Photo gallery: Highlights from the 2015 La Flèche Wallonne

by Jessi Braverman


Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv) reached the top of the Mur de Huy alone to win La Flèche Wallonne and move into the overall lead of the women’s World Cup series following its fourth round. Her Rabo Liv team rode a tactically brilliant race from start to finish, perfectly positioning van der Breggen for an attack on the Côte de Cherave, the penultimate climb on the hilly parcours.

In the past, we have used these photo galleries to feature riders whose race day stories traditionally remain untold by cycling media. It’s our objective to present a full range of experiences from race day. This time, we’ve included comments from each of the riders on the podium alongside some of the lesser-told tales.

We also put together a more traditional race report, which you can read here. This video is the UCI’s official race highlights reel:


Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans)

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Megan Guarnier was the third rider to reach the top of the Mur de Huy on Wednesday. Although the American is accustomed to riding in support roles for her teammates, she has made the most of any opportunity she has earned to ride for herself. It’s how she won Strade Bianche last month and how she rode onto her first World Cup podium.

We started the day with a bit of an open plan. We had three good options with me, Lizzie [Armitstead] and Evie [Stevens]. The plan was to see who is good on the day and make the tactic from there. We had a bit of an open race plan.

The first time up the Huy, I felt good. I’ve got to say, this might be the first time I’ve ever been able to say that. Usually I’m in the hurt box.

The thing about the Mur de Huy – it’s never ending. The second time up, you see that 250 metres to go sign, and you know the finish is still a world away. It’s just relentless. It’s a wall. You can’t really see ahead of you, and every time you think you’ve hit the steepest part, you turn and it gets even steeper.

The team was awesome today. Christine [Majerus] and Demi [de Jong] did the early work, and they were great. They made sure we were represented all day. Ellen [van Dijk] did a massive pull. We usually ride for Lizzie, but today she said: “We’re going to go for you.” It’s just such a good team feeling when people can switch roles like that. It really shows what this team is all about.

When Annemiek and Roxane attacked, I had Lizzie and Evie with me. Lizzie and Anna both attacked on the second to last climb. Over the top, Anna bridged across to the front two. I reacted at that point, but I left it a bit too late.

By then, it was only me and Evie in the second group with two Rabos [Pauline Ferrand Prevot and Katarzyna Niewiadoma] and one Bigla [Ashleigh Moolman]. It was on us to chase. Evie went to the front at the bottom of the descent and rode as hard as she could to get me onto the podium.

This is my first World Cup podium. 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, especially at the Huy.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Bigla)

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Annemiek van Vleuten launched a gutsy attack with 21km left the race. The Dutchwoman found herself with company in the form of compatriot and former teammate Roxane Knetemann (Rabo Liv). Having made the move from Rabo Liv to Bigla at the start of the season, van Vleuten has had more chances than ever before to ride for herself – and she embraced this one. Although her attack was long-range and her breakaway companion non-cooperative, van Vleuten committed to the move – and nearly pulled off the win.

This is not my race. I say it ever year. I did not believe that I would ever be able to get a result like this here. To become second – I am so happy.

I knew if I waited for the Mur the second time, I would have no chance. I’m strong and I’m a good time triallist. When we talked as a team, we said that it was better for me not to go on the climb. I would go somewhere else and surprise the bunch. We had Ashleigh [Moolman Paiso] for the Mur.

Everything worked perfectly with the team. We were always on the front, and I was never in the wind. I’m good in positioning, so I don’t need my teammates around me that much, but they were always there. Joelle [Numanville] did a really good job bringing me everywhere. Today feels like a really great team effort.

I went after the third to last climb. I was a bit surprised to have Knetemann with me. She didn’t want to ride. I respect that. She didn’t have to. She had two teammates behind that could win the race.

I did all of the work, and it was really hard. There were 20km and two climbs still. I was a bit disappointed when Anna came to us at 4km. I knew then it would be hard for me to win. I still had a little hope. You never know. Maybe she could have bad legs and break herself up the Mur.

Knetemann lead us out to the Mur in the last 3km. Anna never attacked. She just rode away. She’s better uphill. I knew that, but I never gave up.

I remember the words of my former team director – “It’s better for you to take your own speed.” I kept this in my mind. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I also had in my head that I need to be before the bunch to become on the podium.

My manager has told me that I need to believe in myself more. That I have more qualities and that if I try to do different things, I can win. My result today tells me that with a different tactic, it is true. There are more options for me. Second is a good result for me, but now I also want to win it. Maybe next year.

Mara Abbott (Wiggle Honda)

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Wiggle Honda started La Flèche Wallonne with two team leaders for the fourth round of the World Cup in Mara Abbott and Elisa Longo Borghini. The British-registered team hosted Ella CyclingTips in the team car in the race caravan. During the first lap, Abbott crashed – and the Wiggle Honda car pulled to the side of the road so that Sport Director Egon van Kessel could assess the situation.

Shaken and scrapped, Abbott climbed back on her bike and began the slow but steady process of chasing back to the bunch. We reported on our perspective of Abbott’s 12km chase in our live tweets (@CyclingTipsLive) and asked Abbott to share her story with you here.

I have no idea how I crashed. I only know that I fell really fast. I rolled to the ground, which is how I ended up with scrapes and cuts everywhere and a destroyed shoe. I’m good at falling and not actually having any long-standing injuries. I think I’ll be okay, but crashing is never any fun.

