For a second year the Women’s WorldTour got to contest a full Ardennes week of racing and all eyes were on Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans). The Dutch rider took a clean sweep of all three races last year and with a powerful team full of possible winners, there was no question that she or one of her teammates were odds on to win at every event.
That didn’t mean the wins were going to be handed to them though, with the other teams lined up determined to try and chip away at the dominance of Boels and get their own potential winners up the road. We saw breaks aplenty throughout the racing, with Mitchelton-Scott, Canyon/SRAM and Cervelo Bigla constantly firing shots.
Mitchelton Scott’s Amanda Spratt was one of the most aggressive of the week, off the front at the pointy end of every single race. Cervelo Bigla’s Ashleigh Moolman and Canyon/SRAM’s Pauline Ferrand-Prevot were also quick to leap out and break up the field, but ultimately Boels dug in and reigned supreme.
First it was world champion Chantal Blaak who took the win for the team from a break. Then last year’s undisputed Queen of the Ardennes, van der Breggen, stepped back into the limelight to take the final two victories and leadership of the Women’s WorldTour.
Here are the images that tell the story of the week of hard fought racing in the Ardennes:
The Amstel Gold signalled the beginning of Ardennes week, with a fiery and televised 117 kilometre route from Maastricht in the Netherlands. It then finished with four laps of a loop that concluded over the Cauberg. The race returned to the calendar in 2017 after a long absence and that, along with the introduction of a women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege, signalled the start of a full women’s Ardennes week.
The pivotal move for the 2018 edition of the race came when a break of eight established a gap with 60 kilometres to go after the peloton was split apart on the steep ramps of the Keutenberg and then finished with a sprint of two. You can see how the race unfolded in the video highlights package from the UCI and the photo gallery below:
Amy Pieters went into the race wearing the Women’s WorldTour leaders jersey.
All together for now. It wasn’t until the steep ramps of the Keutenberg that the group split.
It started with a group of eight out the front but then there were a few splits at the front and reshuffles. At about 17 kilometres to go it was Riejanne Markus (WaowDeals) Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Wiggle-High5) and Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) chasing Chantal Black (Boels-Dolman), Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) and Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM).
Blaak winning last year’s Amstel Gold Race in the rainbow bands.
But Blaak was the clear victor.
Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Wiggle-High5) had worked hard to keep the group of eight away and secure her sixth place.
Brand, Blaak and Spratt with her first Women’s WorldTour one day race podium.
Another jersey for Blaak who took the lead of the Women’s WorldTour from teammate Pieters.
La Flèche Wallonne
On Wednesday it was onto the 118.5 kilometre Belgian Flèche Wallonne, which finishes on the climb of the Mur de Huy. It was the 28th birthday of three-time defending champ Anna van der Breggen but celebrating it was the furthest thing from her mind. Not only did she have a race to try and win, but the team’s thoughts were with their mechanic Richard Steve who had suffered a heart attack on Monday. The morning of the race before rolling out they received the welcome news that he was now awake.
At the start line for then three-time defending champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) who was celebrating her 28th birthday.
Polish riders Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon/SRAM) and Anna Plichta (Boels-Dolmans) catch up before the race.
The early break was solo Swiss rider Doris Schweizer (Team Virtu) but later at around 55 kilometres to go a bigger group got away. Ane Santesteban (Ale-Cipollini), Tereza Medvedova (BePink), Dalia Muccioli (Valcar PBM) and Omar Shapira (Cylance) pounced out the front.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon/SRAM) went on the attack again and again. First she took off on the first solid climb of the day, the Cote de Cherave splintering the peloton and then the French multi-discipline rider helped pare it down to an even smaller group.
Up the top of the first climb of the Mur de Huy it was Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon/SRAM), Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton Scott), Janneke Ensing (Ale-Cipollini) and Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) who first crested the climb. They set to work stretching out a substantial gap that at times was not far off a minute.
However by the time the Mur de Huy approached again, with the finish line at the top, the reduced peloton was closing quickly.
When they came into sight from the finish line, the four out the front were swept into the final dash for the line. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolman) had responded to an attack from Ashleigh Moolman (Cervelo Bigla) and then sprinted on past.
A fourth Flèche Wallonne win for van der Breggen. Moolman takes second, while Guarnier holds on for third. In the background you can see Mitchelton-Scott’s Annemiek van Vleuten and Spratt coming in to take fourth and fifth.
“To win for the fourth time in a row is a great feeling,” said van der Breggen, who dedicated the win to Steege. “I like this course also the final lap is incredibly hard … I start to like the Mur more and more,” she added. “But it still hurts.”
The Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey changed hands again, this time to last year’s series winner.
The 136 kilometre Liege-Bastogne-Liege was the final race of the week and the final chance for the other teams to stop Boels Dolmans from sweeping up every single victory of the Ardennes racing block for a second year in a row. An uncharacteristically mild Ardennes race day greeted the riders as the final act played out. Momentarily it looked like Boels Dolmans may actually be beatable at the Ardennes.
However, with van der Breggen on the charge, the challengers were pulled back into line and the week finished the way it started, with Boels Dolman on the top step of the podium.
Marianne Vos (WaowDeals) signs on. The European champion had a crash during the race but was quickly back on her feet, though sadly with a broken collarbone.
Two strong cards to play for Canyon/SRAM. A quick to jump off the front Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (pictured) and Kasia Niewiadoma.
Van der Breggen in the familiar Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey.
The peloton let an early break go with Rachel Neylan (Movistar), Vita Hein (Hitec Products) and Louise Norman-Hansen (Team Virtu).
However, once the climbs started in earnest with less than 60 kilometres to go the break was reeled in and the new moves started. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon/SRAM) used the steep climb of La Redoute to launch an attack which gave her a gap of close to a minute with 30 kilometres to go.
The French rider was reeled back in and with around 20 kilometres to go a new lead group filled with favourites had formed.
Mitchelton Scott’s Spratt wasn’t going to wait around to be beaten at the sprint again though, she took off and stretched out a lead that saw her with a 45 second advantage at nine kilometres to go. “There were quite a few attacks and I just attacked over the top,” said Spratt.
But the chase was on with van der Breggen closing fast. The dutch rider joined Spratt with less than five kilometres to go, then dropped her in the final kilometre.
Another win for Anna van der Breggen. Spratt comfortably held on for second while teammate Annemiek van Vleuten came third just ahead of Ashleigh Moolman, (Cervelo Bigla).
“It has been a good week for us … also a tough week,” said van der Breggen. “Its hard to have three races behind each other and be focussed all three races. It’s a lot of pressure so I’m really happy to have finished it off like this.”
Ellen van Dijk (Sunweb) took the sprint for fifth.
Happy teammates. Spratt described this second as probably the highlight of her career, having pulled two podiums at the Ardennes after having been ill and injured during the cobbled classics. “I turned up here what I thought was a bit underdone but in the end I think it was just fresher,” said Spratt. “I’ve just come out firing and I’m really happy.”