How the race finished
Demi Vollering (SD Worx) triumphed again at Flèche Wallonne, with Lianne Lippert (Movistar) and Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo) completing the podium.
Full results are available below.
How it happened
The women rolled out to an early start on a dry, clear day in Huy. 127 kilometres of rolling terrain lay ahead of them, including three ascents of the infamous Mur de Huy. The final time up, they would be vying to be first across the finish line perched at the top of the searing gradients.
Despite a number of attacks in the opening kilometres, with riders from the smaller teams keen to get up the road rather than wait to test themselves on the Mur de Huy, no breakaway formed. Finally, after 43 kilometres of racing, a duo managed to open a gap. Caroline Anderssen (Liv Racing TeqFind) and Antri Christoforou (Human Powered Health) worked strongly together, but the bunch never let them gain more than around a minute advantage.
On the first time up the Mur de Huy a small crash split the bunch, with defending champion Marta Cavalli (FDJ Suez) and strong climber Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo) among those caught behind. Ella Harris (Lifeplus Wahoo) and Rachel Neylan (Cofidis) set off in pursuit of the pair up the road. After making contact, the four riders settled into a steady rhythm, swapping off turns seamlessly. Another crash in the main peloton – this time caused by some unmarked road furniture – left the likes of Neve Bradbury (Canyon//Sram Racing) on the ground, and Cecile Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Suez) needing a bike change.
Soon after, the shape of the race changed again, as the breakaway riders were swept up on the Cote de Cherave. Riders in the group that had been caught out behind the early crash were eventually able to reconnect with the main peloton – but just as they did, the peloton hit the base of the Mur de Huy for the second ascent. This time some of the race favourites were keen to test their legs, with Annemiek Van Vleuten (Movistar), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//Sram Racing), and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) making light work of the climb. As the trio drifted clear, it was up to Gaia Realini, who had just bridged back to the front group, to try to close down the move. When she tired, teammate Elisa Longo-Borghini jumped across. The quartet went clear over the top of the climb.
With no one in the move and all eyes on them, a depleted SD Worx were forced to chase behind. Marlen Reusser took up the reins as the four up front worked hard to build their advantage. The time gaps remained stable for a while, but it all looked like it might be for nothing when Reusser pulled off, the effects of her effort quickly forcing her out the back of the chasing group. Demi Vollering herself then took to the front of the chase, and almost immediately the last few metres were closed, and the four escapees were brought back.
As they were reabsorbed, Shirin van Anrooij (Trek Segafredo) launched an immediate counterattack. Her move was closed quickly, but it opened things up for Amanda Spratt to go next over the top of a small rise with around 31km of racing remaining. In the bunch, riders looked at each other and preferred to keep their powder dry. Spratt quickly built her advantage out to over one minute. Realising this could be dangerous, Justine Ghekiere (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step), Erica Magnaldi (UAE Team ADQ) and Ricarda Bauernfeind (Canyon//Sram Racing) formed a strong chasing trio.
After that reshuffle, the time gaps remained fairly stable for a while, the trio not able to bridge up to Spratt, and the chasing peloton not in a hurry to bring it back together. With 11.5km remaining, the three riders were reabsorbed. Spratt still held her lead out front, with around forty seconds up her sleeve.
On the penultimate climb up the Cote de Cherave, Demi Vollering came to the front to set the pace. Spratt was reabsorbed and the group was whittled down, but Vollering had also succeeded in isolating herself. Trek-Segafredo, who has been playing a great numbers game all race, had options to attack, but didn’t seem committed to it this time. Between the Cote de Cherave and the final ascent of the Mur de Huy, the group swelled again. No one attacked, everyone was waiting.
Into the base of the Mur de Huy, with less than 1km of brutal climbing up to the finish line, Vollering once again came to the front. Knowing the secret to winning on the Mur de Huy is pacing, and not going too early, this came as a shock to some of the riders who stayed tucked in the bunch. Only Niewiadoma followed, tucked on the wheel. The pair quickly found a few metres of space.
After the first corner Niewiadoma lost touch with Vollering. Settling into the climb, Liane Lippert (Movistar) and Mavi Garcia (Liv Racing TeqFind) came across. Lippert showed her strength, riding right up to Vollering’s wheel. Perhaps sensing her there, Vollering accelerated again as the road pitched up, and this time it was too much for Lippert. As the road flattened out with around 100m to go, Vollering looked back over her shoulder to see the gap, and had enough time to celebrate her victory as she crossed the line. Lippert held on to second, with Gaia Realini putting in a strong climb to come past Mavi Garcia to take third. Just behind them, Evita Muzic (FDJ Suez) pipped Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Annemiek van Vleuten for fifth place on the day.
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