Coming of age: Pauline Ferrand-Prévot wins the 2014 Flèche Wallonne

It's the fourth round of the Road World Cup, and the end (more or less) of the Spring Classics season for the women - and what a way to go! The Flèche Wallonne Femmes is always an amazing race, with the women missing the warm up run-in from Bastogne, and just ride two laps of the same loop as the men, finishing on the (gasp!) MUR DE HUY!!! There's so much to love about this race - and so much frustration too. Videos and links from the race - and add anything YOU see, and join the conversation, in the comments.

2:21 clip from Sporza, including the slightly uncomfortable podium ceremony at the end - click through, and show Sporza we want to see more!

Check out this gallery of photos from the race, by Patrick Verhoest, right here on the Café

Here's what some of the riders were saying before the race

Here's the Rabobak-Liv video from the race (thanks ConfusedSpider!)

UPDATE! Here's the 26-minute long UCI video

It's such a brutal race - of course it always comes down to the battle on the Mur de Huy, but we should never dismiss the roller-coaster of hills that the riders have to face - because getting to the bottom of the Mur is a struggle in itself.

The race is two laps, and in the first laps, there were attack attempts, but really, those climbs were all about burning off as much of the peloton - and the competition - as possible.  Bizkaia-Durango's Yulia Iliynkh had attacked early, and had 55 seconds by the 21km point, but was caught on the early hills - and every one of those climbs resulted in more and more riders being dropped, it was relentless, especially with Rabobank pushing on the front.  The make-up of the front group kept changing form between 20-50 riders, shedding on the hills and re-gaining on the descents and rare moments of flat - but one thing stayed the same - all the big names stayed up in front, with Boels-Dolmans and Rabobank-Liv keeping their numbers especially high - and then they hit the Mur for the first time!

Ashleigh Moolman was first over the top, for Hitec, with 2010 winner Emma Pooley (Lotto-Belisol), Ronde van Drenthe winner Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans), last year's second-placed rider Elisa Longo-Borghini (Hitec again), and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Rabobank-Liv) in the pink World Cup Best Young Rider jersey, with 2012 winner Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon), Trofeo Binda winner Emma Johansson (ORICA-AIS) and Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Ellen van Dijk (Boels again) also at the front - so much talent in there!

Now they were on the second lap, the attacks got serious from the lead group of 35.  Valentina Carretta (Alé-Cipollini) attacked, as did Lucinda Brand (Rabo) and Liesbet de Vocht (Lotto) tried together, and answering the question "is she really working for her Rabo team-mates, or was that just sand-bagging?", the 5-time race winner, Marianne Vos, whose attacks everyone had to take seriously!

None of these got any traction, but the chases hurt the legs - and there were so many different attempts, that the live-tweeters couldn't keep up with them!  Hitec's Audrey Cordon put in a serious effort, gaining 15 seconds, and helping Moolman and ELB as the others chased - and Vos again - and at 21km to go, the front group was all together - but just being there was an achievement!

Vos led over the Côte de Bousalle, and there were three climbs left - and then De Vocht attacked again for Emma Pooley, and had gained 20 seconds at 15km to go before she was caught on the penultimate climb adn QoM point, the Côte d'Ahin.  Pooley lead over it, ahead of Ferrand-Prévot and Armitstead, gaining the World Cup mountains points - and then on the descent, it was the turn of Linda Villumsen (Wiggle Honda).

Villumsen is well known for her suicide attacks, and they often work - and she's been on the podium of the ITT World Championships every year since 2009.  The descent and relatively flat run-in to Huy played right into her hands, and she quickly gained time - 30-35 seconds at 5km to go, up to 45 seconds before falling to up to 35 seconds as she hit the foot of the climb.

Behind her, the chase must have been craziness, because not only can Villumsen TT, she can climb too - and has pedigree in this race, coming 3rd in 2012.  I wish I could have seen that chase, it must have been brutal - and the Rabo report talks about Kasia Niewiadoma, Vos and Anna van der Breggen driving, and I can imagine Van Dijk up there too - and I LONG to see it!

Villumsen's work obviously had taken it out of her, because she was overtaken at around 260m to go by a battle between Stevens, Armitstead and Ferrand-Prévot, with Moolman and Longo Borghini behind them, then Vos, then Pooley.  It looked like it was going to be a battle to the end between Armitstead and Stevens, but as the hill flattened out, Stevens couldn't hold on - and at 50m, Ferrand-Prévot had caught Armitstead, and just got faster as the road became flatter, overtaking the World Cup leader to win the race!  An amazing "first big elite win" for the young French woman - while Armitstead kept her record of podiuming in every World Cup this year, and extended her overall lead.

Behind them, Longo-Borghini had caught and overhauled Stevens, to take the final podium place - such a strong finish to a brilliant race!

