Fleche Wallonne Women: 7th win for Anna van der Breggen

Winner of the Women’s Fleche Wallonne for the seventh time, Anna van der Breggen says her final win in 2021 was the most difficult – Anna intends to retire at the end of the season

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Fleche Wallonne Women: 7th win for Anna van der Breggen

© A.S.O./Gautier Demouveaux

For her last appearance in La Flèche Wallonne, Anna van der Breggen remained untouchable at the top of the famous Mur de Huy. The Dutch rider who has decided to retire at the end of the season, triumphed for a seventh consecutive time after an extremely eventful edition.

There was an impressive solo effort from US champion Ruth Winder who was eventually caught on the final climb. Van der Breggen made the best of her power and experience to beat Katarzyna Niewiadoma and Elisa Longo Borghini to the line. For the 3rd consecutive year, the riders of La Flèche Wallonne all gathered together on the splendid Grand Place of Huy for the start of this 24th edition. Among them two former champions having triumphed on 11 occasions: Marianne Vos, five times (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013) and of course the “Queen of the Ardennes”, Anna Van Der Breggen winner of the last six editions until today’s victory.

After starting their race under a bright sky at 8:46 in the morning, tackling a 130.2km course, the peloton remained bunched until kilometre 4 when Heidi Franz (RLW) had a go off the front. After having a 10-second lead, she was caught back at km 9. Ten kilometres later, Gerritse (PHV) was the next to pull away, rapidly joined by Lach (WNT). At km 43, the front two could enjoy a 40″ advantage over two other riders, Alessio (BPK) and Schiff (ASC) and 1’35″ over the peloton. At the top of the Côte de Thon (km 54), while Lach led the way, the peloton moved dangerously closer: 55″.

The tough succession of opening climbs were just a bit too much for the leaders to remain clear and on the climb up the Côte de Groynne, they were eventually caught at km 61. On the following difficulty, three riders powered away: Brand (TFS), Chabbey (CSR) and Britain’s Anna Henderson (JVW). At kilometre 76, the front trio could enjoy a 1’05″ lead but that gap dropped down to 35″ as the peloton entered the final circuit (km 90) where the team of Anna van der Breggen, SD Worx, started chasing hard.

As Swiss Champion Elise Chabbey led the way to the first passage on the line at the top of the Mur de Huy, the chasers were only 35” adrift. The front girls could still count on a 25” advantage with 25 kms to go but they were finally caught on the climb up the Côte d’Ereffe where US Champion, Ruth Winder (TFS) pulled away. The recent winner of the Brabantse Pijl just a week ago, saw her lead grow to 30”, 15 kms from the finish. She remained clear at the top of the Côte du chemin des Gueuses while the peloton exploded with only the best 10 remaining in the selectionand no Marianne Vos (JVW) who was surprisingly dropped.

Winder kept what looked to be an interesting 25” lead with only 5 kms to go but was finally caught on the first portion of the climb up the Mur de Huy. It was then, World Champion Anna Van der Breggen’s turn to take control of things. Despite a fierce battle with Newiadoma, the SD Worx leader made her effort in the final 150m and narrowly beat her Polish rival. Elisa Longo Borghini (TFS) finished third. At 31 years of age, Van der Breggen captures a seventh Fleche Wallonne that goes along her two UCI road World titles, her Olympic gold in Rio and two wins at Liège-Bastogne-Liège among many others.

Team SD Worx

The race was hard, from the beginning on”, Van der Breggen said directly after the finish. “We made some tactical mistakes in the race, that’s why we had to chase. But the team did really great to close the gap. I’m really happy that I can do it still and could take this win. This was the most difficult win out of the seven because of the chase. It was a good battle with Kasia, she was strong!”

“It’s a strange thought that this is my last time to race the Flèche Wallonne. Next time I won’t bother the girls anymore. It’s up to somebody else. I’m really happy to end up like this. Seven straight wins. It’s incredible!” Van der Breggen talked with great respect about Demi Vollering, who did a great job by bringing the group back to Ruth Winder. “To close the gap is incredible. If you make a decision like that as such a young girl, it says a lot about her future”.

