. She’s been sick this last week, so she wasn’t feeling fantastic out there. The first time we went up the Mur, I knew I was on a good day.”
“This is my first World Cup podium,” Guarnier added. “Of course, it’s always the goal to win, and when we don’t win, there’s always a bit of disappointment, but the context is important here. This is a World Cup. Any time we stand on the podium at the World Cup, that’s a good thing.”
The fourth round of the World Cup was a heavy, hilly race in the Wallonie region of Belgium. The 121km course featured two laps that included a trip up the Côte d’Éreffe, Côte de Bellaire, Côte de Bohissau and Mur de Huy. Only the second lap included the new Côte de Cherave climb that came only 4km before the base of the infamous Mur.
The first lap was fairly uneventful. A few small crashes and the usual attrition at the back of the bunch slimmed down the peloton slightly. When Carlee Taylor (Lotto Soudal) led the peloton over the Mur de Huy for the start of the second lap around 60 riders remained in the front group.
An attack by Lauren Komanski (Team USA) was the first successful escape attempt of the day. Lizzie Williams (Orica-AIS) bridged across to the lone leader, but even with combined efforts, the duo never managed more than a half-minute advantage. They were back in the bunch before the Côte de Bohissau, which shattered the peloton.
Knetemann and van Vleuten attacked out of front group of around 30 riders. The Bigla rider was tasked with the bulk of the work. Her efforts saw the duo build a 1:10 advantage over a chase group that would eventually be reduced to only five riders in the run-in to the Mur.
“I understand why Knetemann didn’t work,” said van Vleuten. “She didn’t have to. She had teammates behind that could win the race. We both knew that.”
With the gap growing, Rabo Liv gave chase. Their objective was not to close the gap entirely but to reduce the advantage enough to allow van der Breggen to bridge. The leading duo reached the base of the Côte de Cherave with a 40 second advantage over van der Breggen, Ferrand-Prévot, Guarnier, Stevens and Asleigh Moolman (Bigla).
When she had the leaders in sight, van der Breggen jumped. The 25-year-old made quick work of bridging the gap to her teammate and van Vleuten, reaching them before the Mur. Knetemann kept the pace high and van der Breggen saved as much energy as she could for the upper slopes of the summit finish.
The win in Huy is van der Breggen’s fourth victory of the season. She won the European opener at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February and both the prologue and fourth stage of the Energiewacht Tour, the first European stage race, two weeks ago. With third place finishes at both Ronde van Vlaanderen and Trofeo Binda, a World Cup win seemed on the cards.
“It has been different racing without Marianne [Vos],” said van der Breggen. “She could win in a lot of different situations, including the sprints. Without her, we don’t really have a rider who can sprint, so we have to race much more aggressively. It’s been a lot of fun.”
VAN DER BREGGEN Anna VAN DER BREGGEN Anna Rabobank-Liv Woman Cycling Team
|Rabobank-Liv Woman Cycling Team||03:18:46|
VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek Bigla Pro Cycling Team
|Bigla Pro Cycling Team||0:12|
GUARNIER Megan GUARNIER Megan Boels - Dolmans Cycling Team
|Boels - Dolmans Cycling Team||0:20|