Full results

1.   Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Fra) Rabobank-Liv, 3:26:43
2.   Lizzie Armitstead (GBr) Boels-Dolmans, + 00:01
3.   Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Hitec Products, + 00:04
4.   Evelyn Stevens (USA) Specialized-lululemon, + 00:07
5.   Ashleigh Moolman (RSA) Hitec Products, + 00:11
6.   Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank-Liv, + 00:13
7.   Emma Pooley (GBr) Lotto-Belisol, s.t.
8.   Linda Villumsen (NZl) Wiggle Honda, + 00:21
9.   Claudia Häusler (Ger) Liv-Shimano, + 00:24
10. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, + 00:28

Fantastic race, too, for the two riders coming back for their first big races of 2014, Vos and Pooley - chapeau to them both!

This was a superb result for Ferrand-Prévot, especially after all her work in the previous rounds of the World Cup. Trofeo Binda, she'd attacked a lot, including getting away solo on the penultimate climb, and an unfortunate gear problem meant she couldn't sprint for the win, though she still came 5th; in the Ronde van Vlaanderen she was attacking over and over, but nothing stuck, and she finished 11th - so it was fantastic to see that pay off.  Rabobank had had a frustrating Spring, as their riders lit up practically every race, in their goal of demonstrating they could win without Vos....  it was only at the last possible moment, when Lucinda Brand winning the Energiewacht Tour last week that they, could achieve that goal.

And Ferrand-Prévot is such an exciting rider - it was superb to see her having her "coming of age" win.  She was Junior World Champion in MTB in 2009 and 2010, and on the road in 2010 - and arguably she should hold more titles, given she was beaten for both the Junior World ITT Champs in 2009 & 2010, to the 2010 Junior European ITT by Ganna Solovey, who was caught for steroids in 2011...  PFP has been often called "the next Marianne Vos", because of her excellence across road, MTB and CX, so it was no surprise that her elite career has been with Rabobank.  She's had some great results there - podiums at the Festival Elsy Jacobs, Holland Ladies Tour and Tielt-Winge, 8th in the London Olympics, 2nd in last year's u23 MTB World Champs and 2 French ITT Champion's jerseys - but this is her first really big win as an elite rider - and what a win, at just 22 years old!

It is also one of those things that makes me such a fan of Vos - this was her first race back, and she could have raced for her 6th win, but she is as happy for her team-mates' wins as for her own - and one of the things PFP credits for her win is Vos' advice about the Mur, including not to go all out unless you can see the finish.....  and check out these 2 instagrams by Kristof Ramon - number 1 and number 2.  HAPPINESS!

A result like this, and Rabo's Spring campaign, with a silver for Van der Breggen at Drenthe, Brand's win, and now this - well, right now it looks pretty damn good!

***

Wiggle Honda video from the race

With Linda Villumsen talking about her attack, and Rochelle Gilmore in the team car, and talking afterwards

***

So, on the one hand, a fantastic race and a worthy winner.....  but on the other, we can't talk about this race, without talking about the total lack of tv coverage.  The first passage of the Mur was notable for the shots of the Mur cameras with no on working them - which, given that the host broadcaster was providing footage for the UCI as well as themselves - was ridiculous (it's interesting, seeing the reactions of people like BBC journalist Alex Murray to this, because he absolutely knows what should be happening).  And then to see, for yet another year, no hint of the women's finish live, when we've both seen it before, and the host broadcaster is perfectly capable of split-screening between the front of the race and the chase for the men.  I mean, sure, there are some people out there who'd rather watch guys in the doomed break take bottles than watch the women take on the Mur, but there are 1000s and 1000s more who want to see bike racing!  It's not just the women's cycling fans - pretty much anyone who loves cycling would like to see more Mur ascents, especially over a dull section of a race....

And then there's the prize money - €1,128 out of a prize purse of just over €8,000....  while Alejandro Valverde won €16,000 out of a €42,750k pot....  And the fact that the ASO, who provide superb tickers and tons of live race tweets for the men, do the bare minimum for the women, once they're out of Huy.

BUT!  What was good was that there's so much anger out there about this.  You can see from the RTs, the comments, the hits on the videos, people WANT to see the women race - we just need to find a way to make people listen, so any suggestions, add them in the comments...

***

Tomorrow we'll have a photo-gallery from Patrick Verhoest, and there are bound to be more videos to come, but some things you might like to look at:

Add anything nice you see in the comments, and I'll edit them in!  The next World Cup is in China, and is very different - pancake flat on LONG wide roads - Tour of ChongMing Island, on 17th May - next women's races are this weekend of sprinting -  GP Liberazione, EPZ Omloop van Borsele and Dwars door Westhoek.

Big thanks to CyclingFlash for the use of his photo!

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