Preview: A new Flèche Wallonne winner will be crowned for the first time in years

After seven years of Anna van der Breggen, who can win atop the Mur de Huy on Wednesday?

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After a weekend of racing over the brutal cobbles of Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift, the women’s WorldTour returns to the hills with La Flèche Wallonne. While we’re sure to see a lot of scabbed hands line up in Huy on Wednesday, some riders took Saturday off to focus on the final two races of the Spring. Two riders who opted to sit out Paris-Roubaix Femmes in favour of the hilly Classic are Annemeik van Vleuten and Demi Vollering, both of whom will start the race as favourites.

Van Vleuten in particular will be licking her lips in anticipation of a WorldTour victory, especially since the seven-time – yes seven-time – champion of the Mur de Huy Anna van der Breggen will not be there to take the race for an eighth consecutive time. Van der Breggen will, of course, see the race from the team car of SD Worx and her extensive knowledge of how to win the race will come in handy for more than one of her riders.

La Flèche Wallonne is one of the longest-running races on the women’s calendar. It first started in 1998 so Wednesday’s race will be the 25th edition. That’s not something we can often say about a women’s race. Marianne Vos has claimed victory on five different occasions; 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013. The only person to have won it more times than Vos is the aforementioned Van der Breggen, who was unstoppable from 2016 to 2021.

With the finish atop the brutally steep Mur de Huy, the race has historically come down to a strong climber, although in the past couple of years we’ve seen riders try, and fail, to get to the base with enough of a head start on Van der Breggen to make it to the top alone.

The Route

The women will line up in Huy for a 65 km loop around the Ardennes hills before returning to the start town and taking on the Mur de Huy for the first time. After that first ascent the peloton will race two laps of a 31 km circuit that includes the Côte d’Ereffe, the Côte de Cherave, and the dreaded Mur de Huy.

In total the women race 133.4 km including three times up the Mur de Huy.

The race is far from flat before the circuits but the crucial climbing is all once the race has returned to Huy. The first big climb the women will race up is the Côte de Cherave. At 1.3 km long and with an average of 8.1% the climb is the same distance as the Mur de Huy but considerably less steep. They will take on the Côte de Cherave three times total and as it’s located just before the Mur de Huy on the course it’s a pretty important feature.

The longest climb of the race, the Côte d’Ereffe, is after the Mur de Huy on the course and the women will only tackle it twice. It is 2.1 km long and averages 5%.

The final and most important climb of the day is the legendary Mur de Huy, 1.3 km long and with an average gradient of 9.6%. The climb starts off gradual and builds to a leg-breaking 19% in the middle before easing up just a bit near the top. By the time the race hits the base of the Mur de Huy for the final ascent, it is usually already shattered, with only the strongest left to contend the victory.

There are always some last-ditch attacks on the Mur but the climb itself will do the most damage to the peloton.

The Contenders

The numer one contender with Van der Breggen gone is her rival of the last five years, Annemiek van Vleuten. Surprisingly, Van Vleuten has yet to win a WorldTour race in 2022, although she has come close. She was outsprinted by Lotte Kopecky at the Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche and finished fourth at the Amstel Gold Race. She did win the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier in the year and it’s not like she hasn’t been active in the races leading up to La Flèche Wallonne. According to the Dutchwoman, the racing simply hasn’t been hard enough for her to win. An interesting take.

SD Worx will come in with two potential favourites: Demi Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. Vollering just had an incredibly impressive performance at the Brabantse Pijl the Wednesday before Paris-Roubaix where she rode solo to victory in the rain. It looks like she is coming to form just in time to keep her Liege-Bastogne-Liege title, and potentially add La Flèche Wallonne to her growing palmares.

Vollering’s teammate Moolman Pasio has also been riding well and climbed very well at the Amstel Gold Race. The two will be able to play off each other on the final climb if the team can figure out their tactics ahead of the race.

Canyon-SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma finished second behind Van der Breggen in 2021 but has been working her way back from having covid-19 in March. Niewiadoma looked fantastic at Brabantse Pijl where she finished second after throwing down a very early sprint on the slight incline to the finish that Liane Lippert could not come around. Going into these final two Classics Niewiadoma is a favourite and will fight tooth and nail for a result. Her teammate Elise Chabbey could also be up there and will no doubt be an asset to Niewiadoma.

Niewiadoma edging out Lippert to take second behind a solo Vollering at Brabantse Pijl.

Liane Lippert will be the rider to watch for Team DSM. Especially after she was able to match Van Vleuten on the final climb of the Amstel Gold Race recently. Lippert finished third on that occasion, just ahead of Van Vleuten. She also finished third behind Niewiadoma at Brabantse Pijl, and it seems like a big result is on the way.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is another rider who recently had covid-19 but will come into La Flèche Wallonne as a favourite to win. The Danish rider finished second in 2020 and is always skilled on the steep climbs. Her teammate Marta Cavalli is a definite weapon going into the race as well. Not only did Cavalli win the Amstel Gold Race with a perfectly timed solo move, but the former Italian national champion also finished fifth at Paris-Roubaix Femmes on Saturday. The team is only made stronger by the addition of Brodie Chapman, who just won the GP Féminin de Chambéry with a solo move.

UAE Team ADQ’s Mavi Garcia climbed pretty well at the Amstel Gold Race to finish sixth. She was 10th last year and has only been getting better and better every season.

Last but definitely not least, the Paris-Roubaix Femmes winner Elisa Longo Borghini will line up for Trek-Segafredo on flying form. It will be a different kind of effort on Wednesday, but given the way Longo Borghini rode on Saturday and the fact that she was building up to the Ardennes in the first place, another incredible victory is not out of reach.

CyclingTips star ratings

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Van Vleuten, Vollering
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Longo Borghini, Cavalli, Niewiadoma
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Lippert, Moolman Pasio
⭐️⭐️: Chabbey, Uttrup Ludwig
⭐️: Garcia, Chapman

How to watch

Unfortunately, there is only one hour of live race coverage expected for Wednesday’s race. TV viewing will kick off at 11:10 local time on GCN+ for everyone tuning in from Europe and North America.

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