We don’t need to speak. I can tell by the focus that Vleuty (Annemiek Van Vleuten) is on today. She has been in the top 20 riders all day and looking good. We are racing down towards the town where Cote de La Redoute begins. There are leadout trains all over the road. I’m spinning out and go to change to a bigger gear. I don’t have any. I don’t dare to look at our speed.
So far, it’s been the perfect day for us. Jess Jessica Allen) was there to help along with Moniek (Moniek Tenniglo) and Roy (Sarah Roy) to make sure we got into the climbing section fresh. Lucy (Lucy Kennedy) killed herself for the team inflicting maximum pain on the earlier but hard climbs.
We are now at km 100. Moniek is doing a monster turn in the run in and just as she starts to die and Sunweb make their move Roy appears seemingly out of nowhere to take over. Wow, talk about timing, I think to myself. Vleuty follows and I stay dutifully on her wheel. We know what’s coming and Roy knows her finish line will be at the bottom of the climb.
The bunch hurtles down to the sharp left-hand turn to get over the river then into the narrow roads that lead to the climb. Roy guides us around the turn as we hear girls crashing on the wet road behind us. No time to look. Roy accelerates across the bridge and we follow as the road narrows. We couldn’t have scripted it better. I take my last few deep breaths and prepare for what’s to come. Our master plan is about to really light up. We take the right turn onto La Redoute and it starts to climb. Vleuty clicks a gear down and goes. Only Jolanda Neff responds. I quickly grab my radio to tell her she has a gap because I know she won’t look back. ‘Attack, commit, don’t look back and continue’. They are the words for today. Van der Breggen passes me then Longo Borghini. I slot myself in behind and get ready to suffer like hell. My legs are already screaming but I know it hasn’t been an easy race for anyone. The rain and cold kept me shivering for a good portion of the first 90kms but that doesn’t matter now. We near the campervan section and I turn around to see the damage so far. Daylight. There are only 7-8 of us left and we haven’t even started the hardest parts. Perfect I think to myself.
As the road narrows even more the gaps start to appear. Vleuty is still at the front of it all and as it steepens further, I see Van der Breggen and then Longo Borghini start to fade. I search for my radio button and tell her she has the gap. I know I’m the eyes for the whole team at this point because the cars are way too far back to know what’s happening. As Langvad passes me I know that’s my ticket back to Van der Breggen and Longo Borghini, so I latch myself onto her back wheel and don’t look up again until we are back at the front.
“35 seconds”. That’s already the gap to Vleuty as we turn right off La Redoute. I know my job now. Protect the lead. I radio to the team where I am. Boels are there with two riders so the pressure is on them. They try to chase a little, but it’s not committed and as we descend down towards the next climb some riders from behind come back to us. Every time we see a time gap it’s growing. Vleuty is the World TT Champ for a reason. In this bunch she’s not the kind of rider you want up the road and out of sight. Unless you’re me.
There are attacks and counterattacks and the race is never easy all the way until the finish. All you have to do is look at the Strava times of our bunch taking the technical descent in the rain down to the final 3kms to know how quick we were. It’s not often you see the pro men and women mixed together in the top 20 times but check out that final 4kms descent and that’s exactly what you will see (and yes- I’m talking about THAT Fuglsang downhill). Even so, Vleuty keeps growing her advantage. From that moment on La Redoute I go from looking for opportunities for myself and the team to protecting Vleuty’s lead.
As I race under the 1km to go banner I can hear Alejandro (Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas) and Martin (Martin Vestby) celebrating over the radio in the team car. I try to keep my focus for our small group sprint but make a mistake and give away my chance. I don’t think too much about it in this moment. Within seconds I spot our soigneur Bruce and then Vleuty hidden behind amongst a mass of journalists. I disrupt her television interview to embrace her with happiness, pride and satisfaction.
I love the teamwork involved in cycling and love the way you can play the game when you work together and use the strengths of each other for one goal- to win. It’s funny when you hear or read people judging your form based on what they see on a results sheet, but rarely does it ever reflect that commitment and sacrifice riders make for the team goal. It’s so satisfying when you can pull it off like this.
The final words from our DS Martin this morning were to ‘go and make history today’. Believe in each other, support each other, sacrifice for each other and the result will come. It’s the first Ardennes classic win for the Women’s team and what a way to do it. It took guts for Vleuty to attack so far out and I don’t think anyone could argue against the pure class of that victory. It’s inspiring and I will only look back on this Ardennes campaign with a smile and a bigger sense of belief in what we are all capable of. That’s the best way to end any campaign.
Bring on the rest of the season!
Always a team player, it is common to see Amanda sacrificing herself for her teammates.
The 2012 and 2016 Australian road race champion is known for her big heart and big engine. Amanda recorded her first European victory at the Giro del Trentino Alto Adige – Sudtirol in 2015 and has taken a big step up as a leader in the outfit following the retirement on Loes Gunnewijk.