Moments that made Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Van Vleuten left nothing to chance

She won Liège-Bastogne-Liège solo in 2019, and she knew if she was to win again it would have to be the same effort.

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After finishing second at La Flèche Wallonne, the Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche, Annemiek van Vleuten was not going to leave anything to chance at the final Spring Classic of the season, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Dutchwoman bided her time until the final two climbs of the race to try for a solo move, and although her first attack didn’t last long her second attempt paid off brilliantly.

“Winning has become harder in women’s cycling, I think there are more contenders,” Van Vleuten said at the finish. “I know that I am better than ever this spring, but that doesn’t always give you the win.”

Van Vleuten won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2019 with a similar move. She attacked on La Redoute and rode the final 32 km solo to take the victory. Ahead of the sixth edition of the race, she had a good idea of how she would win again.

“I know I have more chances when I go two times all out because, it’s like with good wine, the strength comes with age, and the more efforts I have the more chance I have to break away solo,” Van Vleuten said.

Round 1: The first attempt

A break of eight containing many of the top teams came into the bottom of La Redoute with a little under a minute advantage, and it wasn’t so much an organized chase that brought the race to meet them as the pace of the favourites up the climb.

SD Worx’s Ashleigh Moolman Pasio led the remnants of the peloton into the base of La Redoute and set a pace up the first half of the climb that had many riders falling off the back. After sitting quietly behind Moolman Pasio for a few hundred meters, Van Vleuten decided her time had come and she launched her move with the break only ten seconds up the road.

Her speed was such that she caught the breakaway almost instantly. Behind her, Moolman Pasio, Vollering and Elisa Longo Borghini struggled to keep up.

The only rider who was able to remain on the wheel of Van Vleuten was Marlen Reusser, who had been part of the eight-woman move and had an easier ride up La Redoute than those dropped by the Dutchwoman’s attack.

“SD Worx did an incredible job, Marlen was very strong in the breakaway and then on La Redoute I tried to go at the bottom, but just over the top Annemiek was a little bit stronger,” Ashleigh Moolman Pasio said.

With Vollering her team leader behind, Reusser was under no obligation to work with Van Vleuten. Van Vleuten herself admitted after the race that it was annoying, but it was good tactics by SD Worx. Eventually, with a growing group chasing behind them, Van Vleuten’s first attack was neutralized in the kilometres before the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons.

Round 2: The second attack

A solo move by FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope’s Grace Brown didn’t put a damper on Van Vleuten’s plan to go again on the final climb of the day. After her first attack was caught, she waited patiently for the 13% slopes of Roche-Aux-Faucons.

“To have the confidence today to go just two times on La Redoute and Roche-Aux-Faucons, and then when it works out that’s the best,” Van Vleuten said. “You need also some guts to go from the bottom and just have confidence that I can drop them, but it’s not easy.”

On the slopes of the final climb, Van Vleuten threw down a kilometre-long attack. In the beginning, it looked like Moolman Pasio and company would be able to hold on but as Van Vleuten closed in on Brown, the South African finally cracked and Van Vleuten was able to get some space between herself and those behind her.

“As we know on the last climb, it’s always the hardest part, I did my best to follow but Annemiek was just too strong over the top,” Moolman Pasio said.

After the crest of the climb and the final descent, Van Vleuten was holding an 18-second advantage on the chasing group of five, and from there she had only one option: ride.

“It’s also an option to go on Roche-Aux-Faucons and to have only one opportunity,” Van Vleuten explained.

Round 3: Never look back

The gap to Van Vleuten hovered around 20 seconds and, with nearly full commitment from the chasers behind, it didn’t look like the race was completely over.

Van Vleuten was battling a headwind, and with four of the five chasers swapping pulls the advantage went to the chasers, not Van Vleuten.

“I couldn’t believe [I had won] until the finish line because it was a block headwind after Roche-Aux-Faucons, I knew already this morning at the start it would be hard for a solo breakaway because if they start to chase they have an advantage with the wind,” Van Vleuten said. “If they start to work together I knew they would catch me. But there was still only one option, aero time trial mode and give everything.”

Round 4: Aero is everything

Twice time trial world champion Van Vleuten knows how to suffer, and how to ride alone. For the final 11 km of the race, she put her head down and focused on being small and efficient.

Her advantage grew as she neared the finish, even as the final member of the chasing group started to help close down the gap to the lone leader.

By the finish, Van Vleuten had 43 seconds on the group behind, more than enough time to fully savour her first WorldTour victory of the year.

After the race, Van Vleuten said she would take the following two weeks to enjoy her second Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory, and the rest of her spring campaign, before she turns her attention to a summer of stage races and the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in particular.

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