One for the history books: Demi Vollering secures the Ardennes Classics hattrick with Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes victory

The SD Worx rider is the second-ever woman to secure the Ardennes hattrick, but the victory didn't come as easy as it did at Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne

The outcome that most predicted came into fruition at Liège–Bastogne–Liège Femmes, as Demi Vollering continued her annus mirabilis by defeating Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) to claim her fifth win of the season. 

In doing so, she made history by becoming only the second woman to complete the Ardennes Classics treble, following in the footsteps of her DS and former teammate Anna van der Breggen — the very rider who, in 2021, led her out in a five-up sprint to help take her first Liège–Bastogne–Liège Femmes title.

The result might have been expected, but this victory was the most complicated of Vollering’s three this week, and at several moments throughout the day it looked like the race might have been slipping her grasp. 

The first threat came from within her own team, through Marlen Reusser. When she got into a dangerous five-woman break along with Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Esmée Peperkamp (DSM) and Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma) 75km from the finish, it looked like a repeat of Paris-Roubaix Femmes might be on the cards, with an early breakaway foiling the hopes of the main favourites. With so much firepower and so many of the top teams represented, it was going to be difficult for riders in the peloton to get back into contention. 

Marlen Reusser put in a strong performance, taking third place behind Demi Vollering and Elisa Longo Borghini

On the steep slopes of La Redoute, Reusser revealed herself to be easily the strongest in the group, dropping Hendeson, then Peperkamp, and finally Spratt (Niewiadoma had dropped back earlier after a puncture) to make a solo bid for victory 35km from the line. While her climbing legs on such a tough uphill against a purist like Spratt might have been a surprise, everyone knows how powerful she is setting a tempo and riding alone, and before long she’d opened up a gap of around 45 seconds over the nearest lone chaser, Spratt, and 1-30 over the peloton.

Only when Spratt was caught by the peloton 22km from the finish, prompting her Trek-Segafredo team to join Canyon-SRAM and Jumbo-Visma in committing to the chase, did Reusser’s lead start to tumble. By the foot of the final climb of the day, Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, it was just 35 seconds, and they had her in sight again. 

Although Vollering’s personal hopes of victory were harmed by Reusser’s moves, it was still a great situation for her SD Worx team as a collective, and she was in a luxury position of being able to follow wheels without being obliged to do any work. 

Annemiek van Vleuten hasn't had the Classics season she had hoped for, and at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes the world champion came sixth overall

But on the undulating roads leading to the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, something happened that put her firmly on the back foot. The pace at the front of the peloton set by Spratt was so fast that she, her Trek-Segafredo teammates Elisa Longo Borghini and Shirin van Anrooij, and Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) broke clear from the rest of the peloton. With Reusser now within touching distance and Vollering and co now a handful of seconds adrift, Borghini sensed an opportunity, and, after two last tank-emptying turns each from Spratt and Van Anrooij, attacked on Roche-aux-Faucons with Chabbey on her wheel.

With those two riders bearing down on Reusser, SD Worx were no longer content with the race situation. This was the time for Vollering to make her move, and she accelerated viciously on the climb. Nobody was able to follow her wheel, and in just moments she’d bridged up Borghini and Chabbey. SD Worx were back in control again.

Just as this trio bore down on Reusser towards the summit, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) and Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo) bridged up to them, forming a new six-woman leading group as they crested the climb. Then on the descent, another move went clear that yet again plunged Vollering’s chances into peril.

This time Vollering herself was responsible for allowing the move to go, when she decided to get the wheels go of Reusser and Borghini. It was a selfless move in aid of teammate Reusser, but the presence of Borghini meant it was perhaps not the wisest: with Reusser having used up so much fuel in her earlier attack, Borghini was likely to be the strongest of the two should they arrive at the finish together. 

It was a close call for Demi Vollering throughout the race as she looked to win the third and final Ardennes Classic

Aware of this, Reusser refused to take any turns and left it to Borghini to do all of the work, but they nevertheless opened up a gap as the riders behind failed to get organised. Van Vleuten tried to bridge the gap herself with an attack, but Vollering stuck resolutely to her wheel. Once again this spring the world champion was lacking her best legs (she tried an attack earlier on La Redoute, but to no avail), and with Vollering and Realini each having teammates up the road, it seemed unlikely that this group would bring the leading duo back. 

Once again, Vollering took it upon herself to close the gap. On the uncategorised Boncelles climb 11km from the finish, she attacked again, and, just as she had done on Roche-aux-Faucons, managed to drop everyone else. Before the top she caught Reusser and Borghini, and was not done yet, gritting her teeth in an effort to go clear on her own. But this continued acceleration succeeded only in dropping her teammate Reusser, as Borghini dug deep to hang on over the top. 

To win Liège–Bastogne–Liège Femmes, therefore, Vollering had to do so from a two-up sprint, adding an extra complication that wasn’t required at either Amstel Gold or La Flèche Wallonne. And despite possessing a quick kick, victory from this scenario was far from a foregone conclusion, with Borghini having made improvements to her sprint in recent times.

It boiled down to a sprint finish between Demi Vollering and Elisa Longo Borghini

Vollering kept a cool head, and played her tactics perfectly in the finale. When Borghini slowed down as they entered the final kilometre, wanting to pressure Vollering to take to the front, Vollering refused to do so. She wanted the second wheel for the sprint, and (as she explained during her finish line interview) knew that she could afford risking being caught through playing cat and mouse, as she had Reusser behind to go for victory instead. Borghini reluctantly led the sprint out, accelerating inside the final 200 metres, but according to plan Vollering stormed past her to take the win.

For Borghini it was a narrowly missed opportunity to add a first Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes title to her two previous monument victories at Paris-Roubaix Femmes in 2022 and the Tour of Flanders in 2015. But for Vollering it was a victory that completes what has been a perfect week, and seals her place in the record books. 

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