Fleche Wallonne sees the riders take on the Mur de Huy once more. A climb that’s so steep and hard the race is almost always decided on the last ascent of its slopes. The race has been utterly dominated by Anna van der Breggen in recent times, who is on a run of 6 straight victories in Huy. Only Marianne Vos’ 5 victories between 2007 and 2013 come close. Both riders look set to ride again here in 2021. Only 2017’s edition of Fleche Wallonne has seen a winner go clear before the Mur. That year Anna van der Breggen attacked heading into the town of Huy before the base of the slopes. Then teammate Lizzie Deignan followed the wheels of Kasia Niewiadoma as she tried to close the gap and then smoked her on the climb to finish 2nd.
The Mur de Huy is a brute of a climb. 1.3km long, it averages 9.3% – although this hides the max gradient of 26% found on the inside of one of the corners. It’s easy to see how it gets its moniker of being a wall. Le Chemin des Chappelles (Path of the Chapels) is another name for on the climb. This is in recognition of the 7 small chapels along the path of the climb. The biggest is at the summit of the Mur de Huy. The Notre Dame de la Sarte is the iconic building at the finish of the climb.
The weather for Wednesday’s race isn’t looking too bad at the moment, although admittedly also not great. There’s a chance of rain during the rain which increases as it goes on. The temperature isn’t awful at around 12-13 degrees but any rain would definitely make it uncomfortable. The wind starts off very mild at 2mph at the start of the race before ramping up a bit to 7mph by the end. The crumb of comfort is that it looks like it will blow the riders up the Mur de Huy.
2020 – Anna van der Breggen
2019 – Anna van der Breggen
2018 – Anna van der Breggen
2017 – Anna van der Breggen
2016 – Anna van der Breggen
Wednesday 21st April
10:05-11:35am BST on Eurosport 1, ES Player & GCN
Twitter Hashtag: #FWwomen
Women’s Fleche Wallonne 2021 Route
Women’s Fleche Wallonne 2021 Favourites
A.R. Monex was more visible at Amstel Gold. Their leader Arlenis Sierra missed the main move and finished 46th in the end. However, her teammate Maria Novolodskaya joined the initial big break and held on well to finish 13th. Sierra has a decent best result at Fleche Wallonne, 12th in 2019’s race. It’s Novolodskaya’s third Fleche Wallonne and her best result so far is 33rd. She’s got the potential to top-10 this race though with the short uphill finish. She’s beginning to get noticed more and more in European races.
Mavi Garcia feels like the best option for Ale BTC Ljubljana. She’s snuck into the top-10 in both 2018 and 2019 – finishing 10th in both years. The Spanish champion has begun to come into form as the season goes on. After a quiet start, she’s now finished 6th in both Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Amstel Gold Race.
Canyon SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma was unlucky at Amstel Gold. She crested the Cauberg quickest and looked set to contest the win with Elisa Longo Borghini. However, the pair disagreed on who was going to do the effort to get them to the finish ahead of the chasing pack. Niewiadoma will hope to carry that form into Wednesday’s race. She has a good history here, finishing 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd across the years.
FDJ’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is for once, the best option by far on that team for this race. She’s been steadily improving at Fleche Wallonne, peaking with last year’s 2nd place result. She’s done an almost exclusively Women’s WorldTour programme so far in 2021. It seems to be paying off with 4 top-10 results and with the best result of 3rd at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Uttrup Ludwig has got her best results in races with steep uphill races and she may be able to take Anna van der Breggen’s crown.
Marianne Vos seems on a mission to fill out the gaps in her super palmares this season. She’s taken wins at Gent Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race for the first time. The Jumbo Visma rider was once the queen of this race but has seen her record fall last season. There’s always the chance she could get back onto equal terms with Anna van der Breggen. Her record is consistent, she’s not finished outside of the top 10 at Fleche Wallonne since 2006. Her teammate Julie van de Velde is also useful. She’s been fairly quiet in 2021 so far but was 14th here in 2019.
Annemiek van Vleuten surprisingly has never won Fleche Wallonne. She’s come close though, finishing 2nd in both 2015 and 2019’s races and 4th in 2017 and 2018. The natural climber appears to lack a little of the extra punch necessary to win the Mur de Huy. She finished 3rd at Amstel Gold but didn’t look to have amazing legs, trying to attack but not being able to see those moves carry through. She’s not in bad form at all after 2 wins in Flanders but doesn’t appear to be in her imperious form of other years.
Amanda Spratt feels like the best option for Team BikeExchange and has been 5th here before in 2018. This is the first season where she’s not had Annemiek van Vleuten to work for and position well going into the Mur de Huy. Let off the leash, the uphill finish might see the best from Spratt. Her teammate Lucy Kennedy was visible at Amstel Gold Race, pushing hard on the climbs to reduce the peloton. Kennedy was 14th in last season’s Fleche Wallonne but should be chaperoning Spratt here.
