Having won the Amstel Gold Race two weeks earlier, followed by a fifth place at Paris-Roubaix Femmes and another victory at La Flèche Wallonne Femmes, Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) went into Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes as one of the favourites.
With another victory, she could have become the second woman (after Anna van der Breggen in 2017) to win all three Ardennes Classics – but unlike on the Cauberg and Mur de Huy, the 24-year-old Italian could not follow Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) when it counted and instead supported her teammate Grace Brown, who won the sprint for the runner-up place. Cavalli was not disappointed to miss out on a historic achievement, acknowledging that Van Vleuten was stronger on the day.
"In the end, I wasn't good enough to follow Annemiek, but that can happen sometimes. I didn't recover well after two big races in a row and arrived a bit tired this morning because I had to do a lot of media work, but I am not disappointed. I was in the first group behind the winner, I have no regrets. We can't win every race, and it is a good result for Grace as she did not have an easy first part of the year," said Cavalli.
Brown had missed the late 2021 season due to a shoulder injury, and her return to European racing was somewhat of a struggle. Although she performed well and achieved decent results, a podium had so far eluded her.
"I guess I expected to maybe be on the podium earlier this season, so it was a relief to finish my classics with a podium place, and I really love this race, so I am happy with second here," she said after winning the sprint for the runner-up place against Team SD Worx' Demi Vollering.
In the final, Brown took affairs into her own hands and attacked solo: "I got dropped on La Redoute but came back to the group, and I knew I was going to struggle on the next climb," Brown explained. "My best chance was to try to attack between the two climbs, and I found a good moment to do that.
"I felt strong out on my own, riding a bit more at my own pace rather than following the surges on the climbs, and it was quite advantageous because I got a head start on the Roche-aux-Faucons and was able to be in the select group chasing Annemiek and be there for the sprint."
All told, FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope has had a very good Classics campaign where the team as a whole has stepped up and established itself as top contenders, even as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig missed her favourite hilly classics with a Covid-19 infection, and Brown is looking forward to the summer.
"We are really confident as a team now; we are taking it in our stride to go into races as top contenders. It's super cool that we can have Marta winning two races, then I can come here and be on the podium, we can share it a little bit and use our strengths. In the Tour de France Femmes when we have Cecilie as well, we will be quite a strong team to contend with. It's exciting," the Australian finished.
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Lukas Knöfler started working in cycling communications in 2013 and has seen the inside of the scene from many angles. Having worked as press officer for teams and races and written for several online and print publications, he has been Cyclingnews’ Women’s WorldTour correspondent since 2018.