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Niewiadoma: I have no regrets on how I raced Flèche Wallonne

Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) finished second at La Flèche Wallonne (Image credit: Getty Images)

That evasive top spot on the Flèche Wallonne Feminine podium was so very close, about 150 metres away, but it proved too far for Kasia Niewiadoma on Wednesday at the top of Mur de Huy. 

An aggressive final ascent of the iconic Belgian climb had the Canyon-SRAM rider going head-to-head with World Champion Anna van der Breggen (Team SD Worx), with the Dutch rival making a final surge to take her seventh consecutive win.

In eight one-day races so far this season, Niewiadoma has five top 10s, adding a second runner-up prize to the list at the Ardennes Classic.

"I have no regrets with how I raced the Mur," Niewiadoma said on a team Twitter post after the race. "Our team did great and I was feeling confident to finish it off. I truly believed I could follow her [Van der Breggen's] last attack but then I just couldn’t. Anna’s achievement is impressive. I have to be satisfied with second, and a podium."

Van der Breggen, who confirmed her nickname as ‘Queen of the Ardennes’, had been untouchable on the Mur de Huy six times before, and the consecutive winning streak looked to be in jeopardy on Wednesday with Niewiadoma’s strong move in the closing metres. But experience and power prevailed and Van der Breggen scored her seventh consecutive title.

"There was a bit more pressure for me because the girls worked so hard already. It was a good battle with Kasia, I must say," said Van der Breggen, who confirmed this would be her final title at the race since she will retire from racing at the end of the season.

Canyon-SRAM were very aggressive in the race, as Elisa Chabbey made a move off the front with 50km to go along with Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) and Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma). Chabbey and Brand stayed away until 20km to go, with Chabbey then focusing on chasing down an attack by Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo), until she slid out in a corner and had to go back into the peloton.

Niewiadoma had been tucked in the reduced peloton all day, and when the race went under 9km to go, she was on the wheel of Demi Vollering as the duo attempted to create a gap and catch Winder. Vollering would falter on the final ascent of Mur de Huy, but Niewiadoma matched pedal strokes with Van der Breggen.

"I am happy," said Niewiadoma after the finish. "I am happy to be on the podium and yet, I wouldn't call it disappointed but of course I wanted to win so you always have those mixed feelings. But I know that Anna is the master of this climb she knows it so well and she won it for the seventh time so I guess that says it all."

Niewiadoma opted for a more patient game on Wednesday, saying she had been "sprinting to try to get to the bottom of the Mur and be right in the front" in previous years.

"I felt strong today, and I knew that no one could really drop me right at the start of the Mur. So, I kept more relaxed and as the climb went on I came next to Anna and I tried to keep calm," she said.

"At 150m to go, Anna was next to me and I was thinking I could take a gap and so I put some more pressure on. Even when she attacked me I truly believed that I could stay on her wheel. But in the end, Anna knows how to win on that climb, and I couldn't stay with her for the last metres."

Amstel Gold Race was the first of the Ardennes Classics, with Niewiadoma entering this year’s race as the defending champion from its last edition in 2019. She only had Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) on her wheel during a punishing attack on the final ascent of the Cauberg, but the duo were caught and passed with less than 400 metres to the finish. She settled for 10th, while Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) took the victory.

That day she said she felt great in her attack, but the ideal scenario of a solo charge never developed, as Longo Borghini grabbed her wheel.

"Maybe I should have attacked her after that but I was still thinking we could both make it to the finish and we go for first and second. We didn’t cooperate at all. In the end, we fought for the last position in the group that caught us and not for the top of the podium," the 27-year-old Polish rider said after Amstel Gold.

Moving from the Netherlands to Belgium on Wednesday, Niewiadoma was back at the front in another dual, and she hung on for a podium spot, a notch below Van der Breggen but one better than Longo Borghini, who was four seconds behind her for third.

"Personally, I'm happy with the way my team raced today because I felt so comfortable from the beginning of the race and that gave me the space in my head just to focus on the final," Niewiadoma added.