There could hardly be a better place to celebrate Anna van der Breggen’s achievements than on top of the Mur de Huy. Only three days after conquering a superb double in the 2020 UCI Road World Championships, the Dutch star dominated the 23rd edition of La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, claiming her sixth consecutive victory in the Belgian Classic. A few hours later, Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) dominated the men’s race in his first participation.
No rider has ever claimed as many victories as Van der Breggen on the mighty slopes of the Mur de Huy - Marianne Vos won five times between 2007 and 2013, and Alejandro Valverde tasted victory in the Men's race five times between 2006 and 2017. “This final is incredibly hard and it’s something that suits me,” Van der Breggen said as she highlighted the work of her Boels-Dolmans CyclingTeam teammates. “If you have a team like this, it’s nice to finish off and I like this race. So winning six times is crazy.”
“It was so hard”, Hirschi reflected after becoming only the second Swiss rider to dominate La Flèche Wallonne almost 70 years after Ferdi Kübler’s double (1951, 1952). “It’s super steep, you have to pay attention not to go too early. It’s brutal. You also have to be strong in the head to go beyond the pain. I didn’t make any mistake today. The team worked perfectly to put me in a good position and then I had the legs.”
"There is no secret on the Mur"
On this Spring Classic held in the autumn, the pelotons of the UCI WorldTour and UCI Women's WorldTour faced familiar roads. The final circuit around Huy had only changed slightly: a 32km loop to be covered twice by the women and three times by the men with the climbs up the Côte d'Ereffe, Côte du chemin des Gueuses and the traditional finish on the Mur de Huy.
The winners made their way to glory in the final lap, as is often the case at La Flèche Wallonne and as anticipated by the director of the event, Jean-Michel Monin: “There is no secret on the Mur, the strongest rider of the day always wins.”
Anna van der Breggen's rainbow jersey was shining in the 133-woman peloton riding off from Huy early in the morning. The UCI World Champion and her rivals covered 70.5km before they entered the final circuit. After a breakaway attempt from Kirstie van Haaften (Team Ciclotel), Mireia Benito (Massi-Tactic Women Team) and Marieke van Witzenburg (Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport) in the first part of the race, the pack was bunched for the first ascent of the Côte d'Ereffe.
Vollering's coup didn't succeed: the Queen of the Ardennes still reigns
As the rain started pouring on this autumnal edition of La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, Trek-Segafredo and Boels-Dolmans CyclingTeam put the race under pressure with a high pace and aggressive moves. Only 30 riders were still in a position to battle it out after the first ascent of the Mur de Huy. The front group kept reducing, down to some 20 riders at the bottom of the final climb of the day.
Anna van der Breggen's rainbow jersey quickly emerged at the front. The UCI World Champion set the pace on the steepest sections, midway through the climb. Her Dutch compatriot Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) accelerated inside the last 500m to try to overthrow the Queen of the Ardennes – only to surrender on the final slopes, as every rider has had to since Van der Breggen assumed her reign in 2015. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope) finished second ahead of Vollering.
Vansevenant - Hirschi: youngsters shine in the men’s race
Just as Van der Breggen was flying to victory in Huy, a 168-rider peloton started from Herve for the men's Flèche Wallonne. Only days after the Tour de France and the UCI Worlds, the pack was full of contenders but deprived of the very recent UCI World Champion and two-time winner of La Flèche Wallonne, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), recovering from his efforts in Imola as he prepares his first race with the rainbow jersey on his shoulders, this Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
After 117km of racing, four breakaway riders entered the final circuit with a 5’40’’ gap to the bunch: Mauri Vansevenant (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Aaron Van Poucke (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Mathijs Paasschens (WB Bingoal) and Marlon Gaillard (Total Direct Energie). Despite several attacks behind him, Vansevenant was still in the lead at the bottom of the penultimate ascent of the Côte du chemin des Gueuses, with a 45'' gap and 11km to go.
Rigoberto Uran (EF Pro Cycling) attacked, AG2R-La Mondiale drove the bunch, but Vansevenant was only caught at the bottom of the final ascent, after a crash, in which he did not appear injured, on the run-in to Huy. The big guns were then able to battle it out for victory. And the rookie Marc Hirschi went on to show that he already has the legs and the brains to master one of the most infamous climbs in pro cycling, claiming victory ahead of his predecessor as the U23 UCI World Champion, Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R-La Mondiale), and Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling).