Demi Vollering comes of age with impressive Ardennes triple
The Dutchwomen struggled with the role of leader in 2022, but she has become more comfortable with pressure and it's showing.
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With her Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory, Demi Vollering did what only one other woman had done before — win all three of the so-called Ardennes classics.
It sees her join her former teammate now sport director Anna van der Breggen as the holder of the prestigious Ardennes triple. Van der Breggen did it in 2017, the first time the women’s peloton had the opportunity to do it.
Vollering looked untouchable all week as she rode to victory in three very different ways. She soloed to the win at the Amstel Gold Race, paced herself up the Mur de Huy to win her first Flèche Wallonne, and went toe-to-toe with Elisa Longo Borghini to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège in a two-up sprint.
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Her success Sunday was in contrast with the misfortune of Tadej Pogačar, who was also in contention for the men’s triple. Pogačar crashed a third of the way into the race and broke his wrist and hand, ruling him out of action for at least a month — proof that luck also plays a part in completing the run of victories.
“This was the most difficult of the three. Especially because I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve this unique series,” Vollering said after the race. “Last night I hardly slept because I was quite nervous for this race. I really wanted to win today because I knew this was a unique opportunity to achieve the hat trick in the three hill classics.
“You don’t get the chance to do that every year. I wanted this so badly … Look, now, at Tadej Pogacar who, after his wins in the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne, was knocked out early in Liège by a crash. I definitely realize that I put in a special performance.”
Vollering’s win in Liège caps off what has been a superlative spring campaign for her and the whole SD Worx squad. Having left the spring slightly disappointed last year, the Dutch woman has hardly missed a beat this year.
Across eight days of racing, Vollering has only finished lower than second place just once, which was at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad when her teammate Lotte Kopecky soloed to the win. When she finished second at the Tour of Flanders, Kopecky was the winner on that day, too.
In truth, Vollering has only truly been beaten once this season when Silvia Persico out-gunned her in the sprint at Brabantse Pijl. The Ardennes triple certainly sets Vollering up as the rider to beat throughout the rest of the season.
A change in mentality
While she has undoubtedly made a physical step up this year, Vollering’s big week in the hills of Limburg and the Ardennes was more than just about form. It also showed the mental development that she has made across the last 12 months as a rider and a leader.
“In Liege, I definitely had the feeling that everyone wanted to gear the race to me. It’s a situation I sometimes had problems with last year, but which I have made steps in,” she said. “Of course, it does help to have this team behind me. All the girls rode super strong and also expressed full confidence in me. Then you want to get the win for them as well.”
It’s well known that Vollering is a relative newcomer to the sport compared to some of her rivals. While Longo Borghini has been riding in the pro ranks in 2011 after racing right through the junior ranks, Vollering turned pro in 2019 aged 22 after only starting to race a few years earlier.
Vollering impressed quickly with a win at the Giro dell’Emilia in her first season and 13th at the Giro d’Italia Donne. Podium finishes at La Course and Flèche Wallonne the following season, as well as a top 10 at the Tour of Flanders was enough to see her snapped up by SD Worx for the following season.
She made a smooth transition into the WorldTour and notched up the biggest win of her career so far at the 2021 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and took victory at La Course. Playing a big part in setting up those wins was her new teammate Van der Breggen, who was riding her final season as a professional.
As well as riding for Vollering, Van der Breggen’s presence in those races helped to take the pressure off her younger teammate. With teams looking to the world champion Van der Breggen, Vollering had little pressure on her shoulders.
However, that all changed last year when Van der Breggen retired and Vollering became one of the big leaders, alongside new signing Lotte Kopecky. Though Vollering had the physical talent to win most of the big classics, she admitted to VeloNews last year that she had struggled with the pressure of leadership.
Where last year the attention of the favorite title affected the way she raced last year, she embraced that position this spring.
Perhaps the best example of that is Flèche Wallonne where she put herself on the front of the bunch of the Mur de Huy and set about riding her own pace to the top, having already done the work to pull back an earlier attack. She was so focused on her own effort, she didn’t even notice the race explode behind her and only noticed the destruction as she got over the steepest ramps.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège also exemplified a new, calmer, Vollering as she allowed the race to play out in front of her and didn’t panic as multiple attacks went off the front of the bunch. There was a time when it looked like the win could go to her teammate Marlen Reusser, and she played the team game right up until the point that Reusser was about to crack, and she seamlessly replaced her in the winning attack.
Vollering takes her top form and new mentality into the Vuelta Femenina next week where she will be the overwhelming favorite for the title. Should she dominate there, she will certainly be the top favorite for the Tour de France Femmes in the summer.