For the first time in the race’s 15-year history, an American won the La Flèche Wallonne Féminine on Wednesday in Huy, Belgium. Evelyn Stevens (Boulder, Colo./Specialized-lululemon), riding for her trade team, passed Marianne Vos (NED/Rabobank Women Team) on the second and final climb up on the Mur de Huy to win on a chilly and occasionally rainy day in eastern Belgium.
In a race that featured 157 riders from 26 different countries, Stevens became the first American woman to reach the podium of La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, completing the 123-kilometer race in 3:26:32.
“It feels amazing,” an exuberant Stevens said after the race. “It’s awesome. This is my favorite race. I wanted to win this more than anything ever. I’ve never been in that situation. She’s, by far, the best, so I had to be lucky and be the stronger one that day. It’s surreal. My team was amazing. I wouldn’t have won it without them.”
All of the riders competing for USA Cycling’s National Development Program finished the race as Andrea Dvorak (Crozet, Va./Team Exergy Twenty12) placed 30th, 1:32 behind Stevens while Kristin McGrath (Boise, Idaho/Team Exergy Twenty12) was 16 seconds behind Dvorak in 35th. Janel Holcomb (San Diego, Calif./Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) was 83rd, Tayler Wiles (Sandy, Utah/Team Exergy Twenty12) was 88th and 18-year-old Ruth Winder (Lafayette, Calif./Vanderkitten) was 126th in the final results.
As the women completed their first climb up Mur de Huy, McGrath and Dvorak were riding in the lead group with Holcomb, in the main field, about 15 seconds behind. After the first climb, the race became very aggressive with several riders launching attacks. A group of three riders got away and Stevens and Vos bridged to them. The two dualed up Mur de Huy a second time, alternating attacks before Stevens faked sitting up, allowing Vos to ride ahead. Stevens punched the gas used the sprinters’ legs that earned her the crown in the time trial at the 2011 USA Cycling Elite, U23, Juniors and Paralympic National Championships in Augusta, Ga., to cross the finish line four seconds ahead of Vos.
“I think it was a really, really hard day out there,” coach Tina Pic said. “It was raining on and off. It was curvy. I think the girls did really, really well. The race was aggressive all day. That was when the three slipped away and then two went later and they didn’t make it with them. It still was a good day.”
Megan Guarnier (Mountain View, Calif./Team TIBCO-To the Top), who finished seventh in today’s La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, and Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Cedar Springs, Mich./Team Exergy Twenty12) will join Holcomb, McGrath, Wiles and Winder in contesting Omloop Boresele and GP Stand Roeselare on Saturday and Sunday, respectively for USA Cycling.
Stevens’ performance capped a strong all-around day for American riders in this race as Megan Guarnier (Mountain View, Calif./Team TIBCO-To the Top) finished seventh and Amber Neben (Lake Forest, Calif./Specialized-lululemon) placed 14th. The combined strong American performance helped secure valuable UCI’s nation’s rankings points that may prove crucial in qualifying a full squad for the women’s Olympic road race in London this summer. Prior to Fleche Wallone the U.S. was in sixth place and must be in the top five as of May 31, 2012 to qualify the maximum four starters.
Provided she remains in the top 10 of the UCI women’s individual World Cup rankings on May 31, 2012, Stevens’ victory in a 2012 World Cup event may qualify her for an automatic nomination to the American Olympic team. She currently is in fifth place.
Fleche Wallone Femmes – Results
1. Evelyn Stevens (Boulder, Colo./Specialized-lululemon) 3:26:32
2. Marianne Vos (NED/Rabobank Women Team) +0:04
3. Linda Villumsen (AUS/GreenEdge-AIS) +0:20
7. Megan Guarnier (Mountain View, Calif./Team TIBCO-To the Top) +0:44
14. Amber Neben (Lake Forest, Calif./Specialized-lululemon) +0:55
30. *Andrea Dvorak (Crozet, Va./Team Exergy Twenty12) +1:32
35. *Kristin McGrath (Boise, Idaho/Team Exergy Twenty12) +1:48
82. Amanda Miller (Fort Collins, Colo./Team TIBCO-To The Top) +6:40
83. *Janel Holcomb (San Diego, Calif./Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) +6:40
84. Ally Stacher (Asheville, N.C./Specialized- Lululemon) +7:16
87. Lauren Hall (Dolores, Colo./Team TIBCO-To the Top) +7:26
88. *Tayler Wiles (Sandy, Utah/Team Exergy Twenty12) +7:29
99. Jennifer Wheeler (Tucson, Ariz./Team TIBCO-To the Top) +10:39
101. Jennifer Purcell (Austin, Texas/Team TIBCO-To the Top) +11:06
117. Samantha Schneider (Milwaukee, Wisc./Team TIBCO-To the Top) +12:08
126. *Ruth Winder (Lafayette, Calif./Vanderkitten) +16:40
*Denotes athletes contesting the event as a part of USA Cycling’s National Development Program.