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Demi Vollering returns to the scene of her first major win Sunday with a view to etching a line into the history books.
Vollering snatched a breakthrough win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes in 2021, thanks to big support by her then-teammate Anna van der Breggen.
If she wins this Sunday, she will be joining Van der Breggen — who is now her sport director — in the history books as one of just two riders to win the Ardennes triple.
“The form is really good, so of course I now hope to compete for the win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège as well,” Vollering said after storming to victory at Flèche Wallonne.
Van der Breggen became the first woman to complete the sweep in 2017 at the first opportunity. Liège-Bastogne-Liège was a new race that year while the Amstel Gold Race was revived after a 14-year hiatus.
While a few riders have won two of the three since, including Van der Breggen and Marta Cavalli last year, nobody has done it since, mostly because Van der Breggen kept hogging the win at Flèche.
Last year, Cavalli came close, only to be shunted off the top spot at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. With two wins in her pocket over the last week, Vollering is just the third rider to be in with a chance of doing the Ardennes triple.
- Demi Vollering crushes the Cauberg for first Amstel Gold Race victory
- Flèche Wallonne: Demi Vollering puts on Mur de Huy masterclass to take win
After struggling to find her feet in the new role of sole leader last spring, Vollering has taken a huge jump up for the 2023 season.
She’s won four times in seven days of racing so far this year and has only once finished lower than second — that was on her first race day of the year at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which was won by her teammate Lotte Kopecky.
Since hitting the tougher climbs of the “Ardennes Week,” Vollering has been dominant. Helped by a big performance from her team, Vollering soloed to the win at the Amstel Gold Race by eight seconds over the chasers.
Her Flèche Wallonne win was most impressive in the way that she took up a lot of the work herself on the climbs as the race broke down and then set her own pace on the Mur de Huy to blow away her rivals. The performance showed a new super-confident Vollering that is comfortable in her capabilities.
While she is the overwhelming favorite for victory Sunday, it is far easier said than done. There’s a reason that so few riders have managed the triple.
They may be all grouped together as a series of races, but Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège make for very different challenges. The shorter climbs of Amstel make it a good transition from the Flemish classics, putting the sprinter types into play where they won’t be later in the week.
Flèche Wallonne poses its own particular challenge with the Mur de Huy being the ultimate deciding factor. To win on the Mur, you need to have an explosive kick to punch clear on its brutally steep gradients, something that isn’t entirely necessary at the other races.
Meanwhile, the longer climbs of Liège-Bastogne-Liège make it a very different prospect to the other two. Add into that the descent into Liège and the long run to the line, Vollering winning is not a foregone conclusion.
Even if someone can break clear on the climbs, they will have to hold off any chase on the descent and flat.
Who can beat Vollering?
As she has all week, Vollering will start the day with a target on her back and there are a host of teams that will be looking to get one over on the SD Worx team. After some questionable tactics by some teams earlier in the spring, the peloton seems more willing to fight against the SD Worx dominance.
Trek-Segafredo has been one of the few teams prepared to go all in at almost every race, even when SD Worx has a lone leader a long way up the road. The American-registered squad showed this Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne, putting several riders up the road to try and disrupt the race.
While it didn’t work out for the win, the team still got Gaia Realini on the podium in the end. Realini will be one to watch in the team, along with Elisa Longo Borghini, and Amanda Spratt. The team has also welcomed back 2020 winner Lizzie Deignan, who will provide a wealth of experience.
FDJ-Suez also packs a big punch with Cavalli, Grace Brown, and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig on the roster for the race. Canyon-SRAM was extremely aggressive at Flèche Wallonne and boasts Kasia Niewiadoma and Ricarda Bauernfeind.
Annemiek van Vleuten has looked somewhat off her game so far this season, but the Movistar rider is still a serious threat as she looks to defend her title from last year. While she struggled on the final climb up the Mur de Huy on Wednesday, she looked better than she did a few weeks ago and she has the support of Liane Lippert, too.
AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step pairing Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Justine Ghekiere have worked well together this spring, and both are prepared to get aggressive in pursuit of success.
Vollering is far from unbeatable at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but teams and riders will have to be prepared to take on the Dutch team right to the line if they want to stop her from completing the triple.