Anna van der Breggen has achieved the seemingly impossible task of winning a seventh consecutive title at La Flèche Wallonne in Belgium. The double world champion said she was looking forward to seeing the new champions of the Mur de Huy in future editions of La Flèche Wallonne.
"It’s a strange thought that this is my last time to race the Flèche Wallonne," Van der Breggen said. "Next time, I won’t bother the girls anymore. It’s up to somebody else now. I’m really happy to end up like this. Seven straight wins. It’s incredible!”
Van der Breggen, who will retire at the end of this season, her fifth at SD Worx, has won every edition of Flèche Wallonne since 2015. In fact, the only riders to come close to her success have been Marianne Vos, who won the women’s race five times (2007-09, 2011, 2013) and Alejandro Valverde, who won the men’s edition five times (2006, 2014-2017).
"I know that this is a race that suits me, especially the Mur de Huy," Van der Breggen said. "I was pretty excited today. I was really happy that I could finish it for the seventh time, because it’s nice to finish it off like this, and I know that it’s my last year, so it’s really special."
Van der Breggen is affectionately known as the Queen of the Mur de Huy because in all of her seven victories she has shown her unbeatable strength along with her patience and perfectly-timed accelerations to cross the line first.
"The Mur de Huy is always hard and you can only ride the pace that you can handle," Van der Breggen said. "Maybe this year it was earlier when I knew I was probably going to win it. You always have to go full and to the max, so it’s always hard."
The Mur de Huy is a steep 1.3km ascent that starts with a run-in along the Avenue du Condroz before reaching the first right-hand bend at a 10 per cent grade. The climbs steepens to 12 per cent, then 14 per cent, and after a hard left turn it hits its steepest section at 19 per cent with 400 metres to go. The grade ever-so-slightly eases off to 13 per cent, and then 9 per cent in the final 100 metres to the finish line.
Van der Breggen has won by a margin as large 16 seconds ahead of Lizzie Deignan back in the 2017 edition and a small as 1 second ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten in 2019. She also won by 12 seconds ahead of Van Vleuten in 2015 and by 8 seconds ahead of Evelyn Stevens in 2016.
Two seconds separated her from runner-ups Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio in 2018, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in 2020 and Kasia Niewiadoma this year.
Van der Breggen said that her seventh and final victory was the toughest.
"This was the most difficult win out of seven, because of the chase," Van der Breggen said regarding the late-race attack from Trek-Segafredo's Ruth Winder, who was caught at the base of the Mur de Huy.
"It was a good battle with Kasia, she was strong! We were close together all the time and at one point she was going and then I was going. It was pretty cool and I was happy, of course, that in the end I had something left. It was a hard fight."
Asked if she agrees with her title - Queen of the Mur de Huy - Van der Breggen said, "no."
"I think that after me there will be somebody else [winning] and before me there was someone else. In this period the Mur de Huy has suited a couple of riders more than others. I’m curious, in the future, who will be the next winner."
Van der Breggen will compete at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday and then turn her attention to defending her title at the Tokyo Olympic Games. She plans to retire as a professional cyclist at the end of this season and become a director for SD Worx in 2022.
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