Twenty years after La Fleche Wallonne Feminine was inaugurated, its bigger sister will finally hold a women’s event. Liege-Bastogne-Liege Femmes will close out the Ardennes Week with what Lizzie Deignan dubbed possibly "the toughest one-day race on the women’s calendar."
The race is shorter than some of its counterparts on the spring calendar at “just” 135km. It has less classified climbing than others too with just four along the route – the Tour of Flanders had 12. In this case, it may well be quality over quantity with the lengthy Côte de la Vecquée set to spice things up. In the grand scheme of things, its 6.7km length is not that long, but relative to its Classics brethren it is almost Alpine.
There are plenty of unclassified rises in between that will soften the legs up over the final 50 kilometres. After riding out of Bastogne, the Vecquée kicks the climbing proper off following 82 kilometres of racing. From then on, it is a relentless up and down as the peloton tackles the Cote de La Redoute, the Cote de La Roche-aux-Faucons and the Cote de Saint Nicolas. The steep rise to the finish in Ans will also likely be a critical factor.
Deignan and her Boels Dolmans teammate Anna van der Breggen are the two to beat on Sunday after locking out the top two spots at both Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne. Van der Breggen has been the one on the top step, and she has looked unbeatable in her present form. With Deignan as rear gunner and the likes of Megan Guarnier to patrol the front of the peloton, she has enjoyed a superlative spring. It is hard to bet against her making it a third straight victory.
Their rivals will not be prepared to let them romp away, and we can expect some aggressive racing in an attempt to catch them out. WM3 Pro Cycling’s Kasia Niewiadoma and Orica-Scott’s Annemiek van Vleuten have been the closest to the Boels pair in the last week, and it is likely to be the same this weekend. Niewiadoma will have Marianne Vos in her corner, after the Dutch rider chose to skip Fleche Wallonne. Van Vleuten doesn’t have a rider of the same calibre to back her up, but Orica-Scott has some good talent who aren’t afraid of trying to mix things up.
Cervelo-Bigla also proved at Fleche Wallonne that they are prepared to turn the race upside down and see what happens. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio wasn’t able to make her move stick, but she’ll certainly try again, and if the race is as hard as expected, then she should be near the front when it comes down to the crunch. WorldTour youth classification leader Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig could also be an outside bet if she can hang tight.
WorldTour leader Coryn Rivera is not down on the provisional start list for the Sunweb team. However, the American has been in flying form this week - in races that arguably aren’t well suited to her – that if she chooses to ride it, then she could pull something out of the bag. If not, then her team will likely look to Ellen van Dijk for a strong result.
Keep an eye out for Elisa Longo Borghini too. The Italian missed Fleche Wallonne due to illness but has been going well all spring and took a solid result at Amstel Gold last weekend.