Anna van der Breggen has had a stranglehold on the Flèche Wallonne title for half a decade now, but Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) came closer than she ever has to unseating her compatriot at the top of the Mur de Huy.
Van Vleuten came from a long way back to close the gap to Van der Breggen on the steep climb, overhauling a number of struggling riders along the way. She managed to reduce her deficit to just one second as she crossed the line for second place – just her second visit to the podium at the race. Just beyond the finish line, Van Vleuten said that she just needed a small bit more to shut the gap completely and promised to be back again next year to fight for the win.
"[I need to be] one or two per cent better and I'm getting better every year and next year I will be back," Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews. "I learned that it's not over until you pass the finish line. You never know. I know it's a tricky final 200 metres and you can come very close."
Speaking after just getting off the bike, Van Vleuten expressed her frustration at not being able to close the gap but later said that it was hard to be disappointed with how things had turned out. “It is the first time that I have finished like this on the Mur de Huy so I can't be disappointed."
Mitchelton-Scott went into the race with two options in Van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt, and played different tactics with their two cards. Spratt was to go early and cover the late attacks, while Van Vleuten just had to remain calm in the bunch and hope that it would all come back together.
As expected, the race did come together for the final ascent of the Mur de Huy with the major favourites all together. Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) began the attacks on the steeper sections, with many more following suit. A rider more suited to the longer uphill efforts, Van Vleuten chose not to make an attack and use her power to try and bring herself back up.
"[Spratt] had the chance to be in the breakaway and that was the better chance for her to be in a smaller breakaway, so she was more aggressive and I was to take it way more easy compared to Amstel and save myself for the finish," said Van Vleuten. "Thanks to Amanda Spratt and Lucy Kennedy, I didn't have to do anything before the final climb. Spratty did a good lead out to make it hard from the bottom, so she sacrificed herself completely for me.
"Then, Ashleigh Moolman attacked like she did on the Cauberg [at Amstel Gold Race] but I already thought beforehand that if someone was so explosive then I would take it easy and drag it back at my own pace. It is better to have one speed there because I’m not that explosive. Later on, I saw that Ashleigh Moolman is blowing and then Marianne (Vos) was blowing. I'm not as explosive as they are so it is better to have my own pace and then hope that someone will die. I was hoping in the last 200 metres to be a little bit closer."