The second of the three Ardennes Classics, La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, is steeped in history. Two years ago, the Amstel Gold Race returned from a hiatus, and organisers of Liège-Bastogne-Liège added a women's race alongside its long-running men's event, which makes the 22nd edition of the women's edition of Flèche Wallonne the more established of the three races. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) has won the last four editions, and if she can defend her title on April 24, it will not only mark a fifth victory in a row, but she will equal Marianne Vos' five career-wins on the Mur de Huy.
The reigning world road race champion isn't necessarily interested in equalling Vos' record, however, and she told Cyclingnews that it's only important for a Boels Dolmans rider to win.
"Winning a race that many times would be special, but when we start a race, it's all about winning that race, and absolutely not about me or who is going to win," Van der Breggen said. "The main thing is that I feel good before the three races, and then we'll see how the races develop and how we are going to try to win them. If we have a good team plan, then I'm happy with it, and hopefully we'll be good. I'd be happy if we won, but it doesn't really matter if it's me or a teammate. It feels really good to help a teammate to a victory like that."
Van der Breggen is the only rider to have won the 'Ardennes triple', in 2017. Last year, she won two of the three: Flèche and Liège. At Flèche, she raced to the top of the Mur ahead of runner-up Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Megan Guarnier.
This year's race is almost identical to last year's, with the only change being a minor move of the start location to the Grand-Place square in Huy. The women will race a 70km loop before reaching the final circuits where they will tackle the Ereffe-Cherave-Mur combination of climbs twice, with the finish line at the top of the second ascent of the Mur de Huy. The total distance is 118.5km, with a total of seven climbs.
Van der Breggen has targeted the Ardennes this year, and finished 13th at the Amstel Gold Race last weekend. Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) took the win ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), and Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) was third. Van der Breggen will have a strong team, with American Katie Hall, Annika Langvad, who displayed a powerful performance at Strade Bianche to claim second, and Jip van den Bos to support her.
Niewiadoma's attack over the Cauberg on Sunday, which netted her the victory at Amstel Gold, was so powerful that she can only been seen as a contender for the victory on the Mur de Huy, too. And Van Vleuten's loss – the second in two weeks after also placing second at Tour of Flanders – means that she could be out for redemption at Flèche and Liège.
Vos initially told Cyclingnews that she would only race Amstel Gold and Liège, but it seems that she has been a late addition to the CCC-Liv roster for Flèche. Vos holds a record five victories on the Mur (2007-09, 2011 and 2013), and a win on Wednesday would push her record out to six wins. She has been a favourite on the startlines of many of the Women's WorldTour Classics this spring, but a late-race puncture took her out of the running at Flanders and she was third at Amstel. Her teammate Moolman-Pasio, runner-up last year, has also had some bad luck, crashing at both Flanders and Amstel, and will want to show her true strength and potential at Flèche this week.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) returned to racing at the Amstel Gold Race at the weekend, after taking time off to have her first child, and she will also be racing Flèche and Liège. She was second to Van der Breggen in all three Ardennes races in 2017, and showed very good form at Sunday's Amstel Gold, making a cameo appearance in a late-race, solo breakaway and then finishing 19th. She will have strong teammates in Ruth Winder and Jolanda Neff.
Van Vleuten's teammate Amanda Spratt will also be a rider to watch for the win, as she, too, is targeting the Ardennes Classics, while Bigla have a podium contender in Ceclie Uttrup Ludwig, who has been close to victory with fifth at Strade Bianche and third at both the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Tour of Flanders. Movistar, meanwhile, line up with outside contenders in Mavi Garcia, Aude Biannic and Malgorzata Jasinska.
Check back at Cyclingnews for the full start list.
Cyclingnews will have a full report, results and gallery, along with related news directly following Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday.
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