It’s time for the riders that have been targeting the Ardennes Classics to step into the limelight, with the Amstel Gold Race back as the opening round this year after it’s rescheduling and then late cancellation in 2020.
The race will look a little different to normal this year, confined to seven laps of a hilly circuit where there is little chance for recovery and even less hope than usual for the flat-loving sprinters. It’s time to turn the spotlight on the riders that like their races hard and hilly in our riders to watch in the sixth round of the Women’s WorldTour series.
The usual suspects will certainly be out in force and in contention. Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) is well and truly back on the radar after showing she’s settled in to her new team and found that flying form with her win at Strade Bianche, Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) has been in race animating form, 2018 winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak has shown she’s ready to tackle the climbs after her win at Strade Bianche and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) has been delivering those intimidatingly fast finishes again.
Though this time we’ve decided to turn our gaze on some of those riders who haven’t been in the spotlight quite as much and are yet to net their first Women’s WorldTour win this year. So read on for six riders to watch at the 2021 Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition that will be stepping into this first race of the Ardennes Classics hungry to make the leap up to the top step.
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Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange)
- Race Record: 11th in 2019, 3rd in 2018, 44th in 2017
Grace Brown has been in the spotlight at Team BikeExchange so far this season but the Ardennes is where it’s likely to veer toward Amanda Spratt. The climbs of the Ardennes are where the 33-year-old has had her focus and after last year’s end of season goals came unravelling after a crash at the Giro Rosa, she is sure to be more determined than ever to take the Ardennes opportunities. It’s also a strong team behind her, with Lucy Kennedy at home on the climbs, New Zealand champion Georgia Williams looking like she’s had a return to form this year and of course Brown, has shown formidable form with a Women's WorldTour win under the belt at Brugge-De Panne.
Spratt has been on the podium of the race before, finishing third in 2018 to open up a string of strong results at the Ardennes Classics that years. It was a more subdued performance the last time she raced the Ardennes in 2019, with 11th spots right through the three races, but the dynamics in the team have changed considerably since then as she had Annemiek van Vleuten as a teammate, who took to the podium in every single race. Now, however, she is the team’s natural Ardennes leader and it's her turn to step into the spotlight.
Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
- Race Record: 7th in 2019
As always, SD Worx is packed with options and while World Champion Anna van der Breggen may be in doubt due to illness there are plenty of other picks. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak as a previous winner of the race is an obvious one, the experienced Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio is always in with a chance, but still there should be no looking past Demi Vollering. A fresh signing and so close to being a fresh winner at Brabantse Pijl Dames, with her celebrating a little to early after her sprint from the lead group, with Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) awarded the win in a photo finish.
Still, it shows just how strong she is, coming so close despite doing a considerable amount of work at the front on the climbs. The Dutch rider is clearly stepping up and performing quickly in the new environment. She’s often been working to deliver others to the win, and she’s come up with a worst result of 13th this season, at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Vollering was then sixth at Strade Bianche and fifth at the Tour of Flanders before taking to the podium at Brabantse Pijl. Plus, when the 24-year-old raced Amstel Gold in 2019, she came in seventh and since then she’s gained plenty of experience and a top-tier team.
Kristen Faulkner (TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank)
- Race Record: Debut
Kristen Faulkner may be new to the European racing scene and fresh to the ranks as a full-time professional rider, but she certainly looks like she’s made herself right at home. The 28-year-old American, who only started cycling in 2016, marked herself as a rider to watch when she stepped into European racing at the Tour de l'Ardeche after the season restart in 2020 and promptly snagged a stage win, on a mountain stage no less.
She’s also delivered results this year that many seasoned professionals from the top-tier teams would envy, with 16th at Strade Bianche, 10th at Tour of Flanders – even though she had to go it alone as her teammates got caught in a crash – and seventh at Gent-Wevelgem. Faulkner also came fourth at GP Oetingen. After results like these a podium doesn’t look out of her reach, particularly as her Tour de l’Ardeche result indicates she’s well and truly comfortable on the climbs.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo)
- Race Record: 2nd in 2017, 19th in 2019
After a run last year where she delivered three Women’s WorldTour wins despite the shortened season and finished on top of the Women’s WorldTour rankings, Deignan started this season on the back foot. The 32-year-old is yet to find a win, podium or even a top-10 finish in 2021. Illness after Opening Weekend set her back, with the big target having been the first running of the women’s Paris-Roubaix, but after its postponement Deignan instead turned her attention to the Ardennes. At the start of this month the former World Champion said she hoped she’d be peaking now, instead of just hanging in there, and we only have to look back to the end of last year to see what the British rider can do in peak form.
Deignan has stood on the podium of all three Ardennes Classics, winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year, and it’d be no surprise to see her fighting for victory again at any of the next three Women’s WorldTour races.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
- Race Record: 1st in 2019, 29th in 2018, 3rd in 2017
The Amstel Gold Race victory in 2019, which sees the Polish rider lining up as defending champion, is actually the last one-day race where Kasia Niewiadoma got to stand on the top step. It makes sense then that she's been targeting this race and the rest of the Ardennes Classics as a key early-season goal, to break through and take that first individual victory since the first half of 2019. She can take every confidence into the race that the team believes in her, having just added three years to her current contract, and the results, so far this season, have also shown promise.
A second at Dwars door Vlaanderen, and being the only rider able to go with an attacking Annemiek van Vlueten, has got to give her cause for optimism at the Amstel Gold Race.
Emilia Fahlin (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
- Race Record: 15th in 2019, 51st in 2018, 41st in 2017
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is often the rider named as ripe for a win at the French team, but the options run deeper than the Danish rider. The young French rider, Evita Muzic, who won the final stage of the Giro Rosa last year, and young Italian rider, Marta Cavalli, who has delivered top-10 results in more than half her races this season and experienced Swiss rider, Emilia Fahlin are among those options. Fahlin this week took eighth at Brabantse Pijl and also came sixth at Gent-Wevelgem and ninth at Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
The 32-year-old has had one of her strongest seasons in years after determinedly fighting back from a series of setbacks, from a head injury to a broken hand, and with the strength she has been showing so far this season she just could be one of the trump cards her team has to play on the short punchy circuit.
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