Double Flèche Wallonne winner Anna van der Breggen, who won Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, headlines Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team’s squad for the mid-week Ardennes classic. She will race alongside Megan Guarnier, who has twice finished third up the Mur de Huy, and Lizzie Deignan, who climbed to second in 2014. The trio are joined by Karol-Ann Canuel, Kasia Pawlowska and Jip van den Bos.
Flèche Wallonne Femmes has been a staple on the women’s schedule since 1998. For 16 of those 19 years, it served as the only opportunity for the women’s peloton to contest an Ardennes classic. Times are a-changing, and Flèche Wallonne is now part of a three-race Ardennes week for the women – just like the men. The return of the Amstel Gold Race and the addition of Liège-Bastogne- Liège have created an eight-day period in which three important races, all of them UCI Women’s WorldTour races, can be won.
“We start from zero again,” said Van der Breggen. “It’s going to be tough to win Flèche, but it’s good to know that we are in shape. We can start with a good feeling.”
Historically, Flèche Wallonne has been all about the Mur de Huy. The infamous climb snakes up 1.2 kilometres with an average gradient slightly above 10 percent and a maximum gradient of 24 percent mid-way up the hill. A course change in 2015 put Cöte de Cherave less than six kiilometres before the Mur de Huy, changing the dynamic of the race.
“It was important that three years ago they changed the course for the first time and added an extra climb at the end and also changed the course,” said Van der Breggen. “If you have only the Mur, everyone is focused on one climb. Now it’s not possible with the climb that comes before. It is also steep and long and makes the race harder.
“For me, it’s really good,” Van der Breggen added. “If it’s only the Mur, everybody is still fresh and more people can handle the explosive finish. Now it’s different because you have to explode two times. It’s also different tactically because fewer riders will make it to the Mur together.”
The number of climbs have been reduced for the 20th addition of Flèche Wallonne. The women’s peloton will cover seven climbs over 120 kilometres. Six of the seven climbs come in the final 45 kilometres of racing. The Cöte de Cherave and Mur de Huy pairing will undoubtedly animate the finale.
“The Mur is a really, really steep climb and it’s always longer than you think it is,” said Van der Breggen. “Every year when you see it again it’s always longer than it is in your mind – especially the second time.”
A LOOK BACK
Van der Breggen has won the last two additions of Flèche Wallonne. Last year, she launched the race-winning move between the final two climbs and reached the base of the Mur de Huy with the newly retired Evelyn Stevens. The pair had 20 seconds on an elite chase group that included Guarnier.
Van der Breggen rode Stevens off her wheel at multiple points up the Mur but Stevens fought back each and every time – until 100 metres from the finish when Van der Breggen finally dispatched Stevens for good. Guarnier was the third to reach the uphill finish line to round out the podium.
The previous year, Van der Breggen bridged across to a late race breakaway that included her then teammate Roxanne Knetemann and former teammate Annemiek van Vleuten (then riding for Cervelo Bigla) with four kilometres left to race. Knetemann sacrificed her chances in service of Van der Breggen, who ultimately won by 12-seconds over Van Vleuten. Guarnier rounded out the podium.
“The two wins were similar,” said Van der Breggen. “It’s a hard race and the climbs at the end are steep. You always have a feeling with some climbs – these climbs I like and these climbs are more difficult for me. I really like the climbs that are in Flèche.
A LOOK AHEAD
Boels-Dolmans has targeted this particular week of racing since the fall, and the win at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday only buoys the Dutch-registered squad’s confidence. Title sponsor Boels Rental is a key sponsor of Flèche Wallonne, adding extra motivation to an already motivated squad. Both Van der Breggen and Deignan are in top shape following an early season marred by illness, and both could contend for a result on Wednesday.
Van der Breggen expects the race to follow the usual pattern with an early, easy to control breakaway reeled in over the climbs in the final third of the race. While she’s aware that there’s much chatter about the possibility of her third straight win, she insists that she’s riding for a team victory over a personal victory. No Boels-Dolmans rider has yet to stand on the top step of the Flèche Wallonne podium. Van der Breggen is invested in changing that.
“For me the goal isn’t to win it for a third time,” said Van der Breggen. “For me it’s for the team to win on Wednesday. If it's me or anyone else, I don’t really mind.”
Flèche Wallonne begins at 10:45 CET and is due to finish between 1:55 and 2:15 CET. At this point, there is all sorts of conflicting information swirling around about whether or not the women’s race will be broadcast live. Your best source of information on that leading up to the race is this guide from ProWomenCycling. We will, of course, share any live links on race day.
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team for Flèche Wallonne Femmes:
Jip van den Bos
Anna van der Breggen