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A hard race on paper made even tougher by furious attacks, the inaugural women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège did not disappoint. Showing impeccable form this whole week, Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen crowned herself Queen of the Ardennes when she once again broke away from the lead group in the final kilometres of the race for a solo finish, making it an unprecedented clean sweep for the Boels-Dolmans team.
In a repeat podium, Boels-Dolmans teammate Lizzie Deignan took second and playmaker Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) rounded out the podium in third.
1. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans)
2. Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans)
3. Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling)
Finale of a full Ardennes week
The return of a women’s Amstel Gold Race and the addition of a first-ever women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège event, meant that the women’s peloton completed a full Ardennes Week alongside the men — an historic first that would lead to an historic result.
Making its return to the women’s calendar after 14 years, the women’s Amstel Gold Race was met with a lot of enthusiasm and instant prestige. The Ardennes Week opener was fast and action-packed, and with an impressive solo Anna van der Breggen successfully delivered her new Boels-Dolmans team its second Women’s WorldTour win of the season.
Three days later, at the Flèche Wallonne Femmes, Van der Breggen once again bested her 133 competitors up the infamous Mur de Huy with another solo victory, and her third straight Flèche Wallonne win.
After two dominant wins in just four days, all eyes were on Van der Breggen and Boels-Dolmans as the peloton prepared for the inaugural women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Yet main competitors Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) and Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) seemed unintimidated. Van Vleuten told us she wasn’t afraid of the Boels-Dolmans duo and Niewiadoma mentioned that she would sit down with the WM3 DS’es to discuss a plan to keep Boels-Dolmans off the win in Liège.
How it went down
Astana Women’s Team lined up on the first row at the start to lead the peloton into a one minute silence for Michele Scarponi, their teammate from the men’s team who passed away after being hit by a car while out training the day before the race. The silence was followed by a loud applause to honour the colourful character of Scarponi.
After that, it was business as usual.
The importance of this race resulted in a lightning fast opening section, with a lot of riders wanting to make the break of the day. No early breaks stuck, but at the back of the peloton several riders were getting in trouble early on in the race. Carlee Taylor (Alé Cipollini), who crashed heavily in Flèche Wallonne, got dropped together with Doris Schweizer (VeloConcept) and, surprisingly, world ITT champion Amber Neben (BePink-Cogeas) would lose touch with the main pack in the opening attacks as well. .
Moniek Tenniglo (WM3 Pro Cycling) was the first to gain a small advantage, but on her own it was going to be very difficult to stay away and she was quickly reeled back in.
One hour in and the racing was aggressive as teams launched attack after attack, shedding riders off the back.
Aude Biannic (FDJ-Futuroscope-NA) finally got a decent gap on the field after 50 kilometers of racing. When it looked like the peloton maybe let her go, Jeanne Korevaar (WM3 Pro Cycling) reacted and swiftly crossed to the front to join Biannic.
Climbs 1 and 2: La Vecquée and La Redoute
An early break was established and Korevaar and Biannic gained an advantage of almost 1’30”. However, with the first climb in sight, the peloton raised the pace again and the gap diminished. Eighty kilometres into the race, just 2.5 kilometers before the top of the first climb, the break was caught and the peloton splintered.
When the two biggest packs merged ahead of La Redoute, the most famous climb of the race, Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) took her chances and attacked.
But Cromwell got swallowed up quickly on the ascent and it was Orica-Scott’s team leader, Annemiek van Vleuten, who reached the top of the climb first. With 100 kilometres and two of the four climbs now completed, only 40 riders were left at the front.
Climbs 3 and 4: La Roche-aux-Faucons and Saint-Nicolas
In the run-in to the Côte la Roche-aux-Faucons, Roxane Knetemann (FDJ-Futuroscope-NA) attacked, giving her an 18-second advantage as she hit the foot of the climb. But this climb again proved too much for a lone leader against a peloton full of riders eager to make this a hard race and wanting this inaugural win so badly.
As we had seen in the other races this week, the decisive moment in the race was once again an attack by Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling). The young Polish champ was quickly joined by Van der Breggen, Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) –forming an promising group with all the usual suspects except for Van Vleuten.
Left out, Van Vleuten’s Orica-Scott squad took on the job of chasing. As the leading quintet hit the final climb of the day, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, the gap was 20 seconds with only 7 kilometers remaining.
Niewiadoma led the front group over the Saint-Nicolas, and while Deignan and Longo Borghini were both struggling on the climb, Deignan was able to return to the front. Longo Borghini wasn’t and was left chasing after the top, 8 seconds behind.
Three in three for Anna van der Breggen
Van Vleuten successfully bridged to Longo Borghini, making it four leaders and two chasers in the final of this race.
However, with four kilometer to go, Van der Breggen decided this was the time to go. She accelerated and gapped her companions. And off she was, on another solo to the finish.
And while Van der Breggen soloed her way up the final climb to the finish line, the chasing trio was caught by a number of other riders and a race for second ensued. Before watching their podium places slip away, Niewiadoma and Deignan attacked out of this group in the run-in to the line.
As Van der Breggen raised her arm in celebration of her unprecedented third victory in the Ardennes week, Deignan bested Niewiadoma for second place.
“It was such a tough race, and we have the advantage of being at the front with the two of us,” Van der Breggen said after the finish. “The cooperation fell through a bit at the top of Saint-Nicolas and that is where I went, since I had a little gap. It was at the top, so everyone was at their limit at that point.”
“I was aiming to be good this week, but I never expected something like this,” she adds.
“My plan had the team to race aggressive and they did really well,” Niewiadoma looked back after the race. “and teh rest was up to me. I had to attack on the climbs and create the best situation as possible. Unfortunately, for WM3 Pro Cycling, it’s third place again. But it’s still podium.”
With Women’s WorldTour leader Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) not taking to the start in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Van Vleuten is now the new leader after finishing fifth, behind Rivera’s teammate Ellen van Dijk.
“I felt that I just need that extra two or three percent to be able to go with the leaders,” said Van Vleuten on the Orica-Scott website. “I’m almost there. Kat [Garfoot] and [Amanda] Spratty did amazing work to bring back the group on the Saint-Nicolas climb, but then they attacked again before the final.”
“It’s nice to have the leaders jersey and to have raced so consistently over the WorldTour events, but it’s not the major goal of the team. We have really stepped up this year with our results throughout the spring classics campaign and I’m proud of the fact that we have been up there in every race.”
Women’s WorldTour standing after Liège-Bastogne-Liège
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) – 469
2. Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) – 429
3. Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) – 415
4. Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) – 393
5. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) – 384
Young rider classification
1. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) – 28
2. Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal) – 10
3. Alice Barnes (Drops Cycling) – 10
1. Boels-Dolmans – 1239
2. Team Sunweb – 733
3. Orica-Scott – 714
The Women’s WorldTour continues with the Tour of Chongming Island from 5-7 May.