Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) took her sixth consecutive victory in the women’s Flèche Wallonne, becoming the sole record holder ahead of CCC-Liv’s Marianne Vos with five victories. But as the world champion admitted herself, this sixth victory was the closest yet as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) pushed Van der Breggen all the way to the finish.
Interestingly, those two riders also won the last two editions of the Giro dell’Emilia, ending on the steep climb of San Luca in Bologna. Vollering won the Italian one-day race in 2019, Uttrup Ludwig replicated that success in 2020.
In the Flèche Wallonne, Vollering was the only rider who dared to launch an attack on Van der Breggen on the sleep slopes of the Mur de Huy. The 23-year-old Dutch woman took her courage in both hands with 350 metres to go and briefly opened a small gap. But soon, Van der Breggen was on her wheel again, and Uttrup Ludwig jumped on Van der Breggen’s wheel while a gap opened behind her. Vollering and Van der Breggen rode side by side for a while until the world champion launched her own sprint 150 metres from the finish line. Vollering tried to follow, but she had invested too much already and dropped back to finish third.
“I thought that I could take on Van der Breggen," Vollering said afterwards. “But the race had been tougher on me than I had in mind. Unfortunately, I had to bow my head for the champion. Now I have enough third places and hopefully I can step up a place in Liège.”
In 2019, Vollering celebrated her podium finish in Liège-Bastogne-Liège like a victory. But 17 months later, with additional Women’s WorldTour third places in La Course and the Flèche Wallonne under her belt, she wants to move higher on the podium, and soon.
Uttrup Ludwig had also collected her share of third places in races like the Trofeo Binda, Tour of Flanders, and La Course before taking one step up in the Flèche Wallonne. But the 25-year-old Dane had to work hard just to still be in contention coming onto the final kilometre as she suffered two mechanicals in the last hour of racing.
The first mechanical happened before the first ascent of the Mur de Huy at 32km from the finish, and she was quickly back in the peloton. The second mechanical struck on the plateau following the Mur when Uttrup Ludwig was part of a 30-strong front group that had formed after the climb.
“It was really hard to get back to the front the second time as there was no convoy. When I made it back, I still had time to recover before the finish, though," she looked back on the mid-race troubles.
Staying close to Van der Breggen on the run-in, Uttrup Ludwig carefully measured her effort on the Mur.
“Like the finishing climb in the Giro dell’Emilia, the Mur de Huy is very steep and long," she explained. “You cannot go too early. I had to find my own pace and wait. When Vollering attacked, I thought that it still was too early. And then Anna [van der Breggen] went with 150 metres to go. I gave everything I had to follow her and maybe go past, but she was just too good today. But I feel that I get closer and closer to her for every race we do. Who knows how it will go next time?”
Watch 2020 Flèche Wallonne highlights video below.
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