Learning how to chase back on in a bike race is something that will serve you well in your career. Everyone has to do it at some point – and sometimes you chase back on and win the race. When you’re lying on the ground, it’s really hard to imagine ever catching back to the bunch, but when you’re back on the bike, you just do it. It’s a good lesson, and it makes you stronger.

When you’re still in the caravan, you have a decent chance. If you can go from car to car to make your way to the front, you’re ok. Usually if you’ve crashed or had a mechanical, and you’re not off the back because you’ve been dropped, the drivers from different teams are willing to help you out and let you jump from car to car until you get back to the bunch. If you’re out of the caravan, you’re in a lot more trouble.

The important thing to remember when you’re chasing is to stay calm. You can’t panic. You want to move up gradually and catch you breath back. It’s important to keep moving forward but not to get too stressed and think you have to move forward all at once. If you start to think it’s a total disaster and your race is over and the only way to fix it is to get back right now, you’ll just blow yourself.

Let’s just say that today was not my favourite race ever. Flèche Wallone owes me a new shoe.

Carlee Taylor

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Carlee Taylor was Australia’s top finisher at La Flèche Wallonne. She crested the top of the Mur de Huy in 16th place, 1’22 behind race winner Anna van der Breggen.

I really wanted a top ten and to be in a position to hit the Mur going for the win the second time. I finished in 16th place, and I was in the second chase group when we hit the Mur, so I’m a bit disappointed. I gave it my all.

I felt really good today. I was the first over the Mur on the first lap. Sometimes I make the mistake of doing a bit too much work too early, and maybe that’s what happened today. Maybe there were a few moves that I followed on the second lap that I should have left for someone else. It’s hard to remember that when Rabobank is attacking. You don’t want to let any Rabo riders up the road. They’re so strong. Any move with any of their riders is dangerous.

The race began to get strung out after the first climb on the second lap. This was before Lauren [Komanski] (USA) and Lizzie [Williams] (Australia) were up the road. Rabo initiated most of those moves, and they were quite aggressive on the long climb where there was a lot of wind [the Côte de Bohissau]. That’s when things were going that I was trying to follow and maybe I wasted too much energy.

You can’t follow everything, so when Roxane and Annemiek went, I hesitated. A lot of people did. I don’t think anyone thought it would stay away, and they were waiting for the second to last climb [Côte de Cherave]. That move plus the second to last climb blew the race to bits.

The new climb [Côte de Cherave] made the last part of the race harder than it’s ever been. It split things up more than it would have without the climb, that’s for sure. It decided the group of riders that would be going for the win. I was in the group just behind with Emma Johansson. And that was the race. The new climb definitely made things harder, and I think that’s a good thing even though it hurt.

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Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv)

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Anna van der Breggen’s stock is on the rise. The Dutch rider who turned 25 last week had an incredible 2014 season that included stage wins at Festival Luxembourgeois Elsy Jacobs, Ladies Tour of Norway and Lotto Belisol Belgium Tour. She won the overall in Luxembourg and Norway and finished in second place on the general classification Belgium to her then-teammate Annemiek van Veuten. Add in a win at Dwars door de Westhoek and a slew of podium places, and it was clear van der Breggen was on the cusp.

She’s delivered on the promise she showed last year already this spring – winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the first European race of the season, in a two-up sprint from Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans) and pocketing two wins at the Energiewacht Tour. With third place finishes at both Trofeo Binda and Ronde van Vlaanderen, van der Breggen’s World Cup win in Huy, the first of her career, was no surprise.

The plan today was to keep things relaxed until the second lap and always stay in the front with the whole team. All the girls rode really good. Kasia [Katarzyna Niewiadoma] did some attacks at the start of the second lap. Roxane and Lucinda [Brand] also did some, too. Pauline and I were really relaxed. We didn’t have to do anything.

The attack from Roxane and Annemiek was a good one. They stayed on the front and had more than a minute. We didn’t want to let them get away too far because then jumping across is hard. We were not sure if Roxane could win from Annemiek on the Mur, so we had to keep it a bit tight.

It worked out perfectly. The girls did exactly what they had to do. Pauline, Lucinda and Shara [Gillow] chased. They made sure the gap was good at the bottom of the second to last climb.

My job was to jump – to try to jump and see if I could there alone. And I could. Roxane didn’t do that much in the breakaway, so she was fresh. She could ride us to the bottom of Huy. Annemiek was already out front for a long time. My legs were good. I just had to be at the top of the Mur first.

The moment when I was in the front with Roxane and Annemiek, I knew it was a good situation. It was exactly our plan. When I crossed the finish line as the first one, I really couldn’t believe it. We really did it. It was a great win for me and the team.

The whole day we had confidence that we could do it with Pauline or me or anyone else. It really feels like a team win. If you saw how the girls worked for me today, you would really understand. If they weren’t there, it wouldn’t be like this. It really felt like we all won today to me. I think they feel the same. We’re all very happy.

It has been different racing without Marianne [Vos]. 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. We have good sprinters of course but not the best, so we have to gamble more.

I think we’re getting better and better with doing different things. We feel how we are in the race, and we speak to each other honestly. It’s such a great team to race with if Marianne is racing or if she is not. We have the confidence now to win without Marianne, and I think that’s a great feeling for the team.