Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio finished second place after a sprint up the Mur de Huy that saw Anna van der Breggen win a fourth consecutive Flèche Wallonne title. The Cervelo Bigla rider came up slightly short-handed after a race she said was like a game of poker.
"I'm very happy," Moolman-Pasio said in a team press release. "It would be nice to win, and it was close, but I'm happy with a WorldTour podium," Moolman-Pasio said.
Moolman-Pasio pushed her way up the Mur de Huy, the final climb of the 118km race, alongside Boels Dolmans teammates Van der Breggen and Megan Guarnier. She surged with 150m to go, but Van der Breggen caught and passed her as they sprinted for the finish line.
"It was a game of poker today," Moolman-Pasio said. "It was a perfect run from the team. Everyone was 100 percent committed to going for the victory. I could really feel that. My legs felt super good, and I was so motivated after seeing the great teamwork."
A breakaway emerged over the Côte de Cherave, and from that, four riders gained time including Guarnier (Boels Dolmans), Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Janneke Ensing (Alé Cipollini), and Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott). They climbed the first ascent of the Mur de Huy together with 25 seconds ahead of a reduced peloton.
"There was a moment of panic when the four went off the front, and the big teams were there," Moolman-Pasio said. "Thomas [Campana, DS] really knows his game and gave me such good direction. He came on the radio and told me to stay calm. Cille [Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig] did an amazing job to maintain the gap. We didn't want to bring it back too quickly because we didn't want counter attacks."
The reduced peloton brought the four riders to within sight at the base of the second and final climb up the Mur de Huy. In the race to the finish line, Moolman-Pasio and Van der Breggen caught the last breakaway rider, Guarnier, part way up the climb. Moolman-Pasio, stuck close to the barriers on the inside line of the bend in the road and waited for a clear moment to attack. She found that moment with 150m to go, but the road had already started to flatten out.
"When we hit the bottom of the Mur, they were in sight, and I felt so good going up. I was unfortunately boxed in when I wanted to make my move, but I could only go with about 150m to go, and that wasn't the steepest part anymore. We were very close to the win, and I am happy," Moolman-Pasio said.
Moolman-Pasio has had a string of top-six places at Flèche Wallonne: sixth in 2017, fourth in 2015, fifth in 2014, third in 2013 and fifth in 2012. This year's edition was her closest to victory, yet, in second place. She'll have to wait another year to attempt a victory on the Mur de Huy.
"We're getting there one step at a time," she said.
Watch the Voxwomen interview with Van der Breggen and the final kilometre of the women's Flèche Wallonne in the two videos below.