Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team lined up for Flèche Wallonne with multiple contenders for the top step of the podium and a clear plan meant to give the six-strong squad the best chance of claiming their sixth straight UCI Women’s WorldTour victory. 2012 Flèche Wallonne winner Evie Stevens had been tasked with following defending champion Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) in the finale while Megan Guarnier was meant to mark European road champion Kasia Niewiadoma.
When Van der Breggen attacked between the Côte de Cherave and the Mur de Huy, Stevens, following team instructions, covered the move.
“Anna didn’t mess around with that attack,” said Stevens. “Even anticipating the move, it wasn’t easy to follow her.”
The duo had escaped the hold of a leading group of seven that took shape over the penultimate climb. Van der Breggen had Niewiadoma for company; Stevens had Guarnier. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5), Alena Amialiusik (CANYON//SRAM) and Katrin Garfoot (ORICA-AIS) had also made the elite front group.
Amialiusik and Garfoot lost contact with the leaders prior to Van der Breggen’s race winning acceleration.
Neither Guarnier and Niewiadoma had reason to respond, leaving Longo Borghini as the only rider to chase.
By the time Stevens and Van der Breggen reached the foot of the Mur de Huy, they had pocketed 20 seconds on the remnants of the chase group. Stevens dug deep to match Van der Breggen’s effort up the infamous 1.3-kilometre climb to the finish. Multiple times she lost contact with Van der Breggen. Each and every time she fought her way back into the wheel.
“We knew it was going to come down to the climb before the climb again,” sad Stevens. “When Anna jumped, I got on her wheel and followed the best that I could. She was so strong today, so strong. I don’t think I could have done anything different. I was beaten by a better bike rider today.”
Stevens reached the summit finish four seconds after Van der Breggen. Guarnier edged out Niewiadoma to secure the final spot on the podium. Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team had put two on the podium but missed the top step. A five-race winning streak at the UCI Women’s WorldTour had come to an end.
“Initially, I was disappointed because you want to win, right?” Stevens said. “No one trains for second place. We came here to win today, and, of course, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to finish off the incredibly hard work my teammates did for me and for Megan. Obviously, the initial reaction is going to be disappointment, but I haven’t been in a position to contend for a long time, so a bit removed, I can feel happy with how I rode and what I did today – like I’m back.”
The work Stevens references is the trademark team tactics on display by her teammates throughout Wedesday’s Women’s WorldTour race. Boels-Dolmans rode as a single unit with a single goal.
A strong pull by Lizzie Armitstead on the second ascent of the Côte de Bohisseau proved particularly decisive. The early breakaway had just been caught, but the size of the bunch was too large heading into the finale. Armistead took matters into her own hands (and legs), hitting the front, picking up the pace and ultimately splitting the peloton and setting the stage for the elite selection of seven that followed.
“The work they did was unbelievable,” said Stevens. “They were all so strong. They are a huge part of the reason why I wanted to win so badly.”