How the Race Ended
Apart from her season-opening win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Annemiek van Vleuten’s classics season this year has been a string of second-places. Today, however, she finally broke the trend, winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège for the second time in her career. After attacking and getting reeled back on the penultimate climb, the Côte de la Redoute, she attacked again on the final climb, the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. She dropped everyone and did the final fourteen kilometres solo, holding off a chasing group that contained last year’s victor, Demi Vollering.
The Main Action
In the fight for the day’s breakaway Tamara Dronova (Roland Cogeas Edelweiss Squad) was first to get away from the peloton, followed by Katia Ragusa (Liv Racing). For a short while, they maintained a gap, but within a few kilometres, they were reeled back in. Attacks continued to fly, but nothing stuck, until, 33km into the race, a group composed of Magdeleine Vallieres Mill (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Flora Perkins (Le Col-Wahoo), Jeanne Korevaar and Quinty Ton (both Liv Racing Xstra) managed something more stable, getting a gap of over a minute and a half by the time of the first official climb, though they were caught by the Côte de La Haute-Levée, halfway through the race.
As they approached the Col du Rosier, a new break formed, with Marlen Reusser (SD Worx), Sara Martin (Movistar), Leah Thomas (Trek-Segafredo), Soraya Paladin (Canyon//SRAM Racing), Evita Muzic (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), Clara Honsinger (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange – Jayco), and Leah Kirchmann (Team DSM); by the top of the climb, the new group gained a minute on the peloton.
Approaching the Côte de la Redoute, however, a combination of the pace behind picking up, and riders in the break with their team leaders behind skipping turns, meant their gap began to rapidly tumble. As they hit the foot of the Côte de la Redoute, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx), leading the already reduced peloton, raised the pace, attempting to thin the group out even further.
The favourites appeared at the front of the group, and it was, unsurprisingly, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) who attacked. She went clear through and over the breakaway, with only Marlen Reusser from that group able to stick to her wheel. Once on, Reusser didn’t let go, and, with her teammates Vollering and Moolman-Pasio in the chasing group behind, also didn’t work. Van Vleuten couldn’t shake her, but kept on working, making it as hard as possible for the chasign group behind.
Reusser and van Vleuten were caught before the next climb. The group – which had swelled at this point, with riders like Niewiadoma bridging across – fanned across the road. As they looked around at each-other, Pauline Rooijakkers (Canyon//SRAM Racing) attacked, but couldn’t make it stick, and then Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine) – who took second place at this race last year with a solo move – went, rapidly opening up a gap of twenty seconds.
The chasing group began to fracture with attacks as they approached the final climb, the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. Again, it was van Vleuten who made the decisive move, making the kind of long, painful attack that no-one else could keep up with. Grace Brown was in her sights; behind her, the group was cracking into pieces. At first, only Vollering and Cavalli could stick with her, and then even they could no longer cling on; van Vleuten went straight past Grace Brown, who fought to remain in the new chasing group, with Vollering, Moolman-Pasio, Brown’s teammate Cavalli, and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo).
Van Vleuten said afterwards that, with the threat of the group behind, she had “just one option: aero, full time trial mode, and give everything”. With an Olympic gold medal and two world titles in the individual time trial, she put that experience to use, gaining time on the chasing group throughout those final fourteen kilometres. Vollering was gesturing at the group to get them to work together, but it wasn’t enough. Moolman-Pasio made a final stab with an attack in the last kilometre, but by that point, they were fighting for second. Van Vleuten came into the final strait alone, with time to celebrate, adding yet another monument to her extensive palmarès.
Behind van Vleuten, it was a small-group sprint for second: Grace Brown won, meaning FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine were just one step away from the Ardennes triple, while her teammate, Cavalli came in sixth. SD Worx only managed a frustrating third and fourth, with Vollering unable to defend her title. Elisa Longo Borghini, fresh off winning Paris-Roubaix, and a sixth place at La Flèche Wallonne, took fifth. Van Vleuten’s teammate, Arlenis Sierra, was a notable seventh. Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange – Jayco) rounded out the top ten, after a day in the breakaway.