How the Race Finished
Fresh from her victory at Amstel Gold, and a fifth place at Paris-Roubaix, Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) asserted herself again at La Flèche Wallonne. After a perfect lead-out from her teammates, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) attacked at the bottom of the final ascent of the Mur de Huy, hoping to drop everyone with a characteristic long, grinding effort – pushing so hard she later said that she was seeing ‘black stars’. She couldn’t shake Marta Cavalli, however, who clung to her wheel, refused to let her go, and, after launching her attack in only the final fifty metres, edged ahead. Demi Vollering came in third, meaning Anna van der Breggen, now DS of SD Worx, couldn’t keep the legacy of her streak of victories going.
The Main Action
The race ran 133.4km, in a loop that started and ended in Huy, including, for the first time, three times over the infamous Mur de Huy. After a spring season marred by illness, not all the teams could muster a full squad: Jumbo-Visma, notably, only had three riders.
Katia Ragusa (Liv Racing Xstra) started off the day’s action with an attack. The peloton was initially reluctant to let her go, but eventually, she eked out a secure gap. Anastasia Carbonari (Valcar – Travel & Service) and Kylie Waterreus (Lotto-Soudal) joined her, and Federica Piergiovanni (Valcar – Travel & Service), Pauline Allin (Arkea Pro Cycling Team) and Silvia Zanardi (BePink) followed, establishing the day’s breakaway.
They maintained a gap of over a minute and a half, but over the first ascents of the Mur de Huy and the Côte d’Ereffe, their gap was steadily eroded. The pace was high behind and the peloton was starting to split. As the peloton crested the Côte d’Ereffe, and the breakaway was absorbed back, an attack went from the bunch, with nearly every major team represented. A leading group formed that included the breakaway riders, plus Amanda Spratt (Team Bike-Exchange Jayco), Leah Thomas (Trek-Segafredo), Jelena Erić (Movistar), Esmée Peperkamp (DSM), Kristabel Doebel-Hickok (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB), Yara Kastelijn (Plantur-Pura), Anna Shackley (SD Worx), Elise Chabbey and Alena Amialiusik (both Canyon//SRAM Racing).
Their lead hovered around two minutes, and, with the strength of the group, raised a potential threat to those in the peloton behind. It was left to FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope and UAE Team ADQ to chase, as the only two major teams unrepresented in the leading group. Brodie Chapman was notably present on the front, crucial to reeling them back in. Annemiek van Vleuten appeared at the front to pile the pressure on.
As they crested the Côte de Cherave, the peloton began to split, under the pressure of the chase. It split further on the Mur de Huy, as the gap to the leading group, who were working together well, began to reduce significantly. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD-Worx) had an unfortunately timed mechanical, dropping back through the two groups that the peloton had now split into. In the leading group, Anouska Koster was working hard; unlike most of the other members of the group, she had no leader behind – Jumbo-Visma riders were very thin on the ground today.
As they hit the foot of the Côte de Cherave, with 5.7km of the race remaining, the leading group had ten seconds over the peloton, and it seemed that they would be quickly caught. However, Yara Kastelijn (Plantur-Pura) attacked; like Koster, she had no-one waiting behind. Although she couldn’t get free, with Chabbey and Spratt quickly on her wheel, she drove the group forward, keeping it together a little while longer. Koster then accelerated past, gritting her teeth; she managed to stay in front for a short time, but the pressure from behind was too much, and she was absorbed into the new group of leaders.
SD Worx began to attack; first one went from Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who was hunted down by Annemiek van Vleuten, then from Niamh Fisher-Black, who was pursued by Lianne Lippert and Yara Kastelijn. The group fractured on the Côte de Cherave, but re-assembled on the descent; Niewiadoma was a surprising absence from the final cut, but she re-appeared in time for the final climb. Van Vleuten, notably, had two teammates in this final group: Arlenis Sierra and Paula Patino gave her a perfect lead-out into the foot of the Mur de Huy.
It was van Vleuten who, unsurprisingly, attacked at the start of the Mur de Huy, leaving riders scattered in her wake. Van Vleuten said after the race that she was seeing ‘black stars’ from the effort.It was only Vollering, Lippert, and Cavalli who could keep close; and as van Vleuten kept grinding on, it was only Cavalli who could claw her way back. She clung patiently to van Vleuten’s wheel, and with only fifty metres to go, she made a final acceleration that van Vleuten couldn’t match.
SD Worx took third and fourth, with Demi Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. Vollering was unable to keep hold of van Vleuten’s wheel on her attack on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy, while Moolman-Pasio perhaps didn’t have the energy after having to chase back on after mechanical problems. Mavi Garcia in fifth gave UAE Team ADQ a reward for the work they did chasing down the strong break. Elisa Longo Borghini, after her victory at Paris-Roubaix, managed an impressive sixth. Yara Kastelijn (Plantur-Pura) was a notable ninth place, after racing aggressively: she was part of the initial strong leading group, attacked on the Côte de Cherave as they were caught, and stayed with the final leading group all the way to the final climb.