Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
With 35 km to go and nearly a two and a half minute advantage on the peloton containing all of the pre-race favourites, it looked like the winner of La Flèche Wallonne would come from the climber-heavy breakaway. That is until FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope’s Brodie Chapman and Evita Muzic started to chase.
The two brought the gap down from over a minute to just 19 seconds in a matter of 10 km, making it possible for their team leader Marta Cavalli to comfortably follow Annemiek van Vleuten into the final 1.7 km and come around the former world champion to win atop the Mur de Huy.
“For me, it’s a big satisfaction, but also for my team because today we had a really good feeling in the race,” Cavalli said at the finish. “We spoke a lot together, they protected me in the dangerous moments in the more open and windy areas before the Côte de Cherave, and they rode to catch the breakaway that we missed. It’s a big thanks to my team.”
🤗 Joli moment d’émotion pendant l’interview de @marta_cavalli98 !— La Flèche Wallonne (@flechewallonne) April 20, 2022
Pour ceux qui douteraient que le cyclisme est un sport d’équipe. 😍
🤗 For all those who didn’t know cycling was a team sport😍#FWwomen pic.twitter.com/bibBfqX2Ux
It’s safe to say we are all Brodie Chapman after Cavalli’s performance.
Round 1: Teamwork makes the dream work
A fifteen rider move containing Elise Chabbey, who recently finished fourth at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, broke away from the peloton with just over 40 km remaining in the race. Many of the top teams were represented, like Trek-Segafredo with Leah Thomas, Chabbey and Alena Amialiusik of Canyon-SRAM, Anna Shackley from SD Worx, Jelena Eric of Movistar, and Amanda Spratt for BikeExchange-Jayco.
“Unfortunately, we missed the breakaway that had some really strong riders in it,” Chapman said after the race. “One of our riders had a mechanical just before the climb where it happened so we were caught a bit off guard. When the break started to look a bit concerning it was my job to ride until I died to bring the gap down, which turns out I successfully did, with the help of Evita.”
Chapman and the young French national champion jumped on the front with just under 20 km to go. Once the Australian started setting the pace the advantage to the peloton plummeted.
Round 2: Van Vleuten tries her hand on the Mur de Huy
Once her team had brought the breakaway within ten seconds, all Cavalli had to do was be patient. Let the other big names tire each other out, and wait for her moment.
On and after the penultimate climb SD Worx sent out attacks with Demi Vollering, Niamh Fisher-Black and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio but with three Movistar riders in the chasing group Cavalli didn’t have any obligation to touch the wind.
As the race approached the Mur de Huy, Cavalli could be seen following the wheel of Van Vleuten and sitting comfortably behind a few reliable riders like her fellow countrywoman Elisa Longo Borghini.
As the out-and-out favorite to win the pressure was on Van Vleuten on the Mur de Huy and her team did the bulk of the work into the base. Once the race finally hit the climb for the final time Van Vleuten successfully got rid of all of her competition…but she couldn’t drop Cavalli.
“It’s not easy on the Mur de Huy because it’s so steep,” Cavalli said.
Round 3: Patience is a virtue
We saw at the Amstel Gold Race that Cavalli knows how to time a move, and on Wednesday she proved once again that timing is one of her biggest assets.
With 19% gradients, the final 300 meters of the Mur de Huy goes by about as fast as a root canal. As Van Vleuten fought her way up the climb Cavalli looked like she was on a Sunday coffee ride on the former world champions wheel.
There wasn’t another competitor remotely close to the two, and given how well Cavalli was riding she would have been forgiven for launching her final effort too early. But the 24-year old waited. She waited until the final 75 meters when the road finally eases up to come around Van Vleuten, and once she had the race was over.
“On the first part, you have to be quiet, because it’s just 900m but it’s more than four minutes of effort. Then I stayed in the wheel of Annemiek, and I waited until the last meters because I knew it was a little bit flatter and better than if you arrive with hard legs and after already a big effort.”
Cavalli had enough space between herself and Van Vleuten to look over her shoulder and double-check she had indeed just become the new Queen of the Mur de Huy.
“It’s incredible, after Amstel and Roubaix I can’t believe that today I had good legs,” Cavalli said. “It’s not easy with Annemiek, because everybody knows how strong she is. So, to be able to attack her in the last 100m and win this race is for me the best emotion because we worked a lot and it’s deserved.”
Cycling is indeed a team sport
Cavalli’s victory marks a new age in women’s cycling. One where just because the race ends in a climb, it doesn’t mean that Van Vleuten is guarenteed the win.
With 30 km to go it didn’t look likely that Cavalli would finsih the day on the top step, but FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope was all in for the Italian.
“And Marta finished it off for us because we had 100% trust in her form and determination and tactics,” Chapman said. “We’re super stoked to win Flèche Wallonne, it’s incredible, and she’s in such good form at the moment.”
“She’s a smart rider, she’s very professional, to see her win this race on one of the hardest climbs is such a good feeling and it repays all the hard work.”
According to the Australian it wasn’t just her effort to bring the breakaway within catching distance. “At the start of the race Stine [Borgli] and Eugénie [Duval] were on patrol and making sure nothing dangerous got away early on. We were caught behind a crash at one point and Jade [Wiel] did an incredible job getting us back on just before the Côte de Cherave, which is a really important point, so the whole team really worked for this victory.”
“Everybody should be really proud of how they rode,” Chapman said. “That’s what wins races, it’s teamwork. At this level, there has to be teamwork to win races.”