Van der Breggen brilliant for seven in a row at Fleche Wallonne

Anna van der Breggen (SD-Worx) continued her imperious run at Fleche Wallonne, winning for the seventh time in a row as she outlasted Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) on the final climb to continue to add to her legend within the sport.

24th La Fleche Wallonne 2021 - Women Elite, Anna van der Breggen

Anna Van Der Breggen of SD Worx celebrates winning her seventh consecutive title at Fleche Wallonne Source: Getty

Van der Breggen was again the best on the steep slopes of the Mur de Huy, a climb that she has made her own over the past seven years.

She was challenged by Niewiadoma with 300 metres to go after having led almost all the way up the ascent with a relentless tempo, and then when she produced a more punchy surge, she left the Polish rider behind as she went clear to claim the victory. Van der Breggen related the difficulties of what was a tough race for her team.

"It's mostly about the Mur in the end but the race was hard from the beginning on," said van der Breggen. "The pace was really hard over all the climbs.

"I think we made some tactical mistakes in the race so we needed to chase. The team did a really good job to fix that and then in the end Demi nearly closed the gap to Ruth and that's incredible. If you make a decision like that as a young girl, it says a lot about your future. I'm really happy I could do it still and feel really good to take this win for the team."

Van der Breggen took over on the early slopes of the final climb, setting a formidable pace that saw most of the elite group blown away. She then had to answer a challenge from Niewiadoma, and the victory was a particularly hard-earned one.

"There was some more pressure for me as the girls had worked so hard already," said van der Breggen. "I had to give it all on the Mur, it was a good battle with Kasia I must say, she was really strong. I'm really happy that I could win this one."

Van der Breggen will retire at the conclusion of the 2021 season, meaning that her streak will finish at seven consecutive victories of Fleche Wallonne.

"It's a strange thought that I'm sitting here for the last time at this race,' said van der Breggen. "Next year, I won't be bothering the girls any more. I'm happy to finish it off like this, seven straight wins is incredible."

It was an active edition of Fleche Wallonne, and the early breakaway was brought back before the broadcast began. Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma), Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) and Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) pushed their way clear after the catch of the initial breakaway, pursued by SD-Worx on the front of the main bunch. 

The trio were never given much leeway and the first ascent of the Mur de Huy saw their gap reduced to just 20 seconds as a hard pace in the peloton saw riders being dropped off the back of the main group. By the top of the climb, it was just 40 riders left chasing the lead three.

Henderson was dropped as the leaders hit the early slopes of the Cote d'Erreffe, and the race ignited behind as Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD-Worx) attacked on the steep slopes, sweeping up the earlier attackers. That softened up the group though it only dropped a handful of riders and Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) who jumped clear over the top of the climb.

There were attempts to bridge by Demi Vollering (SD-Worx) and Chabbey, but those were neutralised as Winder ploughed a lone path up front, getting out to a lead of 36 seconds. A second Chabbey attack came to grief as her front wheel slipped coming round a corner and she picked herself up to await the chasers.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) set a furious pace on the Cote du Gueuses, initially jumping free, but brought to heel by Elisa Longo Borghini and the other favourites as the top riders kept up with van Vleuten's surge. Over the top of the climb there were just ten riders in touch with van Vleuten, but Winder had clung onto her lead and began to extend it again as the chase organised itself behind.

There were a few attacks from behind in the now elite group chasing down Winder, which slowed the chase as the pre-race favourites all looked at each other. That was until Demi Vollering (SD-Worx) committed to the chase to bring her team leader into contention, steadily reducing the gap to Winder from it's maximum lead of 29 seconds with five kilometres to go right down to near touching distance when she swung off on the early slopes of the Mur de Huy. 

Winder was caught soon after as van der Breggen went to the front and set a brutally hard grinding temp on the steep middle section of the climb. She stopped the thoughts of any attacks from behind with her tempo and only Niewiadoma had the legs to attempt to pull ahead with 300 metres to go. 

However, from there it was all the van der Breggen show as she launched her big attack, working her way clear of Niewiadoma and throwing her arms as she crossed the line to complete an unprecednted seventh Fleche Wallonne victory in a row. 

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5 min read
Published 21 April 2021 at 9:25pm
By SBS Cycling Central
Source: SBS