Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx) stamped her mark of dominance in women’s classics as she tamed the Mur de Huy and overcame all her rivals to claim victory in the 26th edition of La Flèche Wallonne Femmes. Already a winner of the Amstel Gold Race (on Sunday) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes (2021), the Oranje star completed her set of triumphs in the hilly Northern classics, following in the tracks of her former teammate and now sports director Anna van der Breggen. Put under pressure by her rivals, especially Movistar and Trek-Segafredo, Vollering took matters in her own hands and set a brutal pace on the final ascents to rise to glory. This makes Vollering a hot favourite for Sunday, in line with her other successes this Spring (Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlanderen) and the overall dominant displays of performance of her team. It was a sterling victory after her recent wins. The Dutchwoman took the initiative and, on the Côte de Cherave, single-handedly reduced the leaders to an elite group. At the foot of the Mur de Huy, Vollering attacked with a strong acceleration that she kept up to the top. “The Muur van Huy is such a tough climb,” she concluded. “It always scares me a bit that it won’t work. It’s fantastic to take the win here.”
A 139-woman peloton had set off from Huy’s Grand-Place under the sun at 8:35a.m. Attackers quickly tried to get away, but it took a full 43km for two riders to really open a gap, just before the first of three ascents up the Mur de Huy. Caroline Andersson (Liv Racing Teqfind) and Antri Christoforou (Human Powered Health) enjoyed a lead of 1’10’’ but the gap had decreased to 30’’ at the summit (km 52.8).
Rachel Neylan (Cofidis) and Ella Harris (Lifeplus Wahoo) counter-attacked and bridged the gap after 60km of intense racing. Karin Soderqvist (Lifeplus Wahoo) made a move but was reeled in by the bunch on the first ascent of the Côte d’Ereffe. Movistar and Canyon//Sram upped the ante, already showing their will to shake the race, but, with a clear goal in mind, Team SD Worx constantly reacted for Demi Vollering.
The Flèche Wallonne was a race Demi Vollering had pin-pointed before the season. “I had really peaked for this classic,” she explained. “As a result, I was nervous. I wanted to win here so badly, so it brought quite a lot of pressure. In the race, I didn’t really feel super because the early breakfast at six in the morning hadn’t gone down well, but the girls made me believe it was possible. They rode so hard in the lead that I was able to hurt myself extra.”
The attackers were caught on the Côte de Cherave (km 84.4) and Dutch icon, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), wearing the rainbow jersey, accelerated towards the second ascent of the Mur de Huy. Only Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//Sram), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) accompanied her at the front.
Team SD Worx had to react again to keep Vollering in the running. Vollering herself pulled the bunch to get back to the attackers with 33km to go, but Trek-Segafredo maintained the pressure and Amanda Spratt went solo with 32km to go.
Justine Ghekiere (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step), Ricarda Bauernfeid (Canyon//Sram) and Erica Magnaldi (UAE Team ADQ) set off in pursuit, but Spratt was on for a one-woman-show. Atop the Côte d’Ereffe (18.4km to go), the chasers trailed by 40’’ and the peloton by 1’05’’.
Movistar reacted to bring the gap down, but ten kilometres from the end, Vollering showed she was ready to shake the tree herself. Spratt was caught on the penultimate ascent of the day, Côte de Cherave. Vollering set a brutal pace on the ascent and only 10 riders could follow her into the last 5km.
“Sport Director Anna van der Breggen had indicated to me to attack already on the Côte de Cherave,” said Vollering, “but I didn’t have enough self-confidence to go full on there already. I did increase the pace on that penultimate slope, so hopefully I could wear the others down a bit. At the Mur de Huy I accelerated as agreed at the foot. I didn’t realise that I immediately created a gap.”
The Oranje star tackled the first slopes up the Mur de Huy from the front. Into the last 400m, Liane Lippert (Movistar) and Mavi Garcia (Liv Racing Teqfind) were still with Vollering… But Anna van der Breggen’s successor surged to victory, making it the 13th win for a Dutch rider in 26 editions of La Flèche Wallonne Femmes.
“I’ve wanted to win here for a few years but I was never good enough. It’s a very hard climb and I could not believe I finally did it today. It’s such a nice race to win because it’s such a hard climb. That’s just an amazing feeling. Looking at what I’m doing and how many races I’ve won already this year, I think [I’m in the best shape of my life]. Now I really know what I need and Anna [van der Breggen] is my trainer,” said Vollering afterwards.
Liane Lippert (Movistar Women) who finished second said, “This podium is really important for me. This is a race where I’ve already been close a few times, this is my best result here and I want to win this race in the future. I started the Mur a bit further back and I didn’t want to follow Demi [Vollering] directly or I might explode. But I managed to move up, I’m proud of what I did and in the final metres she was just stronger. I’m also a bit relieved with this podium. I think I’ve been on a really high level since the beginning of the season but it didn’t show in the results. I’m excited about our combination with Annemiek [van Vleuten]. We’re not that similar. She’s more about longer climbs, and she can do a 100km solo and win. I’m really explosive, so these classics suit me, and I also have a strong sprint in the end. The season is long. I’m hungry for more now.”
Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo) in third added, “It’s my first year in the team, my first year in the WorldTour and my first Flèche so this result is really really important for me. The team strategy was to preserve me as a leader. When Annemiek [van Vleuten] attacked on second ascent of the Mur, Elisa [Longo Borghini] stayed on her wheel and I was told to wait for the last climb of the Mur. I started the ascent in a good position but I didn’t go full gas from the bottom and I moved up until I got 3rd place. I’m really happy. The Mur is hard but it’s good for me.”
“This is a fantastic feeling,” Vollering summed up. “This climb is so tough. I wanted to triumph here one day. I still can’t believe I finally managed to win here. The form is really good. Now I hope to compete for the win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday as well and maybe achieve the unique Ardennes trio this way.”