Bastogne > Liège 141.8km
The final spring classic is here, one last chance for the big hitters to go toe-to-toe. SD Worx took the spoils in Strade Bianche and Flanders, Trek-Segafredo won Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix and FDJ landed Amstel and Flèche, it shows that we no longer have one outstanding team, this season we’ve seen Trek-Segafredo and FDJ take huge steps forward. Missing from the list of winners are Movistar, with Annemiek van Vleuten cutting a rather frustrated figure in recent weeks. The scene is perfectly set for another brilliant race.
Cloudy sun and the wind will be around 15km/h.
This is where the real race will take place. The final 31km starts with La Redoute, before heading to Roche-aux-Faucons, two incredibly difficult climbs. Once over the little lump after Roche-aux-Faucons, it’s a headwind back to Liège.
As I’ve already mentioned, this season we’ve seen many battles between SD Worx, Trek-Segafredo, FDJ and Movistar, this race will likely follow the same pattern. For many years the races have been about putting pressure on van Vleuten, isolating her, and then working her over, but things are much more interesting this year.
With Trek-Segafredo and FDJ seriously upping their game, life is more complicated for SD Worx, they are having to find new ways of winning races. Their two big wins this year did follow a similar path to previous years, but in recent races their tactics haven’t worked and their finding life after van der Breggen quite hard. They’ve rotated the squad for this race, bringing Marlen Reusser back, a move that I like. The Swiss champion has been brilliant this season, okay, she might not have a win to her name, but she’s been huge for the team. She will give back up to the team leaders, Moolman and Vollering. We saw last year that Vollering is the fastest in a reduced sprint, something that gives the team a significant advantage over their rivals. This is their best hope of winning the race, but it won’t stop them from attacking as they need to slim the group down.
FDJ have been brilliant this year, Marta Cavalli has really stepped up and delivered on the biggest stage. With Grace Brown and Brodie Chapman to help, she’ll have lots of support deep into the race. They know that they won’t win from a sprint, this means we’ll see Cavalli go on the climbs and Brown will have freedom to attack on the flat, both are incredibly dangerous riders.
Trek-Segafredo might not have van Dijk, but they do have Longo Borghini, van Anrooij and Brand as serious options for this race. Despite winning Roubaix, I don’t think Longo Borghini has been at her very best yet this year, that should be a concern for all. If she manages to produce her best performance in this race, she’ll be very hard to beat, especially with Brand and van Anrooij marking the moves behind. Like FDJ, they won’t be interested in riding for a reduced sprint, Vollering is too quick.
And then we have Movistar. They impressed on Wednesday, managing to get four riders into the front group for the Mur de Huy, but van Vleuten just couldn’t distance Cavalli on the steep slopes, but they should be happy with the work of the team. In previous years we’ve seen van Vleuten lose races due to being isolated, if she has teammates, she stands a much better chance of winning. This is a race that suits her better than Flèche Wallonne, she won here in 2019 and was second last year. If she has team support after Roche-aux-Faucons, she’ll have a great chance of taking the win.
I think we’ll see a strong group go clear on La Redoute, then the big teams will start taking big chunks out of each other, until a smaller group goes clear on Roche-aux-Faucons and battles all the way to Liège. I think we’ll see a solo winner this year.
Demi Vollering – the defending champion will start the race as the favourite, thanks to her being the fastest finisher of the main contenders. She looked good on Wednesday, but just couldn’t keep pace with van Vleuten and Cavalli on the Mur de Huy. As the race doesn’t finish at the top of the Roche-aux-Faucons, it increases her chances of winning. If SD Worx have three riders in the front group after this climb it means they can ride for a sprint, just like they did last year.
Ashleigh Moolman – she’s raced five times this year, always finishing in the top 10. This is her final year as a pro, most of us would be delighted to see her taking this win, she really does deserve it. Just like last year, I think she’ll attack on La Redoute and see what happens to the other main contenders. She is the perfect rider to use as an early attacking option, but this will make it harder for her to win, especially as she’ll likely be asked to ride for Vollering in the closing stages.
Annemiek van Vleuten – she must be a little frustrated with how recent races have gone. In Flanders, Strade, and Amstel she couldn’t get rid of SD Worx, and on Wednesday when she eventually did manage to drop all of them, Cavalli nipped round her in the closing metres. I was impressed by her teammates in Flèche, if they can manage to get two or three riders to help van Vleuten in the final 30km, she has a great chance of taking the win. The climbs of La Redoute and Roche-aux-Faucons are good for her, but it’s the little kicker after Roche-aux-Faucons that suits her perfectly. When everyone else is on their limit, this is where she can put the hammer down and go solo.
Marta Cavalli – she’s had an incredible season and starts with the chance of winning all three of the Ardennes races, which is an incredible feat. She has a strong team to support her, but this is the toughest of the three for her to win. The distance from the crest of the final climb to the finish means she’s unlikely to go solo, I don’t think she has the speed to win a reduced sprint. However, due to her current form, she cannot be written off.
Grace Brown – she’s a solid second option for FDJ, if she survives the climbs. She was second here back in 2020, it’s a race that suits a bold attacker.
Elisa Longo Borghini – the winner of Paris-Roubaix and despite “having fire in her legs” managed a decent finish on the Mur de Huy. Trek-Segafredo arrive with a strong team to support the Italian champion, this is a race I expect her to do very well in. She should enjoy the climbs and isn’t scared of attacking and putting pressure on her rivals.
Liane Lippert – she’s enjoying a consistent spell in recent races, finishing 3rd in both Amstel and De Brabantse Pijl, before picking up 7th in Flèche after exploding about halfway up the Mur de Huy. This is a race she’ll expect to do well in, maybe she can benefit from the big teams looking at each other.
Anouska Koster – without Vos to ride for, she’s been looking very aggressive in recent races. Winning will be very difficult, but I hope to see her challenging for the top 10.
Katarzyna Niewiadoma – disappointed in Flèche, was that just a blip? I think it was, I expect to see her back at the front of the race and fighting with the best in this race. Winning will always be tough, it’s so difficult coming up against the big teams who all have multiple options, but she should be challenging for the podium.
It’s about time we saw Annemiek van Vleuten taking another win.