Preview: La Fléche Wallonne Femmes

Written by: Niels Goudriaan
Posted 1 month ago

The 2024 edition of La Flèche Wallonne Femmes, taking place tomorrow on Wednesday April 17th, promises another exciting chapter in the storied Ardennes Classics, with the race unfolding over a challenging 146km route from Huy to Huy in Belgium. This route is infamous for its multiple demanding climbs, culminating in the iconic Mur de Huy, a steep climb with sections reaching a gradient of up to 17%. The race will be crucial for points in the Women’s World Tour, drawing elite competitors from across the globe.

La Flèche Wallonne Femmes is part of the Women’s WorldTour since 2016 is a true test for climbers. The 2023 edition marked the race’s 26th year, underscoring its importance as the second-oldest women’s one-day classic after the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

However, the race is not just about the Mur de Huy but also involves strategic positioning and endurance over several challenging ascents, including Côte d’Ereffe and Côte de Gives, making it a true test of climbing ability and tactical acumen.

You can follow the race from the start at 13:55 CET right through to the finish around 18:00 CET with our live tracker and race updates in our app for Android or iPhone!

 

History

Since its inception in 1998, the race has been a showcase for the elite of women’s cycling. Early years were dominated by Italian cyclist Fabiana Luperini, followed by Marianne Vos, who notched five victories. The race is of course associated with Anna van der Breggen, who secured an unprecedented seven consecutive wins from 2015 to 2021, making her a legend of the event. In the post-van der Breggen era, new talents have emerged. Marta Cavalli broke the streak in 2022 with her victory. The 2023 race saw Demi Vollering, a protégé of van der Breggen and now a significant figure in women’s cycling, win atop the Mur de Huy, demonstrating her prowess in managing the demanding final climb. This year, a variety of strong climbers, including Elisa Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma, are expected to contend, making for a potentially thrilling and competitive race.

The race’s defining moments typically occur on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy, which is tackled three times. This strategic element favors riders with explosive climbing abilities. The event is part of the Ardennes Classics, which includes the Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition and Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, framing a week of high-stakes competition among the world’s best female cyclists.

 

What happened last year?

In the 2023 edition of La Flèche Wallonne Femmes, Demi Vollering delivered a spectacular performance, securing her victory on the challenging Mur de Huy. This was where Vollering made her decisive move, distancing her closest competitors on the final climb.

The race unfolded with early breakaways and several key attacks on the climbs leading up to the Mur de Huy. As the race approached its climax, Vollering showcased her strength and climbing ability by taking the lead at the base of the final ascent and maintaining it against all challenges. Her victory at La Flèche Wallonne was part of a remarkable classics season, which also saw her winning the Amstel Gold Race just days earlier.

Liane Lippert and Gaia Realini rounded out the podium, finishing just seconds behind Vollering.

 

The Parcours

La Flèche Wallonne Femmes stretches over 146 kilometers, beginning and ending in the city of Huy. This race is a showcase of the hilly terrain typical of the Ardennes region of Belgium, which is a defining characteristic of this event.

This year the route will have some changes compared to the early editions. Before the Mur de Huy, the Côte de Cherave is out of the race and that means a different approach to the final climb for the peloton.

 

Seven-time winner, and now DS for Team SD Worx- Protime, Anna Vander Breggen is not happy with the changes in the route: “That has become a lot harder this year because the Côte de Cherave has been dropped from the course. I really regret that, because that slope made the finale doubly interesting. If you didn’t want to wait until the Wall, there were options there to make the difference. Now you have a descent on a wide road towards the foot of the Mur of Huy. So it is even more likely that the pure climbers will come to the top and that an elite group on the Mur will determine who wins or loses. I myself did win the Flèche Wallonne once when we escaped with two before the Mur.”

The race kicks off in Huy and initially takes the riders on a lengthy loop that covers relatively flatter terrain before entering the hillier sections. This early part of the race is crucial for riders to find their rhythm and position well within the peloton. After the initial loop, the course introduces several categorized climbs. These include the Côte de Gives (2,1km at 5.5%), Côte du Courrière (1,4km at 7,1%) and Côte d’Evrehailles (2,6km at 5,2%), leading up to the Côte d’Ereffe (2,1km at 5%), which is particularly notable. The Côte d’Ereffe is tackled twice—once during the main loop and again as part of the final circuits. It stretches over 2.1 kilometers with an average gradient of 5%, presenting a significant challenge before the final ascents.

