The women’s team is finally heading back to Europe to kick off their 2021 season in style with two of the biggest one-day races of the spring – La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, April 21, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, April 25.
Being April in southeast Belgium, the weather is about as unpredictable as it gets. You’re about as likely to get a bright sunny day as you are to ride through a snow shower. The team will have to be prepared for anything, and the cars full of kit and equipment for all conditions.
La Flèche Wallonne features eight total climbs over a challenging 130km course with one of the most famous finishes of the season on the Mur de Huy. A little over a kilometer in length, it has an average gradient of more than 10%, topping out at 201m. It’s an agonizing uphill sprint that will leave a lasting impression on the lungs and legs of every rider who reaches the finish.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège ends the Spring Classics with another long and lumpy ride through the mostly rural Belgian landscape. It is punctuated by the famous climbs of La Redoute and La Roche-aux-Faucons, and you’d have trouble finding any flat tarmac between km zero and the finish line in Liège. As the big finale to the spring campaign, the riders can expect to fight hard from beginning to end.
The team has been training on Belgium roads in advance of La Flèche Wallonne, meeting Clara Koppenburg off the train from Germany. It’ll be the first time the new signing joins up with the women’s team, and team director Andrew Bajadali is excited to complete the set.
“Coming together in a physical sense is different, but we’ve done group Zoom calls, so everyone is familiar with each other – I think the ice is broken. As far as Clara is concerned, from what I’ve gathered it’s going to be an easy transition, it’s already a win for us.”
Koppenburg is a seasoned Ardennes campaigner already.
“Although she’s only 25 she has a lot of experience in these races,” Bajadali added. “She’ll become a natural leader on the road, and I think the collaboration between our key players is going to work out well.”
The women’s peloton has been going full-gas since late February, and starting at the Ardennes Classics is the definition of ‘in at the deep end’. Koppenburg has raced both these events and her characteristics suit the terrain, so the team will call on her experience on the road.
“They’re both brutal races,” Koppenburg says. “There’s never really a point where you can just relax, you always have to be in the front. You have to be patient, but you also have to conserve your energy because a race like Flèche has one of the hardest finishes ever.”
She also had a special comment for the fearsome Mur.
“If you haven’t ridden the Mur de Huy, it’s hard to describe what the riders are feeling. It’s probably the longest four or five minutes of your life, but the shortest too because people are screaming at you. It’s really tough but beautiful racing.”
The team is pragmatic about their approach to La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but there’s a lot to look forward to and Rally Cycling is keen to make their mark.
“We want to get a result out of it,” Bajadali says. “We can break that down into micro-goals, which starts with getting everyone on the same page before go time and buying into what the directors are selling. We understand who the key players for these races are. They’re very hilly, very demanding attrition races, so we know who has the goods, and having support for those riders is going to be clutch.”
La Flèche Wallonne Féminine (Apr 21) – Mur > Mur de Huy (130.2km) – will be available to stream on NBC Sports Gold in the U.S. between 4:05 am – 5:35 am CT. Canadian viewers can visit FloBikes. European fans can watch on GCN+.
Roster: Katie Clouse, Krista Doebel-Hickok, Heidi Franz, Leigh Ann Ganzar, Clara Koppenburg, Sara Poidevin.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes (Apr 25) – Bastogne > Liège (141km) – will be available to stream on NBC Sports Gold in the U.S. between 4:20 am – 5:50 am CT. Canadian viewers can visit FloBikes. European fans can watch on GCN+.
Roster: Holly Breck, Krista Doebel-Hickok, Heidi Franz, Leigh Ann Ganzar, Clara Koppenburg, Sara Poidevin.
To keep up to date with the team’s racing news, follow Rally Cycling on Twitter.