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Women’s Flèche Wallonne 2023 Race Preview

Anna van der Breggen Fleche Wallonne

Women’s Flèche Wallonne History

The women’s Flèche Wallonne, or La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, or finally in 2023 Flèche Wallonne Femmes, has a long uninterrupted history going back to 1998. As such, there’s a long list of some of the best climbers of women’s cycling on the winners list. Starting out with Italian Fabiana Luperini, who also took 5 editions of the Giro Donne (or Rosa as was), she won 3 of the first 5 years of Flèche Wallonne. Periods of dominance by one rider are common in Huy, with Nicole Cooke taking up the mantle in 2003, 2005 & 2006. Marianne Vos then won 5 editions in 7 years between 2007-2013 and then almost strangely, has never been on the podium since.

Much of the race’s recent history has been linked to Anna van der Breggen. The Dutch star won 7 times in a row between 2015 and 2021, retiring at the end of that season with an unbroken streak. Almost every edition has been won on the slopes of the Mur de Huy but Van der Breggen also holds one of the few longer solo breaks in her palmares from the 2017 editions where teammate Lizzie Deignan and she worked over rival Kasia Niewiadoma. 

With Van der Breggen gone for 2022’s race, it allowed the chance for another rider to step up in her place. Annemiek van Vleuten was widely touted after a pair of 2nd places in the AvdB-era but it was Marta Cavalli who took the honours. The Italian was in huge form after winning the Amstel Gold Race a few days before and if that streak continues, Demi Vollering will be odds-on to win here.

The Mur de Huy is the race’s legendary climb, to the point where each year the race is effectively neutralised by the looming presence of the final ascent of its steep slopes. The climb is 1.3km long at an average of 9.3% but it tops up at a staggering 26% around some of its hairpin bends. The hill sprint to the summit decides the winner of Flèche Wallonne.

Previous Winners

2022
Marta Cavalli
2021
Anna van der Breggen
2020
Anna van der Breggen

Women's Fleche Wallonne 2023 Profile

TV Coverage

Wednesday 19th April 2023

Live Eurosport/GCN
9:55-11:30 BST

Twitter: #FWwomen Or #FlecheWallonne

Startlist: FirstCycling

Women's Flèche Wallonne 2023 Contenders

She’s going to come into this year’s race as a massive favourite but it looks like Demi Vollering is finding that consistent winning touch and has the team behind her to be able to do as little as possible until the final ascent of the Mur de Huy. The way she won Amstel Gold Race this weekend is a foreboding sign, able to go up the climb but still has more to give to kick on and is going to be telling on the final metres of the Mur de Huy. She has always finished in the top-10 here with 3rd places in 2020 & 2022 her best so far.

No lower than 4th since 2017 and 3-times a runner-up in her long career is Annemiek van Vleuten. This Spring Classics campaign is turning into one to forget for the Dutch rider in her final season unless she can rescue it in the Ardennes. 4th in Strade Bianche is her best WWT result so far all season and 11th at Amstel Gold Race this weekend isn’t too encouraging, although if it doesn’t rain in Huy on Wednesday, that will help. You can’t rule her out but it’s a less certain proposition than most years. Liane Lippert is an alternative and looked quick on the Cauberg but was neutralised by the top. She’s been 7th and 8th here in the past and Movistar will have to see if Annemiek feels like the legs are back or not for who they end up leading with.

4 top-10s in the last 5 editions, including a pair of 5th places in the last 2 years means that Mavi Garcia will have a chance. I spoke of points for Moolman-Pasio but Liv Racing TeqFind can begin to breathe a lot easier with a strong result here again by their Spanish rider. She’s done ok but maybe not great so far in this Spring, with 10th at Trofeo Alfredo Binda her best result. This really is much more in her wheelhouse though and I’ll be expecting a season’s best result so far.

Marta Cavalli has the #1 bib after winning last year but at the moment it’s really difficult to see her be a contender this year. So FDJ-Suez hopes are going to be on Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig who traditionally loves a steep uphill finish. The Dane was 2nd here in 2020 and a top-10 regular. She got upgraded to 3rd at Strade Bianche but so far is having a relatively quiet season, which hints at either focusing on the Grand Tours or maybe the Ardennes this week.

Kasia Niewiadoma is her usual consistent self at the moment after a 4th at the Amstel Gold Race and 5th at the Tour of Flanders. She will always have a chance on this finish and has taken most of the finishes in the upper top-10 over her career. Indeed, she’s finished in each spot from 2nd down to 6th place at Flèche Wallonne Femmes and is just missing that top-step finish. She could do it but that winless run continues and I can only tip her for the podium.

