Anna van der Breggen will line up in an attempt to win a seventh consecutive title at La Flèche Wallonne Feminine in Belgium on Wednesday. It’s easier said than done, however, as the double world champion will face a number of contenders looking to claim the crown on the Mur de Huy.
La Flèche Wallonne Feminine is the oldest of the three Ardennes Classics, with a series only having been in place for women since 2017 when Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition made its return after a 14-year hiatus and the debut of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Van der Breggen is the only rider in the sport’s history to have won La Flèche Wallonne six times, winning every edition since 2015. The only riders to come close to her success are Marianne Vos, who won the women’s race five times (2007-09, 2011, 2013) and Alejandro Valverde, who won the men’s edition five times (2006, 2014-2017).
There have been other multiple winners in the women’s edition such as Fabiana Luperini and Nicole Cooke, but winning just once on the Mur de Huy is a feat to celebrate, and those who have secured single titles include Sonia Huguet (France), Emma Pooley (Great Britain), Hanka Kupfernagel (Germany), Geneviève Jeanson (Canada), Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (France), and Evelyn Stevens (USA).
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How the race unfolded in 2020
Who to watch
Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) is the obvious choice, as the winner of the previous six consecutive editions of La Flèche Wallonne Feminine, but can she really win it a seventh time in a row? As the reigning double world champion, who has managed to secure some of the most incredible victories in the history of cycling, the odds are still in her favour. Though let's not discount her teammate Demi Vollering, who was third last year. She is a new signing to the team this year and has been a serious contender at the Spring Classics; second at Amstel Gold Race, second at Brabantse Pijl, fifth at Tour of Flanders, and sixth at Strade Bianche. With Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio also on the team, the sky is the limit for SD Worx on the Mur de Huy.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) is so motivated to win a Women's WorldTour race we can almost feel that it could finally happen at La Flèche Wallonne Feminine. Why? She was second to Van der Breggen in last year's edition, she has a stronger support team this year with the likes of Marta Cavalli, Emilia Fahlin and Brodie Chapman, and it's her favourite race on the Women's WorldTour.
Sarah Gigante (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) is one of the strongest up-and-coming climbers in the peloton, who has only just begun her career in the top races on European soil this year. Gigante's forte might present a better range of opportunities for her at races like the Giro Rosa, but La Flèche Wallonne Feminine typically comes right down to the slopes of the Mur de Huy, where she could shine. She also has a strong team who can get her to the base of the climb in good standing for the all-out effort to the top. In fact, with the likes of Lauren Stephens and Kristen Faulkner, don't be surprised to see multiple Tibco-SVB riders in the top 10.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) have shown their pure power on short steep climbs this season. In fact, they have created several of the most decisive moves over late-race punchy climbs during the Spring Classics. Longo Borghini has won Trofeo Alfredo Binda from a long-range attack and has been part of late-race breakaways at Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race. Niewiadoma, too, has made some of the most dangerous attacks, most recently as part decisive moves at Dwars Door Vlaanderen and at Amstel Gold Race. Watch for both of these riders to light it up on the Mur de Huy.
There is no ignoring Dutch compatriots and rivals Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar). Vos is a five-time champion on the Mur de Huy. She was ever-so-slightly behind on the punchy climbs at other races, but showed impeccable race experience, timing, power and speed in the finals to win Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition. Van Vleuten has won back-to-back at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Tour of Flanders after powerful attacks on the short and steep ascents and she was third at Amstel Gold Race after what she called "a bad day".
Check in with Cyclingnews for a full list of riders to watch at the 2021 La Fleche Wallonne Feminine.
This year's race will begin in Huy and follow a 130.2 kilometre course that includes six major climbs; Côte de Thon, Côte de Groynne, Côte de Haut-Bois, Côte de Gives, Mur de Huy (first passage), Côte d'Ereffe, Côte du Chemin des Gueuses and the finale up the Mur de Huy.
The women's field will depart from the start line in Huy and race a long loop through the Wallonia region of Belgium that includes four categorised climb.
The field won't reach the first of the categorised climbs until the 54.2 kilometre mark at the Côte de Thon, they will then contest ascents Côte de Groynne at the 63.3 kilometre mark, Côte de Haut-Bois at the 68.8 kilometre mark and Côte de Gives at the 83.2 kilometre mark.
The field will then enter the local circuit at 90.7 kilometres, and contest the first passage up the Mur de Huy (98.5km). They will race along one full circuit that will take them up the final ascents; Côte d'Ereffe (111.1km) and Côte du Chemin des Gueuses (120.6km), before reaching the base of the final 1.3 kilometre climb to the finish line on the Mur de Huy.
The key climbs
- Côte de Thon (54.2km) - 1.1km at 6.9 per cent
- Côte de Groynne (63.3km) - 2.1km at 5 per cent
- Côte de Haut-Bois (68.8km) - 1.1km at 7.9 per cent
- Côte de Gives (83.2km) - 1.4km at 7.7 per cent
- Mur de Huy (98.5km, 1st passage) - 1.3km at 9.6 per cent
- Côte d'Ereffe (111.1km) - 2.1km at 5 per cent
- Côte du Chemin des Gueuses (120.6km) - 1.8km at 6.5 per cent
- Mur de Huy (130.2km) - 1.3km at 9.5 per cent, with sections as steep as 19 per cent
What to expect
Since 1998, the women's peloton has been competing in their own La Flèche Wallonne Feminine and battling for the prestigious victory on the famed Mur de Huy.
Anna van der Breggen has not only secured six victories in a row, but she has also won the race by the longest margin in its 23-year history – 16 seconds – back in the 2017 edition. It was the same year that she won all three of the Ardennes Classics.
Last year, she won the race by two seconds, which seems like such a small margin, but since the entire race typically comes down to the last 1.3 kilometres, two seconds is ample.
The race normally follows a pattern whereby there are aggressive attacks along the larger loop but a field, no matter how whittled down, usually arrives to the final circuit.
There have been a couple of occasions where late-race attacks have succeeded. For example, a late-race attack by Hanka Kupfernagel and Sonia Huguet with 6 kilometres to go, saw Huguet win the 2004 edition by nine seconds over Kupfernagel, and 18 seconds over the chase group. In 2013, the reduced field split in three before the bottom of the Mur de Huy, which saw Marianne Vos come to the line with the win ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, while Van der Breggen brought in the chase group for fourth place six seconds back.
This year's edition will see one of the strongest collective fields in the events 23-year history. There are several WorldTeams with multiple cards to play during the race and there are a handful of Continental teams that are very strong but may not want to, or have a strong enough contender, to wait for a showdown on the Mur de Huy. Watch for these teams to be aggressive in an attempt to create a winning scenario for themselves.
We could see many of the top teams, who have a contender for the win, control the race into the bottom of the final climb and go all-in for one rider on the Mur de Huy. We might also see some powerful teams with multiple strong contenders play one card earlier in the race.
If it ends up being a waiting game to the end, and the odds of that happening are pretty good according to the history books, we can always expect fireworks on the Mur de Huy.
Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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