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Preview: La Flèche Wallonne Féminine

Anna van der Breggen will display her new rainbow stripes and attempt a sixth-straight victory at the first of the one-day Ardennes.

Normally, the Ardennes classics wouldn’t be the first place a rider shows off a new set of rainbow stripes, but what’s normal about 2020?

As summer winds down, bike racing continues to ramp up, and on Wednesday La Flèche Wallonne Féminine promises another exciting day of racing for the women’s peloton.

What’s different about this year’s edition? Well, there’s new world champion Anna van der Breggen set to debut her rainbow stripes in Huy on Wednesday, and there’s also a slight course change at the end of the race.

The Cherave has been replaced with the Chemin des Gueuses, which means there are 10 more kilometers between the penultimate climb and the notorious Mur de Huy. We’ll likely see attacks on Chemin des Gueuses, but it’s longer and more steady climb than the Cherave.

“They changed the circuit a little bit, the run-in to the finish on the final lap is a bit different and not as hard as usual so that may open up the race for riders to be more aggressive and try to break away before the final climb,” said Mitchelton-Scott’s sport director Alejandro Gonzalez. “Usually in Flèche it always comes down to the final climb, but we will see this year.”

Nothing, however, has changed about the Huy. It’s still short and steep, averaging 9.6 percent grade with several sections steeper than 15 percent — and grades up to 26 percent on one section. The race is usually won by whoever can win the slow-motion grind to the top, and there is one rider in particular who knows the final “sprint” particularly well.

The contenders

In a media press conference on Tuesday, a journalist asked van der Breggen if she considered sitting out Wednesday’s race on account of needing a break after her dominating rides at the Giro Rosa, and two wins at worlds.

If she weren’t so polite, I think the newly-minted double world champion might have laughed.

“Not really,” van der Breggen said. “Flèche Wallonne is a race I like to race and it’s on the schedule so I already knew I was going to ride this race. I think also if you are on a team, it’s difficult to change those plans at the last moment. For me, it’s not only for myself but for my team. Of course, it’s always nice to start as the world champion.”

(The journalist wasn’t asking a bad question, though. I think we’re all feeling a bit tired for her!)

Even without the stripes, van der Breggen would have been one to watch. She has won the last five editions of the race, and if she is victorious on Wednesday, she’ll break the tie for the most Flèche Wallonne wins with fellow Dutchwoman Marianne Vos.

In terms of rest and recovery, there hasn’t been much for the women’s peloton. Unlike the much deeper men’s field, we are seeing the same women at the start lines this year. With far fewer races on the calendar, most riders are taking every opportunity they can to race.

Trek-Segafredo has shown that its riders are in top form at both the Giro Rosa, and worlds, and the team’s contenders at Flèche Wallonne have reason to go for the win. Italian Elisa Longo Borghini is just off the podium at worlds and has rocketed to the front of the peloton in nearly every race she’s started this year. 

Lizzie Deignan is racing to defend the UCI women’s WorldTour leaders’ jersey. After her impressive victories at La Course by Le Tour de France and GP de Plouay, the British rider could have more wins on the horizon in the hilly Ardennes.

Van der Breggen will not be the only Dutchwoman to watch on Wednesday. CCC-Liv’s Marianne Vos also has a sixth title at Flèche Wallonne to battle for. After three stage wins at the Giro Rosa and fourth-place finish at worlds on Saturday, the boss is on form in 2020. 

Another Dutch rider to watch is Demi Vollering. Although the Parkhotel Valkenburg rider wasn’t able to race at the Giro Rosa, it will be interesting to see if her fresher legs benefit her at Flèche Wallonne. Last year she finished fifth in Huy, and her impressive third place at La Course this year showed that the young Dutch rider is in fine form this season. 

FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig finished in the top ten at last year’s edition of Flèche Wallonne, and after her dominating performance on the punchy climbs of the Giro Rosa, she could be on track for a podium finish in Belgium.