The Ardennes Classics are upon us, after a thrilling few weeks of the cobbled classics the WorldTour moves into the Wallonia region of Belgium for the 2023 La Flèche Wallonne. Starting in Huy and finishing atop the legendary Mur de Huy the classic is celebrating its 8th year as part of the women’s WorldTour. The race is one of the oldest events on the women’s calendar, and one of the few that was able to continue through the pandemic. The classic debuted in 1998 by ASO, and takes place the same day as the men’s race. The women will begin their trek up and around Wallonia starting at 8:35 CEST.
The 2023 Flèche Wallonne will take place over 127.3 route, including eight climbs with the majority landing on the second half of the course before finishing atop the infamous Mur de Huy. The steep, punchy 1.3km climb peaks at a brutal 21.3% gradient, a ruthless climb to challenge the would-be victor after 120 km on course.
As the field rolls away from the start, they will embark on a 58km loop around the area before going on two 36km circuits. The first lap will serve up the Côte de Bohissau and the Mur de Huy. On the second time around, these riders eager to attack will see the 2km Côte d’Ereffe before a rolling 12km descent leads them to the 1.3km Côte de Cherave that peaks at 6% gradient may use this section to make their move before returning to the Mur de Huy for round two.
It’s the final approach up the Mur that the race is often decided. After the final ascent up the Mur, the field will have only 100m left to power to the line. Last year, Annemiek van Vleuten made her trademark attack. It was Cavalli was one of the few that was able to hold her wheel, before she came around to earn the victory in the final 30m.
Riders to Watch
Both Marianne Vos and Anna van der Breggen have sealed their names in the history books with multiple wins, Van der Breggen winning a record-breaking 7 times consecutively and Vos winning five times respectively. Van der Breggen retired last season otherwise it was likely she may have made it an even eight. The decorated veteran is now seated in the director’s chair, directing SD Worx hoping to get one of their many race favorites on the top step. The team has yet to confirm their roster though Demi Vollering is expected to be leading the team for the classic.
Last season, Italian Marta Cavalli was the first to add a new name to the champions list in nearly a decade. She celebrated for FDJ crossing the finish in front of Annemiek Van Vleuten (Movistar Team) and Demi Vollering (SD Worx). Cavalli has had a quiet start to her season, with less than 10 racing days so far. Still, she will be racing alongside her teammate, Cecillie Uttrup Ludwig, and will no doubt be within the favorites when the decisive moves begin.
Annemiek van Vleuten will return, hoping to best her second place last season behind Cavalli. Team rosters are limited at this time, though Liane Lippert is expected to be racing alongside her in support of the team’s winning ambitions. It is yet to be confirmed if Marianne Vos will include her participation. If she races, she will be fighting for her sixth title atop the Mur de Huy. Another team itching to earn some wins before the heart of the season is Canyon / SRAM, with Kasia Niewiadoma. The Polish rider finished second in 2021 and third back in 2017.
Trek-Segafredo will have Elisa Longo Borghini at the start line, but the big news although not confirmed by Trek, is the awaited return of Elizabeth Deignan. The British star recently celebrated the birth of her second child, and was not expected to return to racing until May. However, race organizers have listed her participation on the preliminary rosters. Cyclingnews (https://www.cyclingnews.com/news/lizzie-deignan-may-return-early-at-fleche-wallonne-liege-bastogne-liege/) had reported the team had requested Deignan to be prepared in case she received a call up for the Ardennes. Should this come to fruition, Trek will be a solid rival against the depth SD Worx has had this spring.
‘Watch the Femmes’ TV Coverage: RTBF (Belgium), TV2 (Denmark), Señal Colombia (Colombia), ESPN International (Latin America/Caribbean), J Sports (Japan), Sky Sport (New Zealand), VRT (Belgium), Rai Sport (Italy), Eurosport (Europe), Eurosport 1 (South East Asia), Supersport (Sub-Saharan Africa), France Television (France), TV2 (Norway), NBC Sports (United States), FloBikes (Canada), SBS (Australia)
When: Wednesday, 19 April
Where: Wallonia, Belgium
What: 1-day Spring Classic
Riders to Watch:
Marianne Vos ****
Demi Vollering ***
Elisa Longo Borghini ***
Elizabeth Deignan ****
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By Rebecca Reza