After a little break on the Women’s WorldTour calendar, the women’s peloton will meet up again in the Flèche Wallonne Femmes for the sixth round of the Women’s WorldTour on Wednesday, April 20. Although they return to Belgium, they’ll race through Wallonia now instead of Flanders.
It’s the final Women’s WorldTour race in the low lands before the event travels to China and the United States next month. Here’s are some things to know about the race.
1. The 2016 Flèche Wallonne Femmes course covers 136 kilometers and no less than 11 climbs
This year’s edition of the women’s Flèche Wallonne Femmes is 16 kilometers longer than last year’s, with the addition of eight kilometers and the Côte the Solières to last year’s circuit, but the main part of the route remains the same.
The race covers two almost identical loops, which only differ in the additional six kilometers that are in the second loop. In that six kilometer detour, the peloton crosses the Côte de Cherave, before the second and final climb of the Mur de Huy determines the winner of the 2016 edition.
The circuit that the women race is the same as the men’s but while the men will arrive at their first climb after 67 kilometers, the women reach the Côte d’Ereffe after only 11.5 kilometers, which could break apart the peloton early on.
Five of the climbs are feature twice and thanks to the new six-kilometre addition to the second lap, the Côte de Cheray is added to the course and comes only six kilometers before the final ascent up the Mur de Huy.
The race is well known for that finish on top of the infamous Mur de Huy, the 1.2 kilometer climb with an average gradient of 10% and a maximum of 24% through the S-bend midway.
The other climbs on the course are less lung-bursting, with the Côte de Bellaire (6,8% average) and Côte de Solières (4,3% average) both just over 3 kilometers in length. The Côte de Bohisseau (6,3% average) is 2.1 kilometers long, while the Côte d’Ereffe (5,9% average) and Côte de Cherave (8,1% average) are both no longer than 1.3 kilometers.
2. The field usually arrives completely shattered up the Mur de Huy
The final climb up the Mur de Huy is always decisive on who wins the race. A small group usually arrives at the foot together, but it’s the one that can keep her tempo up the most that wins the Flèche Wallonne, nearly always one or more seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
The last time it was really close together until the finish line was in 2013, when Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) beat Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) and Ashleigh Moolman (Cervélo-Bigla) at the top, while wearing the World Cup leader’s jersey and being world champion as well:
An arrival like this is rare though, there is usually a bigger gap between the winner and the podium finishers, with the number 15 or 20 in the race often already a minute behind the race winner.
3. Having won five times, Marianne Vos holds the record of most Flèche Wallonne victories
The race has seen three multiple winners. Fabiana Luperini won the inaugural Flèche Wallonne Femmes in 1998 and again in 2001 and 2002, while Nicole Cooke arrived first in 2003, 2005 and 2006.
Marianne Vos is the record holder with five wins in this race, crossing the line first in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013.
4. Marianne Vos debuts in the Women’s WorldTour at the Flèche Wallonne
Having been sidelined with injury for over a year, Vos returned to racing in the UCI1.2 Drentse Acht van Westerveld on March 13 this year. She then joined the peloton again in the newly introduced UCI1.2 Pajot Hills Classic and surprised herself by winning that race.
After a final dress rehearsel in the UCI1.2 Ronde van Gelderland last weekend, where she finished fourth by winning the bunch sprint behind a breakaway of three, she will debut in the Women’s WorldTour at the Flèche Wallonne.
Her return to the absolute top of women’s racing has been long awaited by cycling fans all over the world and we’re sure she has waited until she is certain about her form before taking on this level of racing again. So consider her a favourite for the win.
5. There are four previous winners on the startlist
With a roster that includes Vos, Van der Breggen and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot as well, Rabo-Liv takes three previous winners to the Flèche Wallonne and it looks like they’re the team to watch in this 19th edition of the women’s race.
The fourth returning winner is Evelyn Stevens (Boels-Dolmans), who was victorious in 2012, when she crossed the line 4 seconds ahead of Vos. Having focussed on her World Hour Record attempt throughout the winter, setting the new record at 47.98 kilometers back in February, she only returned to road racing at the Pajot Hills Classic at the end of March. We’re curious to see what she can do only one month in.
6. In a star-studded field, here’s who to keep an eye on
There are several big-name riders you can expect to be in the mix when the race hits the Mur de Huy for the second time. Former winners Vos, Van der Breggen, Ferrand-Prevot and Stevens should all be able to be right there in the final.
As Boels-Dolmans has been unrivalled in the Women’s WorldTour, also watch for Megan Guarnier, Ellen van Dijk and of course WWT leader Lizzie Armitstead. She was close to victory in 2014, when she finished second behind Ferrand-Prevot. The terrific form she has shown this season could result in a win this year.
Van Vleuten is very consistent in the Women’s WorldTour, with five top 10 finishes. Orica-AIS teammate Gracie Elvin is one to watch as well, although she’s been doing better in the flatter classics than the undulating ones.
Cervélo-Bigla’s Ashleigh Moolman always performs well in this race – placing fourth in 2015, fifth in 2012 and 2014, and third in 2013 -, but has yet to reach that top step. The Flèche Wallonne is Moolman’s favourite race on the calendar and she has dreamt of winning this race for a very long time.
For Canyon-SRAM it’s Alena Amialiusik that will stand the best chance in the Flèche Wallonne, reaching the top 10 in both 2013 and 2015. The punching climb at the end suits her very well, although Elena Cecchini and Tiffany Cromwell have proven in previous editions they can tackle this difficult climb too.
Emma Johansson (Wiggle-High5) was really close to a WWT victory in the Tour of Flanders, but lost to Armitstead by a bike throw. The Flèche Wallonne is a great opportunity to try again. With her win in the Euskal Emakumeen Bira, morale is high to continue this winning form in the Women’s WorldTour. While Johansson will probably be plan A at Wiggle-High5, don’t rule out Elisa Longo Borghini, who finished on the podium in both 2013 and 2014.
7. It looks like the race is best followed on Twitter
The women’s finish has been shown live on TV during the men’s coverage in the past, but nothing has been mentioned about showing this year’s edition. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the women’s finish will be shown unannounced.
We haven’t heard anything about a livestream either, so don’t count on it, but we should get a highlights video by the UCI as they have published highlights video’s for Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders on the UCI YouTube channel.
The official start for the race will be given at 11.20am CET in Huy and the women will arrive back in Huy for the second time up the Mur de Huy between 3.00 and 3.25pm CET.
As usual, the best way to follow the action live is via Twitter. However, if you’d like to take your chances, or you’re planning on watching the men’s race anyway, the men’s Flèche Wallonne is livestreamed on Cycling Central from 11.00pm AEST and broadcast on SBS.
If you’re in Belgium, the Sporza broadcast starts at 2.25pm CET and there will probably be a livestream too, but that will be geo-blocked if you watch on the Sporza-website.
Who is your race favourite for the women’s Fleche Wallonne? Do you think Boels-Dolmans can be defeated?