Annemiek van Vleuten ready to rip up the script at La Flèche Wallonne

The explosive effort needed to win on the Mur de Huy is not van Vleuten's specialty – and that's why she's more excited by the challenge.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

There are very few races that Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) hasn’t won during her illustrious career, but Flèche Wallonne is one of them.

Van Vleuten has twice finished second to her compatriot Anna van der Breggen atop the Mur de Huy, but can not match the explosive power of the six-time winner. The 38-year-old tends to favor longer climbs where she can ride the rest of the pack off her wheel, and the “Wall of Huy” requires another approach altogether.

Also read: Van der Breggen aim at number seven at Fleche

Van Vleuten considers herself an outside bet for the Flèche Wallonne win, which makes her task Wednesday all the more tantalizing.

“I know the [Ardennes classics] suit me the least but, for me, that’s also the challenge,” van Vleuten told VeloNews. “Actually, it makes the challenge even bigger – that it’s a race where you are not the favorite.

“We can be a bit relaxed, and we can also make a different plan. If I wait for the moment when the punchy climbers will go then I’m not going to win the race. I have maybe to get a different tactic with the team.

“The race that suits me the most is Liège, which I have won already. The climbs are a bit longer and the race is a bit longer.”

Taking on the challenge

Annemiek van Vleuten on the 2019 Fleche Wallonne podium
Annemiek van Vleuten has twice finished second at Flèche Wallonne Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Van Vleuten has doubled down on her efforts to take the Flèche Wallonne title this year, making the journey to Belgium ahead of the Ardennes week to ride the Mur de Huy and draw up an action plan for Wednesday’s finale. The Dutch woman said her decision shows just how seriously she’s taking the race.

“It is the first time that I went to train on the Mur de Huy. It’s not too far from my home, but I went especially training and did some all-out efforts there and devised some different scenarios. It says something about the challenge I see,” she said.

The other challenge for van Vleuten this week are the really early starts imposed on the riders at all three of the Ardennes races. Rolling over the start line at 8.35 a.m. has meant getting up before sunrise to get ready to race.

“It’s not my week because I hate to get up early,” van Vleuten laughed as she told VeloNews. “To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed. For Amstel I could understand because it was the only way to organize it in one day, but for Liège it doesn’t make sense for me why we start early.

“I can’t complain, every year we get a race is fine.”

The 2021 season has been one of new challenges for van Vleuten, who moved to Movistar after five years with the Mitchelton-Scott team. Despite the change, she has hardly missed a beat with wins at the Tour of Flanders and Dwars door Vlaanderen in her back pocket already.

Also read: Paterberg plays a defining role in van Vleuten’s victory at Tour of Flanders

“Maybe at the first race, I had a wake-up call at Omloop, but then it was super cool to see Emma Norsgard get second there and has got results at all the races I was not at. I could not have wished for a better start.

“I’m proud of my team and it’s super cool to see everyone getting results. We have a good momentum.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.