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Demi Vollering (SD Worx) became only the second woman to win the Ardennes triple by winning her second Liège-Bastogne-Liège title.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) pushed the Dutch rider all the way, going into a two-up sprint in Liège.
The duo rode into the final kilometer together, soft-pedaling as they looked at each other, waiting for the other one to blink first. In the end, it was Longo Borghini that made her move first with less than 200 meters to go, but Vollering had the power in the sprint to take the win.
Marlen Reusser, who had spent most of the day in a breakaway of some kind, sprinted out of the bunch behind to take the third spot on the podium.
“It’s amazing, I cannot believe it. I’m so grateful for my teammates and I’m super proud,” Vollering said. “I was really happy that Elisa wanted to work with me and then in the last kilometer we really had to gamble. I knew I could gamble because I knew I had Marlen behind me, of course, and that made it a bit easier for me. I’m just really happy that I could win the sprint and take it home.
“I really wanted to win this one, especially because I had the chance to win three in a row and that’s a chance you don’t get every day so I really wanted to take this one home.”
A dangerous move
It was an early start for the peloton as the riders rolled out of Bastogne shortly after 8:30 local time.
Early on, Séverine Eraud (Cofidis) went up the road solo and got close to two minutes on the bunch before she was caught 50km into the day on the first of nine climbs. There was a short stalemate after Eraud was caught, but it didn’t last long and a group went up the road on the second ascent of the day, the Côte de Wanne.
In the move were Marlen Reusser (SD Worx), Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo), Esmée Peperkamp (Team DSM), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), and Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma). With some big names, the escape group was a very threatening one and Movistar was quick to limit the advantage.
The gap grew out to over one minute, but it started coming down as FDJ-Suez put came in to help Movistar. Five would become four soon after as Niewiadoma suffered a puncture and had to wait for a new wheel.
The pull and push between the breakaway and the peloton was not over and on the fast descent toward the Côte de la Redoute, the four remaining escapees pushed their lead up to 44 seconds. However, their lead was still tenuous with plenty of climbing to come.
Reusser drove a hard pace into the bottom of the climb, putting Henderson and Peperkamp into a bit of trouble. Spratt was the only rider able to stick with her sharp acceleration as the gradients continued to get tougher, but she was soon feeling the burn of Reusser’s blistering pace.
The Swiss rider continued to ride an unrelenting pace up the climb, growing the gap to the main bunch to over a minute again by the time she hit the top. Peperkamp would rejoin Spratt and the pair set off in chase of Reusser together.
Further down the climb, defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten upped the pace and tried to get off the front. She was unable to get away, but her acceleration stretched out the group and there were only around 15 riders remaining in the big chasing group, including pre-race favorite Demi Vollering, with another large group behind scrambling to get back before the next ascent.
As the race approached the next climb, Spratt decided to distance Peperkamp and go off after Reusser by herself. Meanwhile, the main bunch had expanded after it was caught by a group of chasers and immediately started attacking itself.
A stinging move on the Côte des Forges by Liane Lippert (Movistar) forced a small group clear before she was dropped.
Among the riders in that front split in the bunch were Van Vleuten, Vollering, Mavi Garcia, Elisa Longo Borghini, and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. Spratt was caught with 21km to go and Trek-Segafredo immediately started working but Reusser still had over a minute over the chasers.
The collective effort of the U.S. registered team started to trim the advantage of Reusser, as well as blowing apart the chase group. With 15km to go, the gap to the Swiss rider up front had dropped to 40 seconds.
Hitting the final climb, Shirin van Anrooij pulled off the front to allow Longo Borghini to attack with Elisa Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) in her wheel. Chabbey refused to work with Longo Borghini, however, as she had Niewiadoma behind. This slowed the chase slightly and allowed Vollering to bridge across the gap.
Still, the final classified climb of the Côte de la Roche-aux-Facons proved too much for Reusser’s attack and she was reeled back in by Longo Borghini, Chabbey, and Vollering, with Van Vleuten and Realini joining them.
Reusser wasn’t caught for long, and she moved clear again on the descent with Longo Borghini chasing hard to get to her. With 11km to go, Vollering saw her chance to jump the gap and joined up with the leading duo, with Reusser soon dropping back.
Behind, it was left to Van Vleuten to set the pace and try to bring back the leaders. With 10km to go, the gap was tantalizingly close at 13 seconds, but it continued to grow out and with five kilometers to go the leaders had 23 seconds.
They rode into the final kilometer together and spent much of it looking at each other. With plenty of a gap between them and the chasers, they rode slowly as they waited for the other one to blink first.
Longo Borghini went first and pulled out a small gap on Vollering, but the Dutch rider quickly overhauled the deficit to take a comfortable win. Reusser made it two SD Worx riders on the podium.
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