The UCI Women’s WorldTour series continues on Wednesday with La Flèche Wallonne. Four former winners will line up for the Belgian classic, including UCI Hour Record Holder Evie Stevens. The American beat out Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv) to the finish line atop Mur de Huy at the 2012 La Flèche Wallonne to take the biggest victory of her career.
“When I think back to the race, what I really remember is the team effort that was involved,” said Stevens, who was riding for Specialized-lululemon at the time. “It was special to have a team believe in me and special to actually be able to deliver. It was a wonderful day.”
Stevens starts as one of several options for a strong Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team that has won all five rounds of the UCI Women’s WorldTour series to date. World champion Lizzie Armitstead, whose 2016 victories include Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Trofeo Binda and Tour of Flanders, will stand on the start line in Huy. American road champion Megan Guarnier, who won Durango-Durango and the fourth stage of Emakumeen Bira last week, finished third at La Flèche Wallonne last year. The trio are joined by 2016 Energiewacht Tour overall victor Ellen van Dijk, Karol-Ann Canuel and Kasia Pawlowska.
“The team is so incredibly strong right now,” said Stevens. “We’ve shown that we can deliver on the days that matter most. There are several other teams with riders that could pose a real challenge. Whoever comes out on winner will have really earned that top step.”
The 19th edition of La Flèche Wallonne includes 11 categorised climbs over 137-kilometres of Belgium’s Wallonie region. This is French-speaking Belgium, distinctly different than the Flemish-speaking region of Flanders that played host to the earlier spring classics. Here the roads are narrower, the climbs longer and steeper and the turns more constant.
The women race on the same circuit and on the same day as the men. While the men have 60 kilometres done by the time they hit the first categorised climb, the Côte d’Ereffer, the women will have ticked off only 11.5 kilometres.
The climbs come in quick succession from here, but the it’s the infamous Mur de Huy that inspires excitement, fear and, most often, the race-winning move. The climb to the finish line is 1.2 kilometres long with an average gradient of 10 percent; the gradient ramps up to a leg-breaking 25 percent through an s-shaped curve about mid-way up the climb.
“It’s one of the most painful finishes out there, which I think is why it's so iconic,” said Stevens. “Just when you think and hope it will end, it kicks up again. The Mur de Huy embodies the pain and beauty of cycling, and the atmosphere on the climb makes it even more special.”
Last year, race organisers introduced a new penultimate climb, the Côte de Cherave. Six kilometres from the finish line, the Côte de Cherave is 1.3 kilometres long with an average gradient of eight percent. The climb returns for the 19th edition of the race, featuring only in the second lap of the two-lap circuit the women’s peloton completes.
“The new climb definitely made the race even harder,” said Stevens. “Last year, Anna van der Breggen made her winning move on the Côte de Cherave and was able to hold it to the line. It will be exciting to see how teams approach the last two climbs this year.”
Follow La Flèche Wallonne live on the team twitter account (@boelsdolmans), head mechanic Richie Steege’s twitter feed (@richiesteege) and using the official hashtags #FlecheWallonne and #UCIWWT. This guide by Sarah Connolly of Pro Women’s Cycling offers additional details on how to best follow the race.
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team for La Flèche Wallonne:
Ellen van Dijk