Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) claimed her fourth straight Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, but says she found this year's race harder than the previous editions. And ever the team player, the Dutchwoman was rooting for the four-woman breakaway with her teammate Megan Guarnier to go all the way.
"The final was harder this year because we had to do the second-last climb twice. And that one is just as tough as the Mur, I think. The tactics started earlier this year. I tried the first attack, and it didn't stick, and then the second one with Megan did. That was a good situation for us, we didn't have to do anything in the back, and Megan tried to save energy in the front. I hoped that the break would stick."
But the teams that had missed the break took to the front of the peloton to chase it down, most notably Cervélo Bigla with eventual runner-up Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. The break was caught at the bottom of the Mur de Huy finishing climb, and the steeply-rising last kilometre would decide the winner. Van der Breggen said she didn't go all-out right away, but tried to keep her teammate in contention.
"It's a tough climb to the finish, but it's tough for everybody. I paced it a bit, also with an eye on Megan, but Megan already had 30 kilometres on the front in her legs, and that second-last climb, so she did a great job today. Ashleigh was strong when she went today. I tried to follow her, and in the end I was happy I still had something left for the final sprint."
The Flèche Wallonne was not always a favourite of Van der Breggen, but in time the race has grown on her. "I always used to hate this race, but I've started to love it more. The Mur is not nice to do, it's a hard race, and it's painful, but I try to enjoy it. It makes for a great, exciting race, especially with the new circuit. It's really beautiful, and I think it's a race of its own kind, not comparable to any other. Winning it for the fourth time is crazy."
Today was also Van der Breggen's 28th birthday. But she and her teammates had another thing on their mind during the race, too, as Boels Dolmans team mechanic Richard Steege had suffered a heart attack in the days leading up to the race.
"It was a special week for us. Our mechanic had a heart attack, this morning we heard that he woke up in the hospital and is okay. I think that's the most important thing of this day. We thought about him a lot. And it's my birthday, so it's a crazy day."
With this in mind, it is understandable that Van der Breggen put more emphasis on the performance and atmosphere of the whole team than on her personal success. "I'm not only looking at which race I want to win next. I enjoy racing in this team so much. I'm happy that the team is still complete now. It's special to win so many races and to be in this team. But I'm not the only one in the team. The spirits are good, and I'm happy to race."
Nonetheless, when the UCI Women's WorldTour continues on Sunday with Liège-Bastogne-Liège, van der Breggen, now clad in the purple leader's jersey, will undoubtedly be one of the race favourites.
Listen to the post-race interview with Van der Breggen in the Voxwomen video below.
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