Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) has been equalled by her Dutch compatriot Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) as the queens of Flèche Wallonne, both having now won the classic on five occasions. Van der Breggen stormed to her fifth consecutive victory on Wednesday, leaving in her wake runner-up Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), teammate Annika Langvad in third and Vos in fourth.
Images of Vos laying down on the Mur de Huy, appearing to have crashed or fallen over, circulated online after the race, but CCC-Liv confirmed that she didn't crash and was otherwise in good health. Instead, Vos gave such a big effort on the final climb of the Mur to the finish line that she simply collapsed, breathless, to the pavement after crossing the line in fourth place.
"This is a tempest in a teapot," CCC-Liv's press officer told Cyclingnews after the race. "Marianne Vos didn't crash on the Mur de Huy ... the photo is taken after the final climb of the Mur, after the finish line."
Indeed, Vos played along with the image, too, after the race posting it on her Instagram account with a caption that read, "Found a good spot for an afternoon sleep today. Mur de Huy asked for it," while also congratulating Van der Breggen on her fifth victory.
CCC-Liv placed two riders in the top 10, with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio finishing seventh. Even without the victory, the team view the result as a successful edition of Flèche Wallonne. They now look ahead to Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"We just did well," said director Jeroen Blijlevens. "Everyone has given everything. Then you have to be satisfied with today's result: two places in the top 10. We hope to see this team strong again this Sunday in the next classic: Liège-Bastogne-Liège."
CCC-Liv went into the race with several contenders. Vos had won Trofeo Alfredo Binda and was third at Amstel Gold last weekend. She has won Flèche Wallonne five times (2007-09, 2011 and 2013) and so another win would have pushed her record out to six. Moolman-Pasio was runner-up last year, and though she is strong, she suffered bad luck recently with crashes at Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold. In addition, the team looked to Jeanne Korevaar as another contender.
"We would drive for Ashleigh Moolman Pasio today," Blijlevens said. "She is almost always strong here and wanted to win this competition. It was the agreement to drop her off as a team at the foot of the last climb of the Mur de Huy."
The women raced a total of 118.5km starting in Grand-Place square in Huy. They started with a 70km loop before reaching the final circuits, where they tackled the Ereffe-Cherave-Mur combination of climbs twice, with the finish line at the top of the second ascent of the Mur de Huy.
"We were also in the front when we had to sit in front as a team," Blijlevens said. "Among other things on the Côte de Warre and the first climb of the Côte d'Ereffe. There we knew that the pace could go up and a shift could take place," Blijlevens said.
Four riders launched an attack with 22km left to race: Korevaar, Elisa Balsamo (Valcar Cylance), Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo), and Olga Shekel (Astana Women's Team). They started the Côte d’Ereffe 20 seconds ahead of the peloton that had grown to around 60 riders. They held this advantage on the climb but were caught in the following descent.
"Some of us had to come along and Jeanne did an excellent job. Today she was once again of great value to the team," Blijlevens said.
Floortje Mackaij (Sunweb Women) jumped at the bottom of the Mur de Huy but was caught by the eventual winner van der Breggen, while Vos raced in for fourth place and Moolman-Pasio seventh.