Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s Linda Villumsen lit up the closing stages of the women’s edition of La Flèche Wallonne with an attack in the last ten kilometres that almost saw her stay away to the line.
As most of the race favourites chose to wait for the final climb of the super-steep Mur de Huy, the Danish-born New Zealander - who finished third in the race in 2012 - made her move early and caught the others off guard.
“The team raced really well today,” said Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling directeur sportif Franky Van Haesebroucke. “They raced to win, and that was good!”
Pace at the front of the peloton meant that nobody was able to break clear, while the main group was reduced to just 35 riders on the hilly Ardennes parcours. Over the top of the Côte d’Ahin, the penultimate climb with ten kilometres to go, however, Villumsen put in her attack. The World Time Trial Championship silver medallist managed to open up her lead to more than 40 seconds clear as she approached the outskirts of Huy.
“Linda didn’t take any risks early on, and the front group stayed together until three climbs to go,” Van Haesebroucke explained. “Then they started hitting each other really hard.
“There were just seven girls together in the front, going over the top of the climb with ten-k to go. Linda was one of them, with [World champion] Marianne Vos; basically, all the top riders in the race were there.
“Once you got over the top it was flat for a little bit, and that’s where Linda attacked them. Very quickly she had 15, 20, up to 45 seconds.”
Unfortunately, as the group behind reformed and gave chase, the Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling rider’s efforts began to take their toll as she hit the steepest part of the Mur, whose slopes approached an incredible 25%, and she was caught with just 150 metres to go.
“The group of 35 riders got back together, and Hitec was chasing hard,” Van Haesebroucke added. “Then Rabobank was chasing hard. She didn’t get those 45 seconds, she had to take them, and that was a really big effort. She gambled and almost won it. She only missed out by 150 metres.
“I’m really proud of the way she raced. It should be a really good confidence boost for her.”
The race was won by 22-year-old French rider Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabobank-Liv), ahead of British champion Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) and Italian Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products).
Having animated the race, Villumsen managed to hold on to finish eighth.
“Linda rode the perfect race, and I couldn’t ask anything more of her,” said Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling team manager Rochelle Gilmore. “She was isolated at the end, and she just had to take her chance. She had the legs to go for it with ten-k to go, and she got a pretty handy gap, and there was always the chance that she could get to the finish line before she got caught.
“It’s a hard way to lose, but she’s content - and I’m content - that we gave it a go,” Gilmore continued. “There were a lot of other teams in there that had three or four people, but she stayed calm and then gave it everything she had. It wasn’t quite enough, but she’s not on her top form, so I’m sure that when she is on top form she can win bike races like that.
“The morale of all the girls is really high after today,” added Gilmore. “It was one of those days where you don’t get a result, but you get a lot out of the race in terms of knowledge of where you’re at, and everybody’s happy and confident about where they’re at with regards to reaching their peak for the Women’s Tour.”
1. Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabobank-Liv)
2. Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans)
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products)
8. Linda Villumsen (Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling)