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Anna van der Breggen said beforehand that she didn’t necessarily need to win Flèche Wallonne herself as she was eager to help her new team Boels-Dolmans get their first victory in this race, but in the end the Olympic and European champion took the win to reign as queen of the Mur de Huy for a third year in a row.
Drawing a moment of déjà vu from the Amstel Gold Race just a few days ago, teammate Lizzie Deignan took second place and Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling), who initiated the final three-woman break, took third.
La Flèche Wallonne Féminine (1.WWT) Huy → Mur de Huy
Second chapter in a full Ardennes week
With the return of the Amstel Gold Race and the introduction of a women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, on the Sundays before and after the Flèche Wallonne, this race is now part of a full Ardennes week for women.
As all three races are Women’s WorldTour races and are aligned with men’s (WorldTour) races – which means a lot of crowds and a bigger chance of some sort of coverage – a lot of women have been excitedly awaiting this week.
Van der Breggen’s dominant win in the Amstel Gold Race and as a double winner of the Flèche Wallonne, she went into the race as the top favourite.
As Van der Breggen’s teammates Lizzie Deignan and Megan Guarnier have both been on the podium in previous editions too, Boels-Dolmans was once again back to being the team to beat.
How it went down
Just kilometers into the race, Katia Ragusa (BePink) and Sofie De Vuyst (Lares-Waowdeals) initiated the break of the day and were later joined by Allie Dragoo (Cervélo-Bigla) and Anisha Vekemans (Lotto-Soudal).
While the quartet was safely outside the hands of the peloton, a major crash at the back of the peloton resulted in several riders having to leave the race, including Carlee Taylor (Alé Cipollini) and Anna Plichta (WM3 Pro Cylcing).
No pre-race favourites were involved, but it was one of those big crashes that women’s cycling fortunately hasn’t really experienced yet this season.
As the gap of the leaders grew to almost 3 minutes, another crash scared the peloton. This time a favourite was involved, as Cervélo-Bigla’s Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio was among the crashed riders. She was back on her bike after a short while, and seemingly without effort, was back in the bunch in no-time.
It was telling of her current shape and so the next step was maybe remarkable time-wise – just having come back from a crash – but not surprising.
Cervélo-Bigla taking control
With Ragusa dropped first and Vekemans shorly after en route to the Mur de Huy, Moolman-Pasio attacked from the peloton and easily bridged across to the two leaders. It looked like a preplanned set-up by the team to get into the early break for their team leader to join them during the race.
However, when the race motards showed up on the top of the Mur de Huy after the first ascent, it was only Moolman-Pasio following them, having dropped Dragoo and De Vuyst during the climb.
— Ella (@ellacyclingtips) 19 april 2017
Only a handful of seconds was left of Moolman-Pasio’s advantage when she went into the final lap and it wasn’t enough to stay away. She got caught by a very reduced bunch, that was made up of all the race favourites.
It was the sign for Cervélo-Bigla to attack again. This time it was Danish rider Marie Villman taking her turn, and she got Tetyana Riabchenko (Lensworld-Kuota) along with her.
An explosive final
An explosive final ensued, which unfortunately wasn’t broadcast live outside of Australia – and we’re not even a 100% sure that Australia got live images either.
As attacks from the group of favourites followed each other rapidly, Boels-Dolmans lost Megan Guarnier and Karol-Ann Canuel, while Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) got dropped on the Cote d’Ereffe.
Vilmann and Riabchenko were able to stay away a little longer, with the attacks from the chase group preventing a smooth cooperation by the favourites. But with the quality of the riders in the chase group, a catch was inevitable and so that happened at 112 km to go.
It was an attack from Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) that meant the end of the break. And while the leaders were caught at the front, Ellen van Dijk and Sabrina Stultiens of Team Sunweb got dropped at the back – their team leader, Women’s WorldTour leader, Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb), was still safely in the group.
Niewiadoma’s attack came from knowing that it’s almost impossible to beat her former teammate Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) if you’re still with her at the foot of the Mur de Huy. However, Van der Breggen and her teammate Lizzie Deignan were quick to react and were on her wheel immediately.
Hat trick for Van der Breggen
From this point onwards, the finale was pretty similar to last year, with Van der Breggen attacking at the same point. She left behind her current and former teammate and started the final climb up the Mur de Huy by herself.
With an advantage of 16 seconds over the number two in the race, Van der Breggen pulled the hattrick in Flèche Wallonne Femmes, confirming her position as Queen of the Mur.
That number two to cross the line was teammate Deignan, making it once again a 1-2 for Boels-Dolmans. Niewiadoma rounded out the podium – her first podium place in this race after two top-five finishes in the last two years.
“We had a plan and it worked,” were the simple words of Van der Breggen after the finish.
“We celebrate this one, have an easy day tomorrow and then put the foot down again… I never had any doubt,” adds Boels-Dolmans DS Danny Stam, elated with his new pupil’s second win in the so important Ardennes week.
“We were not happy with how Amstel Gold Race went,” said a less elated DS, Thomas Campana of Cervélo-Bigla. “Boels is back to full strength, which makes it hard to just wait and try to beat them.”
“We wanted to animate the race and go through a tactic that will take some effort out of their top riders, and open the final earlier than everyone expected. We only had five riders and that was an amazing team performance,” said Cerveélo-Bigla DS Thomas Campana after the race.
Their rider Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig retained the Women’s WorldTour young rider jersey, gaining another 6 points by finishing 17th an as the first young rider in the results.
Rivera finished 7th and also retained the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey.
Women’s WorldTour standing after Flèche Wallonne Femmes
1. Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) – 415
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) – 409
3. Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) – 344
Young rider classification
1. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) – 22
2. Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal) – 10
3. Alice Barnes (Drops Cycling) – 10
1. Boels-Dolmans – 1001
2. Orica-Scott – 654
3. Team Sunweb – 635
What do you think, will Anna van der Breggen also win Liège-Bastogne-Liège?