The race’s defining feature is the Mur de Huy, a steep climb of 1.3 kilometers, with an average of 9,6% but it’s famed for its punishing gradients that can reach up to 17%. This climb is included twice in the race’s finale. The approach to the Mur de Huy is strategic; riders must position themselves carefully as the road narrows and the gradient kicks sharply. The first pass sets the stage for the final battle, while the second ascent to the finish line is where the race is often decisively won or lost.

Riders and teams need to be tactically ready, managing their efforts across these challenging climbs. Positioning before each ascent, especially the Mur de Huy, is critical, as the narrow, steep road offers little opportunity for overtaking. Energy conservation until the final laps around Huy is also key, as the repeated climbs sap the strength of even the most seasoned climbers.

 

This route not only tests the climbing ability of the riders but also their tactical acumen and endurance, making La Flèche Wallonne Femmes a standout race in the women’s cycling calendar. For those interested in deeper insights or a more visual representation of the route, the race’s official website often provides detailed maps and profiles.

 

 

Riders to watch

Demi Vollering

Despite a somewhat subdued start to the season with only two podium finishes, Demi Vollering remains a formidable contender. Her track record in 2023 was nearly flawless, setting high expectations for this year. The Ardennes Classics present an opportunity for the Dutch Champion to reclaim her dominance and silence the media buzz about her next season contract. With her focus set on defending her Tour de France title and competing in the Paris Olympics later in the year, it’s plausible that her early-season strategy was to pace herself. A victory at La Flèche Wallonne would not only boost her morale but also reaffirm her status as one of the world’s premier climbers. Should Vollering not perform as expected, her teammates Niamh Fisher-Black and World Champion Lotte stands ready as a solid alternatives for Team SD Worx – Protime.

Elisa Longo Borghini

Lidl Trek rider Elisa Longo Borghini has been the standout rider this season, potentially overshadowing Vollering with victories at the Tour of Flanders, Brabantse Pijl, and Trofeo Binda, as well as strong finishes at Strade Bianche and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Having forgone a shot at a second Paris-Roubaix title to focus on the Ardennes, her preparation and tactical acumen make her the top favorite for La Flèche Wallonne. Her teammate Gaia Realini, last years podium finisher in Huy, is well-prepared to step up with a great back up by Amanda Spratt.

Kasia Niewiadoma

Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon//Sram has been a consistent performer across various terrains and competitions, highlighted by a nearly victorious sprint at the Tour of Flanders against Longo Borghini. Despite being disadvantaged by strategic plays from rival teams, she remains a regular top contender in major races. With a history of close finishes on the Mur de Huy, Niewiadoma enters this year’s race with a strong chance to achieve her first win at La Flèche Wallonne.

Marta Cavalli

Marta Cavalli nearly completed the Ardennes triple in 2022 with FDJ Suez, only to be outpaced by Annemiek van Vleuten at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. This season, she has been notably quiet after her injuries, opting for an extended high-altitude training camp in Tenerife, aiming to peak for the Ardennes Classics. With minimal racing days but intense preparation, Cavalli is primed for a strong performance. Supported by teammates like Évita Muzic and Jade Wiel, who have also shown promise this season, Cavalli’s team has multiple cards to play.

Sofia Bertizzolo

The UAE ADQ rider has emerged as another contender for La Flèche Wallonne Femmes, bringing a mix of youth and experience to the forefront. Known for her resilience, The Italian rider has consistently improved her performance in tough races, making her a rider to watch in this year’s FWF. Her ability to handle challenging courses and her knack for timing her efforts perfectly could see her competing for top honors alongside the established favorites.

Fem van Empel

Finally we also add Fem van Empel to the list, while newer to the elite road cycling scene compared to her counterparts, has shown remarkable potential and versatility, both on the cyclocross circuit and on the road. With a dynamic riding style and a growing prowess in climbing, van Empel could be a surprise factor in this year’s La Flèche Wallonne Femmes. Her transition from cyclocross to road racing has been impressive, demonstrating her adaptability and endurance—qualities that are essential for the steep and grueling ascents of the Ardennes. As she gains more experience, van Empel’s ability to contest in such demanding races will undoubtedly make her a rider to watch, possibly challenging the established favorites and adding an exciting dynamic to the race.

 

The weather

The weather is expected to be quite challenging. The forecast predicts an overcast day with frequent light rain showers. The temperature is anticipated to reach a high of about 7°C (44°F) and a low around 6°C (42°F) during the race times. Winds will be moderate, blowing from the west to northwest at speeds of about 19 to 29 km/h, with gusts up to approximately 60 km/h. These conditions will require riders to prepare for wet roads and significant wind resistance, which could impact race strategies and outcomes.

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