We have one Ardennes Classic left, which is Liege-Bastogne-Liege on sunday. Van der Breggen: “I think this race suits me a bit less, as the finish is pretty flat. We will see and try our best again. First enjoy today.”

Kasia Niewiadoma (2nd): “From the beginning of the race we had some great feelings within our team. The stress level was very low which meant I could relax and stay focused on the final. Elise had a great race in the main breakaway, and then when she was caught she really kept fighting and attacking, and trying to make a difference. Seeing that, gave me confidence for the final and that we’re all in it together. When you get support like that then you’re willing to give even more,” said Kasia.

The Polish rider, usually renown for early blistering attacks, tried to play a more patient game. “In previous years I’ve always been sprinting to try to get to the bottom of the Mur and be right in the front. I felt strong today, and I knew that no one could really drop me right at the start of the Mur. So, I kept more relaxed and as the climb went on I came next to Anna and I tried to keep calm.”

“At 150m to go, Anna was next to me and I was thinking I could take a gap and so I put some more pressure on. Even when she attacked me I truly believed that I could stay on her wheel. But in the end, Anna knows how to win on that climb, and I couldn’t stay with her for the last metres. I have no regrets. I’m satisfied with my race and I’m very happy to be on the podium!” added Kasia.

Ruth Winder: “It’s hard not to dream a bit, right? But, it was a huge effort to get over those climbs before and then the big roads had such a headwind that was fricking killing me, but you had to keep pushing there or else your chances were already done. I really was [believing]! I was just going as hard as I could but I had a lot of faith in my teammates behind me so I knew we had some really good options to play. I turned onto the Mur thinking ‘Just give everything you’ve got’ but they come by you like you’re standing still!

“I’m pretty happy with my own [7th] performance and in the end, I was going for Elisa. The whole race was such a good race for the team. We had people up the front the whole time with Tayler and Lucinda. We wanted to make the other teams had to chase and we made that happen. For the team, it was a perfect effort and we got the result we got and that’s OK. We did the best race we could do today and I think everybody is really happy.”

Elisa Longo Borghini (3rd): Eventually, it came down to a slugfest on the infamous Mur de Huy. “On the Mur you have to race your own pace and find out in which part you have your strength. It’s a bit of a false friend – it feels like you are up there and everything is fine, then all of a sudden you can blow up,” explains Longo Borghini. “I know I’m really good over the crest of the climbs because I can use my power. When I saw that Anna [van der Breggen] had a faster pace than me I kept my own and I let the others go, then I sprinted at the last 100 and I managed to catch Annemiek [van Vleuten] at the last 25 metres. I really used her as a reference point to just pass her.”

“I have a love/hate relationship with it but I hope one day I can win it. It was the minimum I could do after the race my teammates did. I knew I had to take my own pace on this Mur and I knew I can sprint really well over the climb because I did it already in the past years. In this race, it’s never finished until the end. Every member of this team worked really well and I need to thank every member of my Trek-Segafredo teammates because they were super good today. They were always up there; we had Lauretta and Audrey controlling the race from the start, Tayler positioning me really well on the climbs, Lucinda in the breakaway, and finally, Ruth, who made a big effort all the way to the final climb. I’m really thankful to my teammates.”

“I expected a very hard race and I think we made a very nice race to watch too. Third is the best I could do so I have no regrets today. It’s a very good result and this is one of my favorite races. It’s actually my dream race, but I have a love/hate relationship with it but I hope one day I can win it.”

Marianne Vos (5 time winner) looked back on a tough race and confessed that she lacked the right legs to go with the favourites. “A very tough race today. We worked well as a team. It was a perfect situation with Anna in the breakaway. On the penultimate climb the race exploded. Together with Anouska Koster and Julie Van de Velde I was in the first group. When they accelerated, we had to let them go. Then we put everything on trying to get back in the front. At the foot of the Wall we saw that we were not going to succeed. I still tried to get a good result however.”


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