A sensational hat-trick for Van der Breggen

news20.04.2017After the race

La Flèche Wallonne Féminine celebrated its 20th edition with a spectacular race that drove the crowd wild. European champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels–Dolmans), who had already won the two previous editions of La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, took her third consecutive victory at the summit of the legendary Mur de Huy. Van der Breggen repeated the feat of her masculine counterpart Alejandro Valverde in last year's race and Marianne Vos in 2009.  After her win last Sunday on the Amstel Gold Race, Van der Breggen will be on the start line next Sunday of the first edition of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Féminine with the possibility to do another incredible hat-trick!

A sunny start
In keeping with a fine tradition that goes back to 1998, cycling fans swarmed the top of the legendary Mur de Huy from the early hours to watch the start of the 20th Flèche Wallonne Féminine. There were more than enough to warm up the atmosphere despite the spring sun being unable to drive the mercury upwards. The 139 starters (all bar Belgium champion Kaat Hannes) got sent off with a round of applause at 10:45 am, led by Coryn Rivera, the American who has taken the early season by storm and holds first place in the UCI Women WorldTour ranking. The odds-on favourite, Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen, lurked in the heart of the peloton clad in the European champion's jersey and with two previous victories in La Flèche Wallonne Féminine under her belt. 120 kilometres and 7 climbs stood between the peloton and glory in Huy: Côte d'Éreffe (km 18 and 104), Côte d'Amay (km 76) and Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet (km 82.5) before an ascent of Côte de Cherrave (km 114.5) and the fabled Mur de Huy (km 91 and 120).

Wind and jitters
Attacks came thick and fast from the first few kilometres, but the peloton shut down every breakaway attempt. It took until the first climb of the day, Côte d'Éreffe (km 18), for the peloton to loosen the vice and the first competitors to start struggling. Katia Ragusa (BePink Cogeas) and Sofie De Vuyst (Lares-Waowdeals Women CT) powered away on the descent and were joined a few kilometres down the road by another brave duo, Allie Dragoo (Cervélo-Bigla Pro Cycling Team) and Anisha Vekemans (Ale' Cipollini). 40 kilometres after the start, the four-woman breakaway held a two-minute margin over a peloton ill at ease in the wind. Several riders were dropped and a series of falls resulted in the first competitors to call it quits, including Carlee Taylor (Ale' Cipollini) and Demmy Druyts (Sport Vlaanderen-Guill d'Or).

First time over the Mur
The gap had ballooned past 3 minutes halfway through the race, stirring the favourites' teams into organising the chase. It melted like snow under the sun, with just 42″ between the head of the race and the peloton with 50 km to go. The four breakaways were caught shortly before the first passage over the finish line and the fearsome Mur de Huy. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla Pro Cycling Team) was first over the top with 29 km to go, barely half a minute ahead of a group of about 35 girls including the favourites. The South African was brought back into the fold a few kilometres after the summit, leading the race into a new phase.

Van der Breggen gets her third star
Following the neutralisation, Marie Vilmann (Cervélo-Bigla Pro Cycling Team) and Tetyana Ryabchenko (Lensworld-Kuota) took advantage of the favourites looking at one another to launch an attack 25 km before the finish. Back in the peloton, favourites such as last year's third-placed rider Megan Guarnier and France's Pauline Ferrand-Prévot suffered on Côte d'Éreffe. Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott Women) also rolled the dice and was soon followed by Audrey Cordon Ragot (Wiggle-High5), but their attacks came to nothing. A strong trio broke away from the group at the base of Côte de Cherave, just 5 km before the line. Anna van der Breggen (Boels–Dolmans), Elizabeth Deignan (Boels–Dolmans) and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling Team) caught and overtook the leading duo just before Van der Breggen's attack at the foot of the Mur de Huy. The two-time winner put in a dominant performance on the climb to grab her third consecutive victory in La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, beating her new team-mate Lizzie Deignan by 16″ and Poland's Niewiadoma by 25″. Audrey Cordon Ragot was the best French rider with an 11th-place finish.

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