Following the Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, the final of the three Ardennes Classics is Liège–Bastogne–Liège Femmes. The youngest of the three races, the inaugural edition was held just five years ago in 2017, and was won by Anna van der Breggen.
Taking place on the same day as the men’s race, the route reflects that of the second half of the men’s Monument, taking in many of the same climbs along its 142.1km distance through the Walloon region of southern Belgium.
This year, the sixth edition of the race takes place on Sunday 24th April. It brings to a close the spring Classics season in dramatic style, as the climbers among the peloton rise to the fore both literally and metaphorically.
Despite the name, the race distance is just over half that of the men’s Monument equivalent, and as such it begins in Bastogne and travels north to Liège, taking in seven climbs along the way.
The Ardennes climbs are longer and more arduous than the short, steep ramps of Flanders, and without any cobbles to contend with, the race is better suited to the climbers of the bunch than the Flemish one-day specialists. The frequency and difficulty of the climbs increases as the race progresses, with the bunch likely to be gradually reduced throughout the day, leaving the strongest selection to face the final.
The final few climbs offer a variety of challenges. The Col du Rosier is a long grind at 4.4km and an average gradient of 5.9%; the Côte de Desnie 1.6km shorter and punchier at 8.1%, and the Côte de La Redoute a pure slog of 2km at 8.9%.
The final climb, Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, is a short but fearsome ramp of 1.3km in length, with an average gradient of 11% that will test the legs and invite attacks from the strongest climbers among the bunch. It represents the final chance to get away, and potentially drop the faster riders to avoid a sprint.
It played out this way in 2021, with Anna van der Breggen choosing the final climb to up the tempo and tear away from a reduced peloton, bringing a group of five riders clear, and dropping Marianne Vos in the process. She launched Demi Vollering who was able to hold off Van Vleuten, Elisa Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma to take her first professional victory.
Just as in 2021, it’s likely that teams will look to their strongest climbers as leaders on the day. It’s a race that Annemiek van Vleuten loves; she has been on the podium three times in the five previous editions of the race. She last won here in 2019, launching one of her trademark long-range attacks to win solo from around 30km out. Annemiek van Vleuten at Strade Bianche (Image: CorVos/SWpix)
The Movistar rider is unlikely to be given the freedom to exact this kind of punishment again, given the increased strength and depth of the women’s peloton in 2022, and she has been frustrated in her attempts to go clear so far this season. Nevertheless she may channel this frustration and try to find a way to get away from the rest at Liège, and add her second victory.
In the absence of Lizzie Deignan, who has also won from a long-range attack in the past, taking victory in 2020’s edition, Trek-Segafredo are likely to look to the ever-consistent Elisa Longo Borghini as their best chance of victory. The Italian took an impressive win at Paris-Roubaix Femmes which proves her strong form at the moment.Demi Vollering (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
SD Worx’s Demi Vollering comes to the race as defending champion, and brings a strong team in support. Ashley Moolman Pasio is a pure climber who, in her final season of competition, would love a big win to add to her palmares. Young riders Blanka Vas and Anna Shackley will provide excellent back-up for Vollering.
Canyon-Sram’s Kasia Niewiadoma is a rider who is more than capable of winning in the Ardennes Classics if things go her way on the day. She can climb and although she’s not known for her sprinting capabilities, she has finished the race on the podium before and given the parcours and her performances so far this season, it would be a surprise not to see her make the final selection. If she times her attack right, she might be able to stay away for the win.
Marta Cavalli wins Amstel Gold Race (Image: Getty)
Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne winner, Marta Cavalli, has a fantastic chance at taking her third win of the Ardennes classics for for FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine-Futuroscope.
Outside of the main contenders, a few names jump out from the provisional start list as potential underdogs, who could mix it with the more favoured contenders: Team BikeExchange-Jayco’s Amanda Spratt, Niewiadoma’s Canyon-Sram team mate Elise Chabbey, and Mavi García of UAE Team ADQ, are all more than capable of challenging given the demands of the parcours and could be ones to watch.
Annemiek van Vleuten is having to get used to not having everything her own way this season, as the peloton expands in size and the competition level increases ever more. She is still a class act though, and you get the sense that she’s always on the cusp of launching a devastating move and reminding us all of her incredible quality. We think that she will launch just such an attack on her favourite playground, the Ardennes, to win her second Liège–Bastogne–Liège Femmes.
Cover image: Getty