The "arrow" of Wallonne is a big enough race that I figured it probably deserved a post of its own.
La Fleche Wallonne Feminine is one of maybe three races on the annual calendar that is run at the same time and same general location as a Pro Tour race. I believe however, it is the only one where we actually race on the same course as the guys (although they go up Mur de Huy one more time and do a longer lead in to the climbing circuit from Charleroi). The fact that both the men's and women's races are run together by ASO (organizers of the Tour de France) is pretty obvious especially in comparison to the typical women's racing situation. From the team presentation in a town square the night before, to the individual race bibles to the crowds and festival on the side of the Mur it's not something you would typically find at a women's race, even for a World Cup.
(we may have been the only one's actually in our chamois but w.e)
The course itself is pretty wicked as well. While there is a large amount of climbing through the course the fact that the Mur de Huy lies at the end means that the tempo isn't too brutal on them. We started off from the top of the Mur de Huy and headed out for a relatively tame first 35km of rolling terrain. I almost bit it on the first descent maybe 10km in after hitting a pot hole but landed on my top tube and managed to keep the rubber side down and push myself back up onto my saddle. Once we hit the more rolling climbs I realized my brakes were rubbing but fortunately it only took a quick trip to the back of the peloton and DK's driving skills to get up from 19th in the caravan to behind the commissaire and then a quick fix from the mechanic out the car window. JO did an awesome job of keeping our team leader in good position until the first major climb of the day and then myself and the other girls were able to take over on the climbing sectors. The first climb was pretty gentle, as was the second although it was on a slightly more narrow and steeper road that lead up through an area that had a castle with a full on moat around it. The third climb was also pretty inconsequential although the descent meant for some bombing through the pack to get our team leader into a good position before climbs four and five which really were pretty much the same climb making for about 4km of climbing at around 7%. While the tempo was a bit higher the racing still wasn't aggressive, nor was it aggressive on the sixth climb of the day before we descended back into Huy to hit the Wall. There the race really started. Fortunately, I was able to move up on the outside of the pack on the back of a Columbia train before we turned onto the narrower section of the climb. The Mur is something you have to see yourself to probably truly appreciate but it is 1.3km long with an average of 9.3% (but that is brought down by the much shallower lead in) with points hitting 26%. Lets just say having a 27 on was definitely an asset.
From that point is was basically just make it to the top in as good a position as possible. I was a little bit off from the front group that included most of the Cervelo and Columbia girls along with Vos and Johannsson but was close enough that myself and a few other girls managed to make it back on shortly after we'd crested the climb. From there, there was a pretty continuous stream of attacks as the group rolled on for the last 28km of the race. With maybe 15km to go we hit the 2nd last climb of the day (the one climb I hadn't seen before) and it pretty much blew the group to pieces. It was theoretically only about 2km long but there was a steep secondary climb after the end of the actual climb that just added to the pain. A combination of a high tempo, poor positioning and so much climbing already in my legs left me behind the split of 14 girls up front. The race summed up with a descent back into Huy and then up the Mur to the finish line. Definitely one of the hardest finishes I've done before. Especially the last 150m that just seen to go on forever. Ended up 35th at the finish a minute and a bit back of Emma Pooley the winner. She had a pretty awesome race and her post-race interview was pretty entertaining to read, but also indicative of the team aspects of bike racing.
The Pro Men's race was pretty awesome to watch as well. We went down and joined the U23 guys on the Mur de Huy and so we saw them go by twice. The Canadian boys had set up on the side of one of the steepest corners of the climb and had a good cheering sector going. They managed to attract quite a bit of attention between their toques, sign and screaming.