La Fleche Wallonne Femmes 2014: Lizzie Armitstead races Marianne Vos for first time this season

British champion defends World Cup lead at Ardennes Classic

British champion Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) will come up against world and Olympic champion Marianne Vos (Rabobank Liv Women) for the first time this season at La Fleche Wallonne Femmes.

The fourth round of the UCI Women’s Road World Cup – which Armitstead currently leads overall – marks the return to road racing of the Dutch wonder-woman as Armitstead bids to continue her fine start to the season.

British champion Lizzie Armitstead will be swapping her British champion’s jersey for that of World Cup leader as she faces Marianne Vos for the first time this season (pic: Boels Dolmans Cycling Team 2014/Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos)

Racing earlier in the day, the race follows the same route as the men’s race but takes in one less lap of the tough finishing circuit.

And Armitstead will not be the only Brit out to stop Vos – who was crowned world cyclo-cross champion in the winter – from making a winning return to the road.

Former winner Emma Pooley leads the way for Lotto-Belisol Ladies, while the provisional start list includes all four of Wiggle-Honda’s team pursuit aces – Laura Trott, Dani King, Jo Rowsell and Elinor Barker.

With no form to speak of, what sort of legs Vos has remains to be seen, but unsurprisingly the Dutch superstar is among the pre-race favourites as she looks to secure a record-breaking sixth victory in the race and defend her 2013 title.

Last year, she proved too strong on the Mur de Huy for the likes of Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS), Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans) and Armitstead, all of whom she left trailing in her wake.

Instead she arrived at the summit with Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products) and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (Lotto Belisol Ladies) in hot pursuit, outsprinting them both to secure victory.

That win however came on the back of victory in the Tour of Flanders – a race she missed this year as van Dijk soloed to victory.

Van Dijk was simply peerless on the Flandrian cobbles, crossing the finishing line more than a minute ahead of Armitstead and Johansson, who sprinted to the minor podium places.

Marianne Vos returns to road racing for the first time this season at La Fleche Wallonne Femmes pic: ©Sirotti

It is the world time trial champion’s sole victory this season however, as team-mate Armitstead has claimed all the plaudits for a fine start to the year.

Winner at the Omloop van het Hageland and the Ronde van Drenthe, Armitstead has also enjoyed podium places at every one day race she has started this season – including second place at both the last two world cup races.

Her three previous outings at La Fleche Wallonne Femmes are yet to result in a better result than 12th place, however.

Compatriot Pooley has enjoyed much better success, leading home a British one-two ahead of Nicole Cooke in 2010.

Having stepped back from racing in 2013 however, as she focused on her studies, her form this time out is very much an unknown – a lone outing at Sunday’s Ronde van Gelderland, which saw her finish 55th, her lone contribution to the season so far.

It is in stark contrast to world number one Johansson – the Swede having already secured three victories – including the world cup race, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda – and four further podium places to boot.

Johansson has twice been a runner-up at La Fleche, and finished in the top ten in each of the last five years.

With Vos’ form very much an unknown, this could be her best chance to break the duck and close in – and possibly even surpass – Armitstead’s World Cup lead.

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