Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) made history at La Flèche Wallonne winning a sixth consecutive title on the Mur de Huy. The world champion praised organisers, ASO, for their commitment to live broadcasting of the women’s race for the first time this year, and said it was a statement that the Giro Rosa lost its WorldTour status for not fulfilling the live television requirement.
"First of all the live broadcast is something woman cycling really needs at the moment. People should be able to watch our races. Never more than now because nobody can watch it live with all the coronavirus rules," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews in an interview after the race.
"It is also a statement that the Giro Rosa lost the Women’s WorldTour status because of no live broadcast. Women’s WorldTour races should have it."
Van der Breggen won her first Flèche Wallonne title in 2015, and has won every year since, claiming a record sixth victory on Wednesday. She came into the race as a favourite after winning the Dutch road race title, the time trial title at the European Championships, the overall title at the Giro Rosa, and then the time trial and road race world titles at the Imola World Championships, which was a feat that has not been accomplished since 1995.
She praised her Boels Dolmans teammates for helping her to make history on the Mur de Huy, where she also took over the lead of the Women's WorldTour.
"The team helped me a lot," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews. "Christine [Majerus] was bringing me in the right positions. Chantal [van den Broek-Blaak] and Amy [Pieters] were in the breakaway and did an incredible pace at the climb before the Mur de Huy, so there weren’t much attacks in the last 10 kilometres, and the only thing I had to do was focus on the final climb.
"I felt some pressure to win after their efforts, and it’s great to win today for the sixth year. The Mur de Huy is a climb I really like, but it is always difficult to keep going until the finish without blowing up. I am at a point where I think I can only lose this race because everybody expect me to win, but luckily I could win today."
ASO come through with live TV in 190 countries
Van der Breggen’s record sixth consecutive win on the Mur de Huy was not the only history-making aspect of this year’s Flèche Wallonne. Fans from around the world were able to tune in and watch her performance for the first time in the event’s 23rd edition with a live television broadcast in 190 countries around the world.
"It was tremendous to be able to see Anna van der Breggen win six in a row," said Hannah Walker, a former professional cyclist who provided the play-by-play commentary for the broadcast.
"She came into the race as the hot favourite, and she had already won five times in a row, and there was no reason why she wouldn’t be the favourite once again. She was in great form after the Giro Rosa victory and then the time trial and road race wins at the World Championships," said Walker.
"She is a really smart bike rider, and tactically she is incredible, and that kind of finish suits her. To make the history six times in a row, and in the rainbow jersey, is incredible. It’s also the first time that we’ve had live pictures of the race, and that showed how far women’s cycling is coming and where it is going."
The UCI require 45 minutes of live television broadcast to be part of Women’s WorldTour events, however, ASO went above and beyond that requirement and provided a 90-minute high-quality broadcast that included one helicopter, three motorbike cameras, and seven stationary cameras on the Mur de Huy. Although the broadcast was 90 minute in length, in some regions, fans were only able to watch the finale 30km of the race.
"It was broadcast live for an hour and a half for the first time ever, in its 23rd edition, and in 190 countries, which pushes the reach of women’s cycling and the reach of the teams and sponsors, and lifts the profile of the riders," Walker said. "You could get a real feel as to what was going on, instead of just seeing the leaders, we really got a feel for what was going on in the race. We even had a camera with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig that showed what was happening when she was chasing back on after her bike change, and not just what was happening at the front of the race. It’s important to get all those angles of what’s happening in a race.
"It’s so important to see how everything pans out. You get an idea of what happens in the final one or two kilometres from the end, but knowing how the race got to that point is important. The UCI Women’s WorldTour races have to have this 45 minutes of live television coverage as part of the rule of being within the WorldTour, and so to now be able to see how the races develop and the work that the domestiques do for their leaders, is huge. The leaders always get the 'well done, great ride, amazing job’, and maybe you would get the highlights package in previous years, but it’s nice to see how the domestiques work together to set the race up.
"The team that Boels Dolmans had were so strong, in the way they rode toward the end, they worked and played on Trek-Segafredo in the last 40km," continued Walker. "Today it was Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Amy Pieters in the finale, in the front peloton for Anna van der Breggen, while Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Ruth Winder played a superb job for Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan. It shows the teamwork and what goes on behind for riders to take a victory, because they can’t do it alone. They play such an important role and its important to see how the race unfolds."
ASO came under fire for not providing live coverage of Flèche Wallonne when Van der Breggen won her fifth title in the 2019 edition last year. The fixed cameras on the Mur de Huy filmed the final climb, and the footage was previously shown on screens at the finish and in the press room, but it was hit-and-miss whether this footage was broadcast on TV.
In her post-race press conference last year, Van der Breggen expressed her disappointment in the lack of live television coverage and demanded more from race organisers. "By now I think we deserve to have live coverage so that people can follow us," Van der Breggen said at that time. "Because many people would like to, and we would like to show it. I think it is time."
ASO has made marked changes to their commitment to women’s racing this year. Flèche Wallonne is one of several women’s races they run, including La Course by Le Tour de France, that has a live broadcast, and Liège-Bastonge-Liège and Madrid Challenge. While they have been criticised for not offering a women’s Tour de France, they have reportedly committed to a women’s stage race in 2022, and they introduced a first-ever women's Paris-Roubaix to be held on October 25 this year.
"The minimum requirement is 45 minutes of live television but we had an hour and a half of Flèche Wallonne," Walker said. "Good job to ASO for listen to everyone and for putting on a great production of the women’s race. It was the same for La Course a few weeks ago and Liège-Bastogne-Liège is going to be live on Sunday. Things are going in the right direction, bigger and better, and thanks to ASO for showcasing what went on in the race today and for showing the history-making of Anna van der Breggen’s six consecutive wins. We can celebrate the fact that this was all live."
The complete live coverage of Flèche Wallonne comes in stark contrast to that of the Giro Rosa two weeks ago, which did not meet the live TV requirements for being a WorldTour-level event and so was reduced to the second-tier 2.Pro in 2021.
Walker believes that people want to see women’s races live on television but also that the world has been starved of sporting events due to COVID-19, and that made Flèche Wallonne’s experience all the more appreciated.
"Everyone has had a huge amount of time without sport in their lives and now that we have races going on, everyone is happy to be able to watch races and see what’s going on, watch races unfold and see riders winning," said Walker, who also works in a communication role at Ceratizit-WNT women’s team, that produced daily videos for fans to watch during the Giro Rosa in lieu of their being no live broadcast.
"People were disappointed when they couldn’t watch the Giro Rosa but a lot of teams were doing good work with behind-the-scenes footage and video content to give the fans the insight into what was happening, especially if there’s no live TV coverage, then it’s perfect for fans at home to find out what’s going on in the races," Walker noted.
"The coverage from Flèche Wallonne today was fantastic, and it was great to be able to see it happen. There were also no fans on the Mur de Huy because of COVID-19, so for those fans, they could stay at home, watch live coverage and not miss out on anything, and they were able to watch the racing from home.
"It was the first time I did lead comms on my own and it was a fantastic Flèche Wallonne. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It made history that it was broadcast live for the first time. I'm just happy that we were able to see it and it was just a brilliant race," said Walker.
Watch the 2020 Flèche Wallonne highlights below.
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