SD Worx has its usual wealth of options. The Queen of the Ardennes Anna van der Breggen is an obvious favourite after winning the last 6 editions in a row. There are question marks this season though, which may see the run finish. She was sick last week and didn’t make the front group at Amstel Gold Race. It remains to be seen if that was her sacrificing that race to be in the best condition here. The heir apparent Demi Vollering had her breakout result here in 2019, finishing 5th. She improved on that with 3rd place last season for Parkhotel Valkenburg. If Van der Breggen isn’t 100%, Vollering could be the one to win here.
SD Worx’s Ashleigh Moolman pulled Vollering to 2nd place after the top of Cauberg on Sunday. She’s never finished lower than 7th at Fleche Wallonne, peaking with 2nd place in 2018. In such a packed team it’s tough to see her keeping that record against 2 favourites in the same colours.
Lauren Stephens was 15th in last season’s Fleche Wallonne for TIBCO. She’s had quite an up and down season so far in 2021 though. She made the top-10 in Gent Wevelgem and the top-20 at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Brabantse Pijl. However, she also missed the move at Amstel Gold at the weekend and was down in 68th at the Tour of Flanders. Teammate Kristen Faulkner is getting attention after being in the top-10 at Gent Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders. She was the sole TIBCO rider at the front of the race at Amstel Gold, with Faulkner finishing 15th there. It feels like she’s the more in-form rider at the moment.
Trek’s Elisa Longo Borghini got herself into the front 2 at Amstel Gold Race before deciding not to work with Kasia Niewiadoma. That guaranteed top-2 finish turned into an 8th place instead. Generally, she’s in good form though after winning Trofeo Alfredo Binda this season. She’s been on the podium twice here in 2013 and 2014 and was 5th last season. Teammate Lizzie Deignan hasn’t managed to win Fleche Wallonne but has been 2nd in 2014 and 2017. She returned to form on the Mur de Huy with 4th last season. She’s not finished in the top-10 so far in 2021 so Longo Borghini feels the better bet.
After finishing 5th in Amstel Gold and Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Soraya Paladin is the best call for Liv Racing. She’s certainly in form and the uphill finish suits her well. It’s surprising though that her best result on the Mur is only 16th in 2019. She’s in with a shout for the top-10 this season. Pauliena Rooijakkers isn’t on the startlist as of yet but on paper, this race would suit her. She dislikes riding in the peloton so suffers from not being in the best position at the base of the Mur and her best result is 29th in 2020. She’s in good form this year, finishing 10th at Brabantse Pijl and going on the attack at Amstel Gold before finishing 22nd.
Fleche Wallonne is the first time we’ve seen Rally Cycling’s Clara Koppenburg since the European Championships last August. She was in great form in 2020 and the climber should do well on the Mur de Huy. Obviously with no form guide after a long time without racing, she’s a bit of a wildcard option.
Team DSM continue to have an interesting season. Liane Lippert is on the startlist here but was a withdrawal before the start of Amstel Gold due to illness. Despite finishing 8th here in her great 2020 season, we may have to temper expectations. Coryn Rivera was 7th back in 2017 but shouldn’t be a huge favourite here this year but managed 26th at Amstel Gold as part of the second group on the road.
Women’s Fleche Wallonne 2021 Outsiders
The former duathlete Sandra Levenez had a great 2020 season, finishing 5th in the Tour de l’Ardeche. Against the Women’s WorldTour peloton, she was 26th in that year’s Fleche Wallonne too. The uphill finish of the Mur de Huy certainly suits her on paper. Her form in 2021 isn’t of note however, the best placing of 92nd at the GP Oetingen.
Ceratizit’s Erica Magnaldi has the best finish here of 20th place in 2018. She’s quietly come into some form in 2021, improving from 30th at Strade Bianche to 19th at Trofeo Alfredo Bind and 14th at Amstel Gold. The Italian is a good climber and she can be up there on the Mur. Liv Racing’s Sabrina Stultiens is another option for the team and likes the hills. Her best finish of the year was 13th at Brabantse Pijl which indicates some form. She’s done well in Fleche Wallonne before too, finishing 7th in 2018.
The Ardennes classics, and Fleche Wallonne in particular, feel tailor-made for Sarah Gigante. The Mur de Huy is almost a physical representation of the Zwift KoM. Gigante finished 2nd there to Ashleigh Moolman in the e-sports Worlds. The young climber has the potential to zip up the Mur de Huy as long as she can be in a good position at the base. She didn’t see the move go at Amstel Gold and positioning will be key in Huy. Parkhotel Valkenburg’s Julia van Bokhoven impressed at Amstel Gold by finishing 25th. This was a slight improvement on 28th at Trofeo Alfredo Binda which was already impressive. She found herself dropped by the main group before the finale but also finished well ahead of the large pack behind.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
Annemiek van Vleuten