The Women's WorldTour has exited the cobbled Classics and entered the Ardennes Classics of Amstel Gold Race (April 21), Flèche Wallonne (April 24) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 28). A handful of heavy-hitters have targeted the three races, including world champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), who won the so-called Ardennes triple in 2017, but she will face stiff competition. Cyclingnews selected 10 riders to watch for the Ardennes Classics.
Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans)
Reigning world champion Anna van der Breggen has scarcely been seen racing this season in her new rainbow jersey, joining her team for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche and the Healthy Ageing Tour. That is about to change as she takes the start line at Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. She is the only rider to have won all three races in one season, in 2017, when Amstel returned from a hiatus and organizers of Liège added a women’s race alongside its long-running men's event. Although she didn't complete the triple last year, she did win Flèche and Liège. If she wins Flèche again this year, it will not only mark a fifth victory in a row, but she will equal Marianne Vos' five-career wins on the Mur de Huy.
Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews, however, that the 'Flèche five’ is not as important to her as winning the race with any one of her teammates. "Winning a race that many times would be special, but when we start a race, it's all about winning that race, and absolutely not about me or who is going to win. The main thing is that I feel good before the three races and then we will see how the races develop and how we are going to try to win them. If we have a good team plan, then I'm happy with it, and hopefully we will be good. I would be happy if we won, and it doesn't really matter if it's me or a teammate. It feels really good to help a teammate to a victory like that."
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott)
Annemiek van Vleuten has more than recovered from a significant knee injury suffered in a crash at the UCI Road World Championship last September. A good training plan and a practical race schedule meant that she could target early-season success at Strade Bianche, a race she won solo and took the first Women's WorldTour leader’s jersey. She had high hopes for Tour of Flanders but wounded placing second in a three-way sprint won by Marta Bastianelli (Virtu). She told the press that the race at Flanders wasn't as demanding as she needed it to be to win and hopes the peloton races more aggressively during the Ardennes Classics. Last year, Van Vleuten was 15th at Amstel Gold, fourth at Flèche Wallonne and third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Van Vleuten wrote in her recent Cyclingnews blog that she would like to win on home soil at Amstel Gold. "I think that Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège will probably suit me the best, but Amstel Gold is in the Netherlands, and so it's my 'home' race. Winning there would be extra special."
Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv)
Vos will always be a contender for any race she lines up at, but the Ardennes Classics hold a special place on her race programme this year. The former multi-discipline world champion has had a strong start to her season; notably, a seventh at Strade Bianche and winning Trofeo Alfredo Binda, while an untimely puncture ended her aspirations at the Tour of Flanders. Turning her attention to the Ardennes, Vos has decided to skip Flèche Wallonne again – where she has won five times – but she will race both Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla)
Everyone's favourite rider to interview at the moment, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig's enthusiasm for racing is contagious. She has brought her energy and top form to the start and finish lines this spring, and has managed to tie it all together with some big performances. Third place at Tour of Flanders was arguably her best result to date, but before that, she was also fifth at Strade Bianche and third at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. The hilly Ardennes might even better suit her capabilities so watch for her to both animate the breakaways and contest the finals of the upcoming one-days.
Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb)
Lucinda Brand's second place at Amstel Gold Race was a big performance, but she won't want to settle for a runner-up spot this time around. The Sunweb rider came into the spring after a successful cyclo-cross campaign and has had a strong road season so far. She was third at Dwars door Vlaanderen and ninth at Tour of Flanders but also won’t want to walk away from the classics season with out a victory. She'll be leading her team at Amstel Gold Race again with strong support from Coryn Rivera, Leah Kirchmann, Janneke Ensing and Floortje Mackaij. Capable of creating a small breakaway, or managing a solo effort, Brand will likely be among the final contenders in the late stages of the Ardennes Classics.
Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott)
Mitchelton-Scott have two big cards to play during the Ardennes Classics with van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt. Spratt suffered a head injury in the early season after crashing at Strade Bianche but returned to the peloton to place second at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. She was third at Amstel Gold last year, fifth at Flèche Wallonne and second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and said she has been looking forward to the Ardennes all winter.
"It's no secret that my big target for the first half of the season are the Ardennes races, so I just feel excited and ready for these races to start," Spratt said. "All the training and hard work is done now, and I feel like I am a level above what I was this time last year so that gives me a lot of confidence in myself. I think the strength of our team is also something to be really excited about, and I hope we will be in the final with good numbers so we can play a good tactical game."
Chantal Blaak (Boels Dolmans)
Boels Dolmans also have a series of strong contenders for the Ardennes, arguably the strongest team on paper, with van der Breggen, Amy Pieters, Annika Langvad, Katie Hall and Chantal Blaak. Blaak will line up as the defending champion at Amstel Gold. She has already shown her exceptional classics capabilities this spring with a victory at Omloop Het Neiuwsblad and second at Ronde van Drenthe. Look for the former world champion and current Dutch champion to animate Amstel Gold Race once again.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv)
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio has been riding in support of Vos during the early-season one-day races and cobble classics, but the hillier Ardennes might suit her better. She has shown her strengths in the three events, having placed second at Flèche and fourth at Liège last year, and among the top 10 in all three races the season before. She might also be looking for some redemption after an unlucky Tour of Flanders where she crashed and Vos punctured, leaving them both out of contention for the win.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Kasia Niewiadoma is always there vying for the win at one-day races and stage races alike, but for some reason, she hasn’t quite been able to nab the top spot on the podium at targeted races like Strade Bianche or Tour of Flanders, or the Ardennes Classics. Don’t count her out, however, because she might surprise everyone (even herself) during the Ardennes week this year. She had a good start to the season with third at Strade, and sixth places at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Tour of Flanders. In previous years, she has stood on the podium at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, so look for her to be among the podium contenders this year, too.
Marta Bastianelli (Team Virtu Cycling)
Marta Bastianelli has had an outstanding season with victories at Omloop van het Hageland, Ronde van Drenthe, and most remarkably at the Tour of Flanders. And because of her success in top-level pro racing this spring, she is also the leader of the Women's WorldTour. Bastianelli noted earlier in the spring that Tour of Flanders and the World Championships in Yorkshire were her two main targets this year. She met the first goal in Oudenaarde two weeks ago, where she joined the winning breakaway and then sprinted to victory ahead of van Vleuten and Uttrup Ludwig. Should she win the world title in Yorkshire this fall, it will mark her second victory at Worlds since winning the rainbow jersey in 2007.
Bastianelli was not listed in the preliminary start lists for the Ardennes Classics, but the team has made a seemingly late decision to add her to their roster for Amstel Gold, and perhaps the other two events, too. She can sprint, she can climb and she's a savvy breakaway rider, so she will be the rider to watch in all three events.
The dark horse of the Ardennes Classics
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo)
Lizzie Deignan is the dark horse of the Ardennes Classics this year. She announced in early April that she would return early from maternity leave and line up for the first time with her Trek-Segafredo team at Amstel Gold Race. She will also race Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and later in May, the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of California. "I cannot wait to join the team and get back to racing," Deignan said in a statement released by the team.
Deignan has had success at the Ardennes Classics in previous years. She was second to van der Breggen at Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2017. Trek-Segafredo will have strong contenders in Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk.
"It's time to pin a number on again, it's been a whirlwind seven months since the arrival of our daughter Orla but I feel ready to start racing again. My first race will be Amstel Gold Race and I am excited to join Trek-Segafredo and get started," she wrote in post on Twitter.