Anna van der Breggen is the headline rider for Boels-Dolmans at La Flèche Wallonne Feminine, having won the past two editions of the Ardennes Classic, but the team is strong enough to boast multiple options, and the Olympic champion insists the only goal is to get a win for the team.
Boels-Dolmans pulled off a one-two in the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, with Van der Breggen going solo inside the final 10 kilometres to win the race, and Lizzie Deignan winning the sprint for second from the chasing group. Deignan, who was second at Flèche in 2014, is just one of the other options for Wednesday, as Megan Guarnier, on the podium in the previous two editions, provides a strength in depth.
“For me the goal isn’t to win it for a third time,” said Van der Breggen in a team statement. “For me it’s for the team to win on Wednesday. If it's me or anyone else, I don’t really mind.
“We start from zero again. It’s going to be tough to win Flèche, but it’s good to know that we are in shape. We can start with a good feeling.”
Van der Breggen’s two victories have come on the new course, with the Cote de Cherave introduced less than six kilometres before the final dash up the famous Mur de Huy. Last year she escaped with Evelyn Stevens between the two climbs and held the American off on the Mur, while two years ago she attacked over the Cherave to bridge to the two leaders – one a teammate – before emerging as the strongest on the Mur.
“The two wins were similar,” said Van der Breggen. “It’s a hard race and the climbs at the end are steep. You always have a feeling with some climbs – these climbs I like and these climbs are more difficult for me. I really like the climbs that are in Flèche.
“It was important that they changed the course and added an extra climb at the end. If you have only the Mur, everyone is focused on one climb. Now it’s not possible with the climb that comes before. It is also steep and long and makes the race harder. For me, it’s really good. If it’s only the Mur, everybody is still fresh and more people can handle the explosive finish. Now it’s different because you have to explode two times. It’s also different tactically because fewer riders will make it to the Mur together. The Mur is a really, really steep climb and it’s always longer than you think it is. Every year when you see it again it’s always longer than it is in your mind – especially the second time.”
Boels-Dolmans for Flèche Wallonne: Karol-Ann Canuel, Lizzie Deignan, Megan Guarnier, Kasia Pawlowska, Jip van den Bos, Anna van der Breggen
Ferrand-Prevot leads Canyon-SRAM
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot will lead the Canyon-SRAM charge on Wednesday, looking to repeat her 2014 victory that holds a special place in her memory.
"For me Flèche Wallonne is the greatest classic for women," she said. "It was a race that I always wanted to win in my career, and when I won in 2014 it was my first big win at elite level. When I crossed the line I can't describe the feeling. Now I can't wait to race again on Wednesday."
Ferrand-Prevot has a quality record at the race, her victory accompanied by two further top-10 finishes. The Frenchwoman had a troubled 2016 season, plagued by injury almost throughout. After finishing eighth at Amstel on Sunday, Flèche will give her further indication as to how she has bounced back.
"The second last climb, Côte de Cherave, will be important and then of course the final time up the Mur. The Mur is really steep and hard but it's one of my favourite climbs," she added.
Alena Amialiusik provides another option for the team, while Elena Cecchini and Trixi Worrack are set to play key support roles. Tiffany Cromwell has been drafted in to replace Alexis Ryan after her Amstel crash, while Hannah Barnes replaces Lisa Brennauer.
“I really want to help our climbers Alena and Pauline. I hope I will be able to do a huge job for them. I’m really excited about that,” said Cecchini.
Canyon-SRAM for La Flèche Wallonne: Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Alena Amialusik, Elena Cecchini, Trixi Worrack, Hannah Barnes, Tiffany Cromwell.
Wiggle get behind Lichtenberg in Longo-Borghini's absence
Elisa Longo-Borghini has been forced to skip La Flèche Wallonne after falling sick the day after Amstel Gold Race, with Claudia Lichtenberg set to assume leadership for the Wiggle High5 team.
Longo-Borghini, who won Strade Bianche earlier this year, made the decisive selection on Sunday and finished fifth, but was already feeling under the weather.
“I haven’t felt super during the race and this morning I woke up sick,” she wrote in an Instagram post on Monday. “No Flèche Wallonne for me… I will be at the start line of Liege on Sunday.”
Despite being able to rely on the former podium finisher, Wiggle High5 are confident of getting a strong result from German climber Lichtenberg, with Audrey Cordon also showing her form with an active display at Amstel.
“Elisa is not there, but Audrey did super two days ago, and for sure we still have a good team,” said Lichtenberg. “We always miss Elisa a lot when she’s not there, but every race you always have to deal with different things. With my flat tyre last Sunday we also missed a lot… but these things happen. For sure she’ll be back for the next races, and we’ll just make the best of it.
“I’m really looking forward to race tomorrow,” she added “Today we did the final lap, and I really, really love this race. I’m so much looking forward to hit the Mur and to make the most possible ever pain that you felt before in your life! I’m ready for that!”
Wiggle High5 for La Flèche Wallonne: Giorgia Bronzini, Audrey Cordon-Ragot, Annette Edmondson, Emilia Fahlin, Mayuko Hagiwara, Claudia Lichtenberg
Veloconcept Women looking for opportunities with Mollebro and Neben
Veloconcept are saying that La Flèche Wallonne will be all about gaining experience in the team's debut appearance at the race, but that doesn't mean they will line up without options for the midweek event.
Camilla Møllebro of Denmark will look to stay safe until the demanding final climb of the Mur, while reigning world time trial champion Amber Neben may be another option if she finds herself in form. The 42-year-old American has landed a few top 10 results at La Flèche Wallonne over the course of her career, most recently in 2013 when she finished eighth.
“If Camilla is feeling well, then she can sit in the front till the last time up Mur de Huy, and then she has the chance to make a good result. But she needs to be in the selection if 25 riders go of the front,” said team manager Bo Handberg Madsen. “If Amber has found her racing speed and she has good legs, then the climbs are long enough for her to try something on.”
Veloconcept Women for La Flèche Wallonne: Amber Neben, Camilla Møllebro, Sara Penton, Sara Mustonen, Doris Schweizer