Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Grace Brown sprints to big victory after day in breakaway

Australian survives late scare, beats Elisa Longo Borghini on the line in six-rider sprint as Demi Vollering takes third

Clock16:19, Sunday 21st April 2024
Grace Brown won Liège-Bastogne-Liège

© Getty Images

Grace Brown celebrates winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ) outsprinted Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) to win the women's Liège-Bastogne-Liège after spending most of the day in the breakaway.

2023 winner Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime) took third on the line after bridging to the break with Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), who took fifth. Brown's break companions Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) and Kim Cadzow (EF Education-Cannondale) took fourth and sixth.

Part of the breakaway group who spent a large portion of the day riding at the front of the race, Brown was able to survive a late off-road encounter after she misjudged a roundabout just a few kilometres from the line and almost crashed. However, she kept it up to hold onto her place among the elite group of six riders and fight for victory in a reduced sprint finish.

The race split on the two final climbs of the day and Brown was consistently in the front group, however when the trio of Vollering, Longo Borghini and Niewiadoma joined the leaders with less than eight kilometres left to race, it looked likely that the win would come from one of those three riders.

The Australian held her nerve in the face of one-two attacks from Canyon-SRAM and in the final sprint for the line, she powered past Longo Borghini to take her first win at a race where she has previously been second twice, in 2020 and 2022.

"It was an amazing day," Brown said at the finish. "I wanted to be in that break, we always know that a strong break can go in the middle section of the race, and we worked really well together. I felt like I was on my limit on the climbs towards the end, but once I survived Roche-aux-Faucons I thought ‘it’s on’. So, so good."

"I was a little bit stressed, of course," she said of her sketchy moment in the finale. "I locked up and almost crashed but thankfully saved it and caught back onto the group. Then I just had to try and calm myself and be patient for the final.

"It’s been a tough spring for me, and then this week finally I started feeling like my old self and I said to the team ‘I feel good for Liège’. It’s a race that I have good memories already here, so I’m really happy that we could pull it off today."

An unpredictable edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Riding in the later afternoon slot for the first time, the women’s peloton suffered cold, wet weather early in the day but were able to enjoy an improvement in conditions with dry roads and even some sunshine in time for the business end of the action, as the race headed towards Liège to crown a successor to Demi Vollering, who won in 2023.

It was the Australian Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal) who was first to kick off proceedings, launching an early attack with 133km still remaining in the race. She built up a healthy lead and was alone in the front of the race for a long stretch.

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts by others to join her, Gigante was eventually caught by eight more riders to form a leading group of nine, comprised of: Elise Chabbey; Lucinda Brand (Lidl-Trek); Mischa Bredewold (SD Worx-Protime); Eva van Agt (Visma-Lease a Bike); Grace Brown; Kim Cadzow; Flora Perkins (Fenix-Deceuninck) and Mikayla Harvey (UAE Team ADQ). They were pursued by a lone chaser, junior world champion Julie Bego (Cofidis), who was never able to make contact despite a spirited effort.

The breakaway held a gap of three minutes over the pursuing peloton with 40km remaining in the race, but it all blew open on Côte de la Redoute, as the breakaway split into smaller groups and various riders launched attacks from the peloton including Lidl-Trek’s Gaia Realini and Fenix-Deceuninck’s Pauliena Rooijakkers, causing a major split in the bunch.

At the front, a trio of riders – Chabbey, Brown and Cadzow – now led the race, with a group of five chasers around a minute behind, but with the final climb approaching, the peloton kicked into a higher gear. With the increased tempo, the bunch were able to bridge to the group of chasers and reduce the deficit to the leaders to under a minute.

Onto the final climb of the day, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, and Chabbey and Brown briefly dropped Cadzow but over the top of the climb, the three were once again together. However, it was Longo Borghini who was first on the offensive from the peloton, launching on the climb and dragging Vollering, Niewiadoma and Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) with her, though Vos was unable to hold on all the way up the climb. She dropped back to join a chasing group which contained her teammate Riejanne Markus, who put in a huge effort to try and close the gap.

With twelve kilometres remaining to the finish line, the breakaway trio’s advantage had been shredded to a slender 30 seconds, and their hearts must have sunk as just three kilometres later they were greeted by the sight of the chasers. They were not caught immediately though, with Vollering playing a dangerous tactical game, hanging back to try and pressure Niewiadoma into working. Longo Borghini made the catch and continued to attack, Chabbey the only rider initially able to remain with her, but they didn't really get away and the group came together as six.

With 6.8km remaining, Brown and Cadzow both went for a brief foray off-road after misjudging the exit from a roundabout, to make hard work for themselves trying to fight their way back on, but the six riders headed into the final kilometres together to fight it out in the finale.

With two riders, Canyon-SRAM had the numerical advantage and Niewiadoma and Chabbey took turns attacking in the closing kilometres of the race, and heading under the flamme rouge Niewiadoma attacked once again and opened a small gap, leaving it up to Longo Borghini to reel her back in. Cadzow worked hard to pull the rest back into contention, but Longo Borghini launched her sprint first, distancing Niewiadoma, yet she did not anticipate Brown, who came flying from the back of the group to beat her on the line. Vollering came through to finish third, making the podium for the fifth time at the race.

Race Results

1

au flag

BROWN Grace

FDJ-SUEZ

4H 29' 00"

2

it flag

LONGO BORGHINI Elisa

Lidl-Trek

"

3

nl flag

VOLLERING Demi

Team SD Worx-Protime

"

4

ch flag

CHABBEY Elise

CANYON//SRAM Racing

"

5

pl flag

NIEWIADOMA Katarzyna

CANYON//SRAM Racing

"

6

nz flag

CADZOW Kim

EF Education-Cannondale

"

7

nl flag

VOS Marianne

Team Visma | Lease a Bike

+ 52"

8

fr flag

LABOUS Juliette

Team dsm-firmenich PostNL

"

9

de flag

BAUERNFEIND Ricarda

CANYON//SRAM Racing

"

10

nz flag

FISHER-BLACK Niamh

Team SD Worx-Protime

"

Provided by FirstCycling

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