Stand aside Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), there’s another multiple Flèche Wallonne winner in town: Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), who continued to rack up the wins on the Mur de Huy this April with her third straight win in the Ardennes Classic.
In 2015, Van der Breggen broke away in Flèche Wallonne in the final kilometers with a teammate - Roxanne Knetemann - and a rival, Annamiek Van Vleuten, and in 2017 an identical plot-line initially unfolded. Van der Breggen and Boels-Dolmans teammate Lizzie Deignan tracked down rival Katarzyna Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) after the Polishwoman attacked on the prenultimate Cote de Cherave and suddenly the race was down to three.
Unlike in 2015, though, when she dropped Van Vleuten on the Mur itself, Van der Breggen jumped away a little earlier to forge up the Mur alone and ahead of Deignan. Another difference: this time around, having won the Amstel Gold World Cup round, La Flèche Wallonne was the reigning Olympic champion’s second win in four days.
"We knew the Côte de Cherave would be the key point in the game," Van der Breggen commented afterwards. "It’s six kilometres from the finish and that’s where everything happens, year after year.
"We were able to drive hard to close down the gap on Niewiadoma, both me and Lizzie working hard together. We tried one attack, it didn’t work out, but the second time round was more successful."
Valverde insists there is an art to winning on the Mur de Huy, and Van der Breggen concurs that "it’s a very special climb. If you break away before" - as she did on Wednesday - "you have to try to push out your lead on whoever’s chasing you, but at the same time, you need to save energy, too, for the Mur. It might look simple to do that, because I’ve won there three times, but it certainly isn’t."
Van der Breggen argued that Deignan was riding so strongly the Briton, too, “could have won, too” and she said she would try her best to return the favour of the hard work Deignan did for her on Wednesday come Sunday in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
That’s even though following Philippe Gilbert’s wheel tracks from his ‘magical’ 2011 Ardennes week and taking a hat-trick of Classics wins must be appealing to Van der Breggen, too.
"It’d be just as good for a teammate to win on Sunday as if I did," Van der Breggen insisted, "and I’d love to be able to give something back to her after the last two races. For us, in any case, Liège is a big target."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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