'Cold' was the first word that Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) chose to describe her attempted Liège-Bastogne-Liège defence. The two-time champion could only manage 12th place on Sunday, saying that the weather conditions had got to her and she was too cold to challenge for the win.
It had been a cool week in Belgium in the lead-up to the race, but the weather conditions came to a head over the weekend with torrential downpours and single-digit temperatures. There were occasional dry spells, but it wasn't long enough for the riders to warm up, and Van der Breggen found the conditions tough going.
"I was too cold to do anything today," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews. "It was really cold. When it's dry, I don't think it’s a problem, but the rain made it cold."
Van der Breggen was still in the mix when the race came to the penultimate climb of the Côte de la Redoute. However, she couldn't respond when Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) upped the pace at the bottom of the steep climb. Once Van Vleuten had gone up the road, the chasers struggled to find a consensus to work together.
Added to the mix were some seemingly incorrect time checks, which led the group to hold off on the chase for a short while. In the end, Van Vleuten had 1:39 on the next rider by the time she reached the finish line.
"I was in a good position and the girls did really well, but I just needed time to warm up my muscles to do anything. Annemiek went really hard from the bottom to the top. She was the strongest on the climb, and she was gone," explained Van der Breggen.
"You're in a group and somebody needs to work, but then if you go full gas, you know that everyone will pass you on the next climb. But if you don't go full gas, then Annemiek was going to be gone. It was a bit of riding, then not riding. On the race radio, it said that the group with [teammates] Amy Pieters and Chantal Blaak was almost back, so we waited a bit, but it appears that it wasn't that close after all."
It was a disappointing end to what has been a fairly successful week for the road race world champion and her Boels Dolmans team. Van der Breggen defended her Flèche Wallonne title in commanding style on Wednesday, taking a record-equalling fifth victory. Her teammate Annika Langvad also scored third place at Flèche, along with a fourth at the Amstel Gold Race.
"I was really happy with that," said Van der Breggen. "We've had a good week with the team, so we can be happy."