Who Trek Segafredo is going to run with on the slopes of the Mur de Huy is going to be interesting to see. Elisa Longo Borghini has the longest history, with 6 top-10 finishes and a 3 of those being podium visits. It’s been hard to pick her current form though this Spring with a 3rd at the Tour of Flanders her only real strong result after winning the UAE Tour Women. I’d love to see what Gaia Realini could do because I suspect she could absolutely launch up the steepest sections on the Mur de Huy with a clear run. Shirin van Anrooij feels like the form rider for the team at the moment after 3rd at Amstel Gold Race this weekend, her 4th top-10 result in a row. She was 13th last year and I can see her being the team’s big threat this season. Lizzie Deignan is also worth a mention in her first race back from maternity but will surely take a little bit of time to hit her stride again. The Brit does have a pair of 2nd places in the past though.

This is very much a race for Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and her AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step team will be wanting the borderline guarantee Women’s WorldTour points to cement their standing. 4th last year, the South African made the podium in 2013 and 2018. With Demi Vollering the favourite this year, you can bet she will be determined to push her as close as possible to the line. Winning it looks like a tough ask but she will be knocking around the podium and the upper echelons of the top-10 once more.

Juliette Labous has looked in decent form so far in 2023 but is very hit-and-miss at the women’s Flèche Wallonne, a best result of 6th in 2021 her only visit to the top-10 in Huy. She was 6th recently at the Tour of Flanders but a bit further back in 18th at the weekend in Amstel Gold. I’m inclined to say that she is climbing well with a Grand Tour in mind rather than necessarily these punchier finishes.

UAE Team ADQ’s Silvia Persico has never raced Flèche Wallonne Femmes before so is going to be an interesting wildcard after winning Brabantse Pijl this season. That win made her come into Amstel Gold Race as one of the favourites but she finished 9th after not going with the true puncheurs on the Cauberg. I can see the Italian making the top-10 but there are other riders just that bit better suited to this kind of finish.

8th last year was Krista Doebel-Hickok but the American hasn’t been in quite the same form yet since her season-opening campaign in Australia. There she looked good, finishing 5th in GC at the Tour Down Under and 9th at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race but it’s been much tougher since. This is a finish that should suit so it would be nice to see her back near the front of the race again.

Just behind Doebel-Hickok at the Mur de Huy’s summier was Yara Kastelijn of Fenix-Deceuninck. 9th in her first race here is a good start and one she can potentially improve on. Much is made of the likes of Fem van Empel being able to use that cyclocross anaerobic ability and the same applies to Kastelijn too. She’s only had one top-10 so far this year, with 8th in GC at Setmana Cicilista Valenciana. She will be knocking on the door again at Flèche Wallonne Femmes.

Brit Claire Steels continues to be the most consistent points scorer on Israel-Premier Tech Roland this season with another haul at Amstel Gold Race. This finish should suit her a bit more and hopefully conditions being a bit nicer will also suit the Mallorca-based rider. There is certainly a shot for the top-10 but I might feel safer in my call by increasing that to the top-15 or so on the Mur de Huy.

Women's Flèche Wallonne 2023 Outsiders

Kim Cadzow
Kim Cadzow

The wildcard coming into this year’s women’s Flèche Wallonne is Fem van Empel. The Jumbo-Visma rider was unfortunate at Brabantse Pijl, where her 35th place finish hides a mechanical and being caught up in a crash in front of her. That removed her from the front of the race one too many times and that was that. Flèche Wallonne is the last time we’ll see her on the road for a bit as she will switch to MTB for a bit so hopefully an anaerobic blast up the Mur de Huy will suit her.

Seeing as Van Empel hasn’t made it onto the final start list, I’m going with Kim Cadzow for Jumbo Visma instead. The Kiwi is pretty much a pure climber and whilst she’s raced Brabantse Pijl, we saw her quite often at the back staying out of trouble. If the team can guide her to the front of the race going into the Mur de Huy, she has the potential to strike out and deliver a great result.

Mijntje Geurts did a great ride at Amstel Gold Race, finishing 20th in the end but holding her own at the front of the race. Just 19 years old, she might be a rider who can develop onwards and upwards from the Lotto Dstny team this season. Geurts was 28th in last year’s women’s Flèche Wallonne and should improve on that this year.

Czech Nikola Noskova has the potential to be a strong contender at Flèche Wallonne Femmes and we’ve seen what she can do on the right day with 3rd at Vuelta CV Feminas after a strong climb. She doesn’t really have a result to note from the past but that’s down to working for team leaders for the most part. Zaaf will desperately need her to help secure a strong result as more riders begin to leave due to the team’s turmoil.

Another strong climber I’ll be looking out for is Ella Harris who had an unlucky race with bike changes and more at Amstel Gold Race. She’s never raced Flèche Wallonne before so there’s a clean slate for a good result that could match her 14th from Brabantse Pijl last week.

For a longer-shot wildcard, I quite like Dilyxine Miermont of St Michel-Mavic-Auber93. The French rider’s best result of the year came at the UAE Tour’s slopes on Jebel Hafeet with 15th place. That result helped her finish just outside of the top-10 in GC with 13th place and was a strong result for a rider in their first year on a Continental team. Simone Boilard and Coralie Demay are also here for the team but Miermont is probably the team’s most natural climber.

Top 3 Prediction