Anna van der Breggen has won seven years in a row on the Mur de Huy.
Seven! Just let that sink in for a moment.
No rider has ever done that before. Marianne Vos and Alejandro Valverde are the only ones to have even got close to her with five wins each, though neither did so as an entirely consecutive and unbroken run.
When van der Breggen won her first Flèche Wallonne in 2015, Barack Obama was still in the White House, the seventh movie in the “Fast & Furious” franchise had just been released, and “See you again” by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth had just bumped “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars off the top of the charts.
It is hard to understate just how big her achievement is, particularly when you consider the huge development that women’s cycling has seen in recent years. The competition van der Breggen has faced has gotten much tougher yet nobody could unseat the world champion.
She will now head into retirement at the end of 2021 with an unbroken run that is unlikely to be beaten by any rider, male or female, any time soon if ever.
If van der Breggen decided to continue into next season it would be hard to imagine her not adding an eighth Flèche Wallonne title, such is her dominance.
Prior to this year’s race, van der Breggen was asked by journalists what her secret was to winning on the Mur de Huy.
“There is no clear answer because everyone is different,” she said. “You should know what’s the best for yourself.”
The “wall of Huy” is a climb that can lull even the best of riders into taking reckless decisions that will ultimately come to bite you in the behind, as Primož Roglič discovered Wednesday.
Van der Breggen’s dominance on the Mur de Huy has not happened by accident or coincidence. She has an impeccable knowledge of the climb and her own physical capabilities.
What is most impressive about van der Breggen’s ascent to become the “Queen of the Huy” is that her victories have come in different forms. She has done it from a big group, from a small group, and all one her lonesome.
With this year her final season as a professional rider, her victory marks the end of an era. So let’s take a look back at some of the highlights van der Breggen has given us over the last seven years with three of her best.
2016 – From the breakaway
It’s rare that a breakaway takes the win at Flèche Wallonne but van der Breggen has mastered that art and did it to win her second title in 2016.
Van der Breggen, who was riding for Rabo-Liv at the time, came into the race after a solid spring campaign but with no major victories.
She used the new climb of the Côte de Cherave, which was just over five kilometres from the finish line at the Mur de Huy, to launch her move. She had been in a group of seven riders, which was all that remained of the bunch after an aggressive day of racing.
Given her victory the previous year, van der Breggen could have waited to make her attack in Huy but she was not interested in hanging about. Only Evelyn Stevens of Boels Dolmans could match the blistering pace of the Dutch rider on the Charave.
The duo built up a lead of 20 seconds by the foot of the Mur. Perhaps on any other day, that would have been considered a marginal advantage likely to disappear on the upper slopes of the steep climb.
However, with van der Breggen at the helm it was more than enough. It was all Stevens could do to cling on to the wheel of the defending champion as she accelerated inside the final 100 meters.
Such was the pace of her attack, she had put eight seconds into Stevens by the time she hit the line.
2017 – The hat-trick
Van der Breggen’s hat-trick of Flèche Wallonne victories was made all the more impressive by her sheer dominance at that year’s Ardennes races.
With the addition of the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège to the calendar, 2017 was the first year the women’s peloton had a full complement of Ardennes classics.
Clad in the colors of the European champion, van der Breggen had destroyed the rest of the peloton at the Amstel Gold Race three days before, winning by 55 seconds over her Boels Dolmans teammate Lizzie Deignan, and went into Flèche Wallonne as the overwhelming favorite.
As it had done the previous year, the race winning move went clear on the Côte de Cherave. This time it was Kasia Niewiadoma who forced the split, taking Deignan with her before van der Breggen bridged across.
The trio didn’t work together for very long and Boels Dolmans used their numbers to get one over on Niewiadoma. Van der Breggen attacked on the flat run alongside the River Meuse with Deignan marking the Polish champion behind.
Van der Breggen had five seconds on the pair by the time she reached the bottom of the Mur de Huy. Now in her own uncomfortable comfort zone, van der Breggen set about doing what she did best.
By the time she reached the finish line, her advantage had grown to 16 seconds over her teammate and 25 over Niewiadoma.
2021 – The magnificent seventh
Though it might not have been as flashy as some of her others, van der Breggen’s victory Wednesday might be the most impressive of her seven Flèche Wallonne titles. The challenge seemed tougher than ever, but still she dominated the Mur de Huy.
After suffering with illness, van der Breggen had looked out of sorts as she struggled at the Amstel Gold Race. While she was still considered a favorite (how could she not be as a six-time champion?), focus was turning to her on-form teammate Demi Vollering as a contender for her crown.
Van der Breggen and Vollering made the cut when Annemiek van Vleuten blew the race apart on the penultimate climb. However, the SD Worx team had to make a difficult decision to sacrifice Vollering in order to bring back a dangerous attack from Trek-Segafredo’s Ruth Winder.
It was clear from the call that we needn’t have worried as the world champion was back to her usual self. Van der Breggen is not a selfish rider and would have done the work for Vollering if she hadn’t felt up to the task of victory herself.
Having won the race six times before, she knew exactly what needed to be done to secure the seventh. It was like watching a poker match on wheels as she and Niewiadoma rode shoulder to shoulder around the final bends.
For one final time, van der Breggen made her move at the perfect moment to retain her crown as the undisputed “Queen of the Huy”.
As Carly Simon once sang, “nobody does it better.”
Race Report #FWWomen
"This was the most difficult win out of 7. It was a good battle with Kasia! I’m really happy to end up like this. Seven straight wins. It’s incredible!” – 🗣️ @AnnavdBreggen
— Team SD Worx (@teamsdworx) April 21, 2021