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For the fifth year in a row, Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) conquered the Mur de Huy climb to win Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday in Belgium.
The world champion got the better of fellow Dutchwoman and Women’s WorldTour rival Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) at the end of the 118.5km race. Former mountain bike world champion Annika Langvad (Boels-Dolmans) continued her remarkable run on the road racing circuit, finishing third on the day.
Racing was aggressive from the beginning with a number of small breakaways going up the road as the hilly route took its toll on the peloton. About halfway through the race, American Lauren Stephens (Tibco-SVB) found her way into a five-rider escape that rode with an advantage of nearly 55 seconds at one point.
With 42 kilometers to go, that group had disintegrated and the peloton caught them all to reset the race.
About 10 kilometers later, another dangerous move went up the road with four riders, including another American, Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo).
Though Winder’s move quickly built a lead of up to 45 seconds, they were caught before the final trip up the Cherave climb, about 10 kilometers from the finish in Huy.
Sunweb’s Floortje Mackaij tried to sneak off the front with three kilometers to go. But with all of the favorites still in the peloton, the race was destined to come down to the final climb up the Mur de Huy.
A crash at the bottom of the Mur disrupted the finale. Trek-Segafredo’s protected rider Elisa Longo-Borghini was caught up in that mishap, and she couldn’t contest the steep finish climb.
With one kilometer to go, Mackaij held a tenuous 15-second lead on the charging peloton. However, as the Mur de Huy ramped up, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), winner of Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, ramped up the pace along with van der Breggen, catching the lone Dutchwoman.
Van Vleuten was poised to challenge van der Breggen, but in the end, she couldn’t topple the queen of the Mur.
“I’m not an explosive rider, so for me, it’s better to do my own pace and hope that someone blows up and I was hoping to be a little bit closer in the last 200 meters,” said van Vleuten. “But I’ve learned that it’s not over until you pass the finish line, so I kept pushing all the way.”
With her victory in this 22nd edition of the race, van der Breggen equaled the record number of wins held by Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv). Vos was not far from the action, finishing fourth on the day.