The third oldest one-day race on the women’s racing calendar, La Flèche Wallonne Féminine will this year celebrate a quarter of century, as the race held on Wednesday 20th April will be the 25th edition.
A race which favours the climbers among the bunch over the sprinters, the hilly route through Belgium’s southern Ardennes region features numerous tough ascents, including the notoriously tough Mur de Huy, which will be tackled three times for the first time ever in the women’s race.
The peloton will depart from the town of Huy, which serves as both the starting and finishing point of the race, to head out on a 133.4km ride through the Ardennes. The route heads south-east out of Huy to complete a large loop that comprises almost the entire first half of the race. Whilst there are no named climbs along this first 65km, the parcours is characteristically undulating.
With the larger loop of the local area complete, the peloton will begin three loops of the Huy circuit. This 21km round trip traverses three climbs: the Côte de Cherave is 1.3km long at an average of 8.1% and will be climbed three times. The third of the climbs, the Côte d’Ereffe is longer, at 2.1km long, but with a lesser average gradient of 5%. It will be tackled twice.
The second climb on the finishing circuit is the formidable Mur de Huy. One of the most fiendish ascents on the one-day racing scene, the ‘Wall’ of Huy will feel like exactly that with a day of racing in the legs: a wall. 1.3km long and averaging 9.6%, the climb features punishing sections of up to 19%.
For the first time in 2022, the women will complete three ascents of the Mur de Huy. Each of these is likely to be decisive, shredding the bunch and guaranteeing that only the strongest will be able to contest the victory. The final time up the Mur will ultimately decide the winner though, with whoever still has the legs to power up the ramp one last time contesting the victory on the finish line that lies in wait at the top.
La Flèche Wallonne Femmes belonged to one woman for the past seven years: Anna van der Breggen. The multiple former world champion completely dominated the race from 2015 to 2021, winning every edition during that period. Now retired, Van der Breggen will be hoping her team, SD-Worx, are able to defend her title in her stead.
Demi Vollering (Image: Sean Hardy)
Demi Vollering's second place in Amstel Gold Race showed that she's coming in to the Ardennes classics at a high level. With the support of a strong team and a DS who knows the race inside and out, Vollering will be one of the favourites to take victory, following her stunning win at Liège–Bastogne–Liège in 2021.
Marianne Vos, too, has previous at La Flèche Wallonne. After Van der Breggen, Vos is the rider with the second highest number of wins at the race, taking five victories between 2007 and 2013. However, following a positive Covid-19 test before Paris-Roubaix Femmes, Vos will not start the race this year.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
Canyon-Sram’s Kasia Niewiadoma has performed well in this race in previous years. She is skilled over this type of parcours, and she came third in 2017 and second last year. With a strong team around her, she could challenge for the win.
Annemiek van Vleuten has missed out on the top spot twice at this race, coming second in 2015 and 2019 behind Anna van der Breggen. This season, the Movistar rider has already lost out at two significant one-day races, coming second at both Strade Bianche Donne and the Tour of Flanders at the hands of Lotte Kopecky. Van Vleuten’s climbing skills combined with her familiarity with the Ardennes classics – she has won Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes and been on the podium twice more – put her in prime position to go for victory.
Marta Cavalli wins Amstel Gold Race 2022 (Image: Getty)
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig always animates races. The FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine-Futuroscope rider has looked lively at times this season and as the climbing increases, the more a race suits her skillset. With a second place in 2020, the Dane has proven her abilities in the Ardennes; expect to see her make the final selection, where she may challenge if she can get a gap on riders with faster finishes in their arsenal.
Winner of Amstel Gold Race, FDJ's young Italian rider Marta Cavalli has shown she is able to beat the very best through both physical strength and tactical prowess. Taking victory in the first hilly Classic of the season will give Cavalli a huge confidence boost, with her and Uttrup Ludwig likely entering Flèche Wallonne as joint leaders.
With excellent strength in depth, Trek-Segafredo can never be ruled out in any race. They are likely to ride for Elisa Longo Borghini; the Italian just took a spectacular solo win at Paris-Roubaix Femmes so morale will be high heading in to Flèche Wallonne.
With Anna van der Breggen in the team car, SD Worx have the race’s most successful rider to steer their campaign for victory. At the time of writing, Demi Vollering has yet to show her best form or take a win so far this season, but as a rider who has learned from Van der Breggen, we foresee a strong ride from SD Worx and a win for Vollering, the young pretender to her predecessor’s throne.
Cover image: SWpix/Zac Williams