The Ardennes triple is on: Demi Vollering conquers all on La Flèche Wallonne's Mur de Huy

Dutch rider leads from the bottom to the top of the Mur to take two out of three Ardennes Classics

Demi Vollering wins Flèche Wallonne
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There was a moment, about three quarters of the way up the Mur de Huy on Wednesday's La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, where it looked like Demi Vollering had attacked too early.

The Dutch SD Worx rider, irrepressible so far this Spring, the winner of Strade Bianche, Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Amstel Gold Race, essentially rolled off the front of the bunch - perhaps more ground, considering the incline - and looked like she would simply glide off.

While others behind her gritted their teeth and weaved across the road, Vollering seemed to be on another course altogether. However, with 300m to go, Lianne Lippert (Movistar) arrived on her back wheel, and alarm bells must have started ringing in the SD Worx team car; incidentally, not for Vollering, as she was staring dead-ahead.

Was it too much, to attack right from the bottom of one of the fearsome final climbs in cycling? Was the Dutchwoman overconfident? Was Lippert really that close, or was it classic foreshortening from the camera?

In the end, it turned out it was the perfect attack, as Vollering simply kept to her pace, kept riding her own rhythm, and had enough time to look back, take off her sunglasses and celebrate at the top of the Mur. What looked like heartbreak at 300m to go soon turned to ease 150m later.

Lippert finished second, five seconds behind the winner, with 21-year-old Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo) clinching third, ahead of a fading Mavi García (Liv Racing TeqFind).

There was a shake of the head from Vollering, seemingly unable to comprehend what she had achieved, but she is currently the best rider in the world.

"Before the last time I tried to split the group, I just went at my own pace and I couldn’t believe there was a gap," the 26-year-old said in her post-race interview. "I saw it very late and the gap was pretty big and I was really surprised by that so I’m really happy."

Demi Vollering and Anna van der Breggen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Only one female rider ever has completed the Ardennes triple of Amstel, Flèche, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège across one brutal week: Anna van der Breggen. This unique record is helped by there only ever being seven opportunities for the triple to be claimed - the women's Liège only began in 2017 - thanks to the patriarchal nature of professional cycling, but it is still a record, an incredible achievement.

Only one other time has a rider won Amstel and then Flèche, Marta Cavalli (FDJ Suez) last year, so Vollering is already in an elite club, but she has the momentum and the ability to go one further, to make history.

Anna van der Breggen, the history-maker, is now in the SD Worx team car, and undoubtedly helped her protégé to time her attack to perfection on the Mur.

There have been 26 editions of the women's La Flèche Wallonne, and more than a quarter of those were won by Van der Breggen (seven, or 26.9%), so she knows what she is talking about. 

It was Anna van der Breggen's 33rd birthday on Tuesday, and there can hardly be a better birthday present than Vollering following in her wheel-tracks and making history.

What so impressed on Wednesday was the winner's calm on the Mur, keeping to her rhythm in the knowledge that that would bring her the win, perhaps this was done with insider knowledge from Van der Breggen. Despite the lack of explosivity, none of the star riders in the bunch like Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) or Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) could match it.

Also, different to all the other one-day races - 12 - that SD Worx has won this Spring, this was all on the individual to pull it off. At the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, Vollering attacked in the knowledge that Lotte Kopecky was in the group behind, disrupting the chase. This time, the closest SD Worx rider was Niamh Fisher Black, who finished 30th, over a minute behind. Of course, the slow uphill sprint of Flèche is different to any other event, but it is worth noting. Vollering can go it alone.

Demi Vollering

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It is worth taking a look at Vollering's results in their entirety this year. 17th at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (won by her teammate Kopecky), first at Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlaanderen, second at the Tour of Flanders (won by her teammate Kopecky), second at Brabantse Pijl, first at the Amstel Gold Race and now first at La Flèche Wallonne.

That's six races in a row where the Dutchwoman has not finished lower than second, with four wins. If the Ardennes triple won't be conquered again now, then when will it? It is hard to look past her for Liège on Sunday.

At the beginning of the year Vollering said: "I'm developing a lot, and I feel like I'm getting stronger and stronger every year. I feel like I'm getting better tactically, and that I understand racing more every year. In this team I learn from the best, from Anna, from Chantal [van den Broek-Blaak], from Danny [Stam] and Lars [Boom], it's really helpful to be in such a great team with so much knowledge.

"What I need to work on is how to race. I need to be smart and think, not too much, but I have to race more on feeling, this is the right moment. It has to be something in you."

If Vollering is still improving, then her rivals should be scared. However, it feels like she is already in her golden era, and that something as big as the Ardennes triple is within sight. Just one more race, no pressure. She has won it before, in her breakout 2021 year, so why not? History beckons.

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