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How do you beat Marianne Vos? Team Jumbo-Visma’s 33 year-old rider has won just about everything in women’s cycling: the Olympics, road worlds (three times), cyclocross worlds (seven times), the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile (three times). In 2021, she’s already won two WorldTour races in Gent-Wevelgem and the Amstel Gold Race.
It takes something special to beat her, and at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, SD Worx set out to do just that with Demi Vollering.
Vollering (SD Worx) had just finished second to Vos in the Amstel Gold Race, and in that race was coming with a head of steam as Vos almost celebrated too early. The 24-year-old Dutch rider would be the protected rider on Sunday for Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, where she would have some of the strongest riders in the world working for her, including world champion Anna van der Breggen, who was just coming off of her seventh consecutive win at La Flèche Wallonne Féminine. (Pause there for a second: seven in a row. Seven wins in a row in one of the toughest one-day races in world cycling.)
Van der Breggen led the SD Worx super-domestiques alongside 2017 road world champion Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak, and current Zwift world champion Ashleigh Moolman, all riding for Vollering whose best result at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes was 3rd in 2019.
For the 2021 edition, the women raced 141km from Bastogne to Liège. I wouldn’t blame an amateur cartographer for thinking this was a sprinter’s race. The profile didn’t look too challenging to the naked eye, but a closer look revealed seven categorized climbs with steep pitches of over 10 and 15 percent. With the final kilometers having been changed in recent years, there have been more regroupings and sprints to the finish. And in this year’s edition, SD Worx would be doing everything they could to make sure that’s exactly what would happen.
Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx) kicked off the major moves about halfway through the race, creating a break of eight riders that included Tayler Wiles (Trek-Segafredo), Leah Thomas (Movistar Team), and Brodie Chapman (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope). They were caught around 50km to go, but Fisher-Black accelerated again, building up a solo advantage as the race approached one of the toughest climbs in the race, the Côte de La Redoute.
Here is a look at Vollering’s power at key moments in the race.
Vollering (SD Worx) – KM0 to the Côte de La Redoute:
- Weight (estimated): 58kg
- Time: 2:34:52
- Average Power: 165w (est. 2.8w/kg)
- Normalized Power: 219w (est. 3.8w/kg)
Moolman of SD Worx countered over the top of Fisher-Black on the Côte de La Redoute, with race favourite Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), and then Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) bridging up to the South African shortly thereafter. Vollering stayed tucked in the front of the group, saving energy while Vos attacked, but failed to bridge across to the leading trio.
In this column, I estimated Vollering’s power-to-weight ratio given the power outputs and speed of other riders in her group. On climbs as steep as we find in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, there’s hardly any drafting effect, and so riders in the same group on a climb are typically producing a power-to-weight ratio within 0.1-0.2w/kg of each other.
Vollering (SD Worx) – Côte de La Redoute:
- Time: 7:28
- Average Gradient: 8.3%
- Average Power: 318w (est. 5.5w/kg)
- Normalized Power: 339w (est. 5.9w/kg)
Moolman, Brand, and Uttrup Ludwig forged on as the chase group lost momentum in between climbs. Dropped riders made their way back into the group containing all the V’s: Vos, Vollering, Van der Breggen, and European champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar). With so few teams represented in the lead breakaway, the onus fell on Movistar, Canyon-SRAM riding for Katarzyna Niewiadoma, and Jumbo-Visma to chase.
The breakaway extended its lead going up the Côte des Forges with 25km to go, leaving just two climbs remaining before the finish in Liège. Team Jumbo-Visma took up the chase and caught the lead breakaway just before the bottom of the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons which came with 15km to go. Having sat in for the last 30-odd kilometers, van der Breggen and SD Worx went to the front and absolutely smashed it up the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons.
Instead of using a sharp acceleration to attack, van der Breggen simply set an infernal tempo from bottom to top, just like she did to win La Flèche Wallonne Féminine a few days before. SD Worx went hard enough to drop Marianne Vos and the other sprinters, but not Demi Vollering.
Vollering (SD Worx) – Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons:
- Time: 4:34
- Average Gradient: 11%
- Average Power: 362w (est. 6.3w/kg)
By the top of the climb, Vos was dropped, and only five riders remained at the head of the race: Vollering, van der Breggen, van Vleuten, Niewiadoma, and Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo). Vos and Uttrup Ludwig would catch back on before the final climb, but they immediately payed for their massive chase effort when van Vleuten attacked as soon as the road tipped up.
The unclassified climb on Boncelles would blow the race apart for the final time, with Vollering and Niewiadoma getting spat out of the front group, which was now down to van der Breggen, van Vleuten, and Longo Borghini. Vollering was pushing nearly 10w/kg on the steepest pitches of the climb, but couldn’t quite hold the wheel as the leaders began to drift away.
Vollering (SD Worx) – Boncelles:
- Time: 4:53
- Average Gradient: 5.1%
- Average Power: 299w (est. 5.2w/kg)
- Peak 2min Power: 362w (est. 6.2w/kg)
With a bit of luck on her side, Vollering got dropped with Niewiadoma, who then paced the pair back to the front group. Van der Breggen went straight to the front as soon as Vollering was back in the draft, and gave her a one-way ticket to the finish line in Liège.
Vollering got to save as much energy as possible in the draft, with her teammate pulling the lead group all the way to the finish. The chase group containing Vos never even got close, and with 1km to go, it was clear that the winner would come from the front group of five.
Vollering (SD Worx) – Saving energy from 11km to go to 1km to go:
- Time: 12:16
- Average Power: 299w (est. 2.7w/kg)
With a headwind blowing in the final few hundred meters, the winner would need to leave it late. Vollering started in fourth wheel with just Longo Borghini behind her. Van Vleuten jumped first at 200m to go and Vollering tucked neatly in her slipstream. The 24-year-old Dutch woman came out of the draft with 100m to go, and pulled ahead of everyone else, cruising to the victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes and taking the biggest win of her young career.
Vollering (SD Worx) – Final Kilometer:
- Time: 1:23
- Average Power: 307w (est. 5.3w/kg)
- Peak 30sec Power: 502w (est. 8.6w/kg)
- Peak 10sec Power: 741w (est. 12.8w/kg)
- Max Power: 851w (14.7w/kg)
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava