On a wet and cold morning, 133 riders took on the challenging course of today’s Flèche Wallone, a route which the peloton has been competing on since 1998. This year, the race took the riders over 124km, with start and finish in the Belgian town of Huy. 45km into the race, the riders had to contend with the Côte de Warre, before entering the circuits, where they raced twice up the Côte d’Ereffe, the Côte du Chemin des Gueuses and the iconic climb up the Mur de Huy. The famed ascent is very steep, featuring an average gradient of 9.6 percent, which ramps up to 26 per cent in some sections, often resulting in a slow grind to the top.
Several riders attempted to break free, but the peloton kept them in their sights and their efforts ultimately had to remain in vain. Équipe Paula Ka rode attentively at the front of the main field and by the final 20 km, only approximately 30 riders remained, including Niamh Fisher-Black and Mikayla Harvey. Over the final 10 km, the field split even further but the two New Zealand riders kept up with the group of favourites. After a tremendous effort in the finishing straight, Mikayla finished seventh, while Niamh crossed the finish line in 12th place atop the Mur de Huy. As the best U23 rider in the race, Mikayla further approaches the top spot in the UCI’s Youth Ranking.
Mikayla expressed how she felt after the race: “I was very excited to be racing the first of the Ardennes Classics today, because these types of races really suit me. We were all prepared for a very hard race and we gave it our all. Even though we were only here with four riders, the team worked very hard for me and Niamh and brought us into a great position ahead of the finale. It came down to a tight battle between the remaining riders up the Mur de Huy, but I was determined to give it my all, and in the end, I crossed the line in seventh place. Elise did a fantastic job of helping me today, and I am also really impressed with Niamh, who despite hitting the deck earlier in the race, managed to battle it out for 12th place. After today’s performance, I’m really looking forward to our next race on Saturday.”
Team owner Thomas Campana lauded the riders’ performances after a tough day in the saddle: “Only four of our riders were able to start today, but the team rode cohesively and we were able to bring Mikayla and Niamh into the group of the last 20 riders in the lead-up to the final ascent of the Mur de Huy. They both performed exceptionally well, with Mikayla taking 7th and Niamh placing 12th in a formidable field. Mikayla was also the best U23 rider by day’s end, edging closer towards taking the lead in the UCI’s overall youth ranking. Considering the race conditions consisted of wet and slippery roads and tough conditions, I’m very proud that, even with only four riders, the team nevertheless did a fantastic job, and achieved a top-10 result. It is also becoming clear that Mikayla is truly establishing herself as a rider with incredible strength and talent, and Niamh is equally developing into yet another strong rider on the team.”