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Will the Dutch continue to bloom in La Flèche Wallonne?

By:
Laura Weislo

In defending champion's absence, Vos could get the bouquet

Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit) is delighted with her first Dutch World Cup win

Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit) is delighted with her first Dutch World Cup win

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One of the most prestigious races on the women's calendar, La Flèche Wallonne is also a prime target for those wishing to claim the overall World Cup victory.

The Nederlands Bloeit team has had a lock on the past two World Cup rounds, and with last year's Flèche Wallonne winner Emma Pooley out with a broken collarbone, the door is open for three-time champion Marianne Vos to take over the World Cup jersey.

The course the women face is nearly identical to the men's WorldTour event, without the stretch from Charleroi to Huy, and takes in all of the same climbs with the exception of one fewer trip up the famed Mur de Huy.

There are nine total ascents, all of which are longer than one kilometre withe Mur de Huy providing the greatest challenge at an average gradient of 9.3%.

While Tour of Flanders winner Annamiek Van Vleuten is currently holding the lead in the World Cup, the victory that Vos took on home soil in the Ronde van Drenthe on Saturday pulled her into a prime position to inherit the jersey.

Van Vleuten leads with 134 points to Vos's 110, and the latter has proven herself more capable of muscling up the Mur de Huy. Vos took three consecutive victories - from 2007 to 2009 - each time waiting until after the steepest part of the final climb to make her victorious dash to the line.

It wasn't until the smaller, punchier climber Pooley came along that the Dutch woman's hold on the race could be broken. However, Pooley fractured her clavicle in a training crash last week and will miss out on defending her title on Wednesday.

If not Vos or Van Vleuten, look to Swedish champion Emma Johansson who was second in 2009 and third in 2010 to have a go at stealing the win.

Johansson, currently fourth in the World Cup behind Pooley is the only rider who stands a numerical chance to take the jersey from the Nederland Bloeit team.

Prime contenders to take the race win include Judith Arndt, who landed on the podium in Huy four years in a row from 2005-2008, but has never managed to win, as well as her teammates Amber Neben and Evelyn Stevens, both of whom have come in the top 10.

Three-time winner Nicole Cooke (MCipollini-Giambenini) has been a shadow of her former self for the past two years, but will have a strong team to back her up on Wednesday.

The World Cup jersey is Nederland Bloeit's to lose, although team tactics play less of a role in determining the outcome in La Flèche Wallonne than in a flatter finish like Ronde van Drenthe.

The prestige of a win in front of the huge crowds in Belgium and the selective nature of the finishing climb will determine a worthy winner, one with perfect timing, good climbing legs and a powerful sprint.

Key climbs:

Km 38.5 - Côte de Peu d'Eau - 2.7 km, avg. 3.9 %
Km 44.0 - Côte de Haut-Bois - 1.6 km, avg. 4.8 %
Km 49.0 - Côte de Groynne - 2.0 km, avg. 3.5 %
Km 55.0 - Côte de Bohisseau - 1.3 km, avg. 7.6 %
Km 58.0 - Côte de Bousalle - 1.7 km, avg. 4.9 %
Km 69.0 - Côte d'Ahin - 2.3 km, avg. 6.5 %
Km 80.0 - Mur de Huy (lap 1) - 1.3 km, avg. 9.3 %
Km 98.5 - Côte d'Ereffe - 2.1 km, avg. 5.9 %
Km 109.5 - HUY (Mur de Huy) - 1.3 km, avg. 9.3 %