There’s been just one winner at La Flèche Wallonne Feminine the past six editions and that’s Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) and while there are plenty of established rivals with plenty of Women’s WorldTour notches on their belt eager to prevent it becoming a seventh, there’s also a healthy dose of talent stepping up that’s eager to work through the ranks and onto the podium.
We’ve run through some of the names most likely to cross the line first in our preview, from the six-time defending champion and her teammates Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Demi Vollering to Dutch rivals Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) as well as he ever present Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek Segafredo) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM).
This riders to watch, however, looks beyond those key players, taking a less predictable path and looking at just a few of the riders we could see working their way up the leader board this year, or may easily roll off the tongue as favourites at La Flèche Wallonne Feminine and the other Ardennes Classics in the years to come.
Read on for a selection of the new wave of riders to watch on the 130.2-kilometre course, that includes six major climbs and finishes with the last brutal barrier of the Mur de Huy.
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Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx)
While Demi Vollering clearly looks like the next cab off the rank for SD Worx, after two second steps of the podium in her last two races she’s clearly already well and truly in the camp of being a serious contender at the Ardennes.
Fisher-Black, however, looks to be waiting just outside the door. The 20-year-old has had a strong start to her first season at the Dutch team and on the weekend took 12th at Amstel Gold Race. The New Zealander has also shown she’s got what it takes to make her way to the front end of the field at La Flèche Wallonne, coming 12th last year. She's also a rider that knows how to handle herself on an uphill finish, coming second in the final stage of the Giro Rosa last year.
Still, with a talent-packed team, it’s likely she’ll be putting her energy toward others results but there's always a chance a scenario will unfold that could play into the hands of the new recruit on the Dutch team and if it doesn't work out for her this year, there's bound to be plenty more opportunities ahead ahead.
Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank)
The Australian rider is settling into her first solid season as a professional and, while she’s not expecting too much in her debut year, as she becomes more comfortable in the European peloton and the terrain falls into her areas of strength, the climbs, it seems inevitable that she'll start moving up the ranks.
Plus, if an opportunity arises the 20-year-old – who won the elite Australian road title in her first year out of the junior ranks – is a racer through and through so isn’t likely to be able to hold herself back. She’s already managed to come close to her first top ten, coming in with the lead chase group behind Van Vleuten and Niewiadoma at Dwars door Vlaanderen and capturing 11th place in the process.
Gigante, too, has a teammate who is also making a mark to spur her on, with Kristen Faulkner quick to make herself at home in the European peloton, having already chalked up two Women’s WorldTour top tens this season and finishing just off the podium at GP Oetingen.
Juliette Labous (Team DSM)
Teammate Liane Lippert took centre stage last year, taking her first Women’s WorldTour win in Australia and finishing the year as the leader of the youth classification but she’s certainly not the only young rider on the team that has been making a mark on the results table in recent years.
Labous climbed her way into the lead of the youth classification of the Giro Rosa and Tour of California in 2019, in 2020 stepped onto the podium of the final stage of the Giro Rosa as well as delivered 8th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and has made a consistently strong start to the season so far.
Only once has she finished out of the top 30 and the French U23 time trial champion also took sixth on the finish line, which came at the top of a climb, at Brabantse Pijl earlier this month.
Lucy Kennedy (Team BikeExchange)
Not all riders with potential to step up are in their early 20’s, whether they are latecomers to the sport or longer term riders, like Van Vleuten, that find that the opportunities blossom further on in their career. Both scenarios fit the 32-year-old Kennedy. The departure of Van Vleuten to Movistar, means that all of a sudden everyone else in the team goes from largely being a support rider for a powerhouse of a leader to a situation where it is far more likely they’ll get a chance to go for the win themselves.
The 28-year-old Grace Brown has already grasped that opportunity – netting her first Women’s WorldTour win at Brugge-De Panne – and now that the racing is moving into the hard and hilly territory that Kennedy thrives in the opportunities could also start to come her way.
Amanda Spratt is of course the natural team leader for the Ardennes – where she has stood on the podium a number of times and finished just off it at Amstel Gold Race this week – but depending on how the race plays out, Kennedy could either be a valuable ally or an able plan B that may just find herself launching up that final climb to Mur de Huy near the front of the pack.
Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
Moving into her new French team this year, Cavalli has been switching her focus further away from the track, adding to her quick turn of pace by building her strength on the climbs. This has served the 23-year-old Italian well so far, building on her results in the Classics which are the races the rider is hoping to excel in over the years to come.
The finishing climb of the Mur de Huy may not exactly play to her strength, like it does her teammate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, but she did still manage to finish in 17th last year and we’ll soon get to see how much impact her growing confidence on the climbs could deliver.
The former Italian champion has already taken three top ten results this year including eighth at Strade Bianche and sixth at Tour of Flanders, so a journey to a Women’s WorldTour podium in one of the Classics is looking increasingly within grasp.
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