Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) finished her Spring Classics campaign on a high. After three second places in a row at the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, and La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, the world time trial champion returned to her winning ways at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, taking her second victory of 2019 after the Strade Bianche.
Van Vleuten put all her eggs in one basket and attacked on the Côte de la Redoute with more than 30km to go. This was a conscious decision, she explained. "I decided today that I wanted to have it in my own hands and just go from the bottom of La Redoute. My team made it hard on the climbs before, I had a great lead-out into the climb and then I just committed. I gave everything I had, did not look back, and continued over the top. And already halfway, before the steepest part, I was alone. I thought, 'ooh, still 30km to go, but this is my chance, and I can do a time trial.'"
Despite being narrowly beaten twice in the last week, Van Vleuten did not despair. "I knew that the last of the three Ardennes suits me the best because of the longer and harder climbs. And I learned a lesson in the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne – that I have to believe in myself and my own abilities. That is why I went from the bottom. You need some guts to go when you see the sign, 2km to the top."
The race final had been changed compared to previous years, moving the finish to downtown Liège instead of the uphill drag in Ans and skipping the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. But Van Vleuten said that it was something else that was more important in changing the nature of the race: "The old finish would not have made a difference. I would still have committed to attack on La Redoute. But then I would have had to suffer on two more climbs in the final! What made the race different were the two added climbs before, the Wanne and the Brume, so we had now five hard climbs. That made a difference as it added more altitude metres in our race."
The world time trial champion finished by talking about her winter that was dominated by rehab to return to full fitness after fracturing her tibia plateau in the 2018 World Championships Road Race – just three days after winning the time trial title.
"I thought I might need the whole of 2019 to come back to my level. Then I already won in Strade Bianche, but the winter was a hard period, and emotional too. I became world champion, and three days later, instead of celebrating the title and my best year ever and enjoying the off-season, I had to focus on rehab. I went to physiotherapy six times a week. It was not easy, but I had good support, and to now have had a spring campaign like this is unbelievable. It is a nice present after a hard period."
With the Spring Classics now over, the UCI Women's WorldTour turns to stage racing. The next race in the series will be the three-day Tour of Chongming Island in China on May 9-11.