For the past half decade, SD Worx had enjoyed a stranglehold on La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, with Anna van der Breggen having dominated the last five editions of the race to the Mur de Huy as well as the two beforehand.
Now retired, Van der Breggen was in the team car at Wednesday's race in her new directeur sportif role, with her team leader and compatriot Demi Vollering anointed as the team leader looking to carry the torch.
After 133km of racing across eight major climbs, including three ascents of the brutally steep Mur de Huy, the 25-year-old stepped on the podium on the Chemin des Chapelles, though in third place rather than on the top step, with SD Worx teammate Ashleigh Moolman Pasio taking fourth.
The result was Vollering's fourth podium spot of the spring, including her Brabantse Pijl victory last week. Speaking afterwards, she said that it was all that she and the team could've done.
"It was a really hard final," she told reporters after finishing. "In the beginning it was a bit of a boring race, I think. We had a group in front and Anna Shackley was there for us, so it was perfect for us. She was also really strong, so it was perfect that she stayed away.
"When the group was caught back, we tried to make it a really hard final. I think that was all we could do. The last time on the Muur was really, really hard."
Vollering, who said that she felt dizzy during the interview following her huge effort to sprint to the line on the leg-breaking double-digit gradients, added that she hadn't felt great during the race, though still managed to secure a podium spot behind Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar).
"Well, I didn't feel so good," she said. "I felt a bit sleepy the whole race. My stomach was also a bit upset, I think. I think my breakfast was still on the way.
"It was really hard, I almost passed out and I still feel like I'm dying. On the final two ascents, we really made it hard with the team, so I’m totally empty now."
After adding a Flèche podium to second places at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold Race, as well as that Brabantse Pijl victory, Vollering now has one race left of her spring Classics campaign.
She'll stay in Wallonia this weekend, leading SD Worx to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where she'll look to defend the title won against Van Vleuten last April.
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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