Emma Pooley ready to challenge for second Flèche Wallonne victory
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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Emma Pooley ready to challenge for second Flèche Wallonne victory

by Ben Atkins at 8:59 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Flèche Wallonne
 
British rider keen to come back after broken collarbone kept her out of 2011 race

emma pooleyEmma Pooley (AA Drink-Leontien.nl) is ready for tomorrow’s Flèche Wallonne, and is looking to take her second victory in the Women’s World Cup event. The former British champion won the 2010 edition of the race, which - like the men’s event - finishes atop the precipitous Mur de Huy, after attacking at the bottom of the climb; winning the race by an enormous eight second margin over compatriot Nicole Cooke.

Unfortunately, less than a week before last year’s race, the then British champion fractured her collarbone in a freak crash while training close to her home in Zurich, Switzerland, preventing her from defending her title on the Mur.

Having returned from a training camp in Mallorca, Pooley will start the race on Wednesday as one of the hot favourites for victory once more, at the head of the Dutch team’s multinational line up.

Despite the proud assertion from the International Cycling Union (UCI) that more women’s teams than before equates to a growing sport however, a shrinking calendar means that Pooley has only race twice since her arrival back in Europe after spending the winter in Australia. The 29-year-old feels that she has the form she needs to perform in la Flèche regardless.

“The Trofeo Binda and the Tour of Flanders were very hard races and therefore good training exercises,” she reasoned. “Unfortunately some races in Italy disappeared from the calendar because they were cancelled. I don't worry about it. It's like it is. If there are no races a good training ride will do.”
With the increase in teams, and the increasing professionalism in the women’s peloton, the quality of racing has improved again this year, Pooley thinks.

“I noticed that there are a lot of strong teams which makes the level of competition quite high,” she said. “The quality is divided equally over the teams which makes the races attractive. Of course, the big names will show up when the most important races take place.

“Marianne Vos is very strong this season again.”

Vos, the record-breaking four-time winner in the race will, of course be the rider to beat, but Pooley’s high power-to-weight ratio comes into its own on the final climb, which puts the British rider up there as the Dutch champion’s biggest rival.

''Yes, I really love this race and not in the least because of its finish on the Mur,” Pooley explained. “It suits me. But then again, it also gives a lot of pressure to have a good result. I look forward to it, that's for sure." 

Pooley has had a mixed relationship with the race, having finished sixth in her first appearance in 2008. The following year, as one of the race’s hot favourites, a crash saw her abandon, but she returned to win in 2010. With last year’s no show through injury, the law of averages says that Emma Pooley should be on for a big result in Wednesday’s race.

Sharon Laws will be at Pooley’s side once again

One rider that Pooley will certainly be able to rely upon, is long-standing teammate, and loyal domestique, Sharon Laws. The 37-year-old former mountainbiker’s history with the race runs parallel to Pooley’s and the unselfish laws has been instrumental in much of Pooley’s successful career.

"The Flèche Wallonne is a special race to me because it was my first one on European soil,” Laws explained. “In 2008, when I rode it for the first time, we only climbed the Mur once and finished on the top. I worked hard for Emma and Nicole Cooke who both finished in the top ten.

“Two years later I raced again and it turned out to be one of the best races for the Cervélo Test Team,” she added. “Emma won and I came in eleventh. Last year was a big disappointment even though we had created the perfect situation before the final climb of the Muur. Within seconds my legs exploded and I lost 38 seconds on Marianne Vos in that last climb. I was 17th.”

While she might lack the explosive power of Pooley, Laws’ years as a mountainbiker have left her as one of the stronger climbers in the peloton. Nevertheless, the gradients of the Mur, which rise above 26% in places, mean pain for everybody as the race hits the bottom.

“It's so tough, you can't imagine,” said Laws. “Immediately the road starts climbing you feel the pain, and that pain increases with every metre you ride, every metre that brings you closer to the top. Luckily the crowd on that part of the course is great. There are so many people alongside the road cheering you on and the entire road is full with big chalky names and encouragements. It's great.

“I prefer longer climbs and mountain stages like we have in the Giro,” Laws admitted. “But of course it gives me a great feeling to be riding races like la Flèche Wallonne. Firstly because it's a World Cup race, and secondly because we ride it on the same day as the men which is always a bit more special, just like the GP Plouay.”

Laws has been sick since arriving in Europe, having spent the winter in South Africa, but is hoping to be healthy enough to play her part.

"That's why I haven't done a lot of races yet, only the World Cups in Drenthe and Trofeo Binda,” she explained. “That's quite frustrating because I returned from South Africa with a good feeling. I had barely landed and a bronchitis threw my entire schedule in disarray. That's why I couldn't prepare myself 100% but we'll make the best out of it.”

AA Drink-Leontien.nl team for la Flèche Wallonne Femmes
Lucinda Brand, Jessie Daams, Sharon Laws, Emma Pooley, Carla Ryan, and Marieke van Wanroij

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