Three women catch their breath at the top of a steep climb after a bike race, two are hugging

At Flèche Wallonne, Kasia Niewiadoma finally put it all together

After five years and 1,000 attacks, a new approach to racing gave the fan favorite a breakthrough win, and it likely won’t be the last.

It’s not every day that every single rider in the peloton is happy to see someone else win, but on Wednesday at La Flèche Wallonne that rare moment of peloton-wide joy radiated from Huy in Belgium, to Girona, Spain, and out to all corners of the world. There was a shared tug on the heartstrings at the sight of Kasia Niewiadoma crossing the line at La Flèche Wallonne, arm in the air, the winner of a WorldTour road race.

For years the Canyon-SRAM captain has been a favourite in and out of the peloton. Fans love her and other riders love her just as much. Off the bike, the Girona-based pro will have you laughing one minute and the next you’ve dropped into a deep existential conversation about humanity or what love means. On the bike she is a force, throwing everything she has at the races often to finish just off the top step.

But on Wednesday, after five years of seconds, thirds, fourths – anything but first – Kasia Niewiadoma finally won a bike race again. What’s more, the way she won it underscores a vital transition she’s made in the last year; it won’t be five years before she wins her next.

Kasia Niewiadoma grimaces from the effort as she tops the Mur de Huy climb at the 2024 Fleche Wallonne. The finish line is just meters in front of her. Behind, too far back to close the gap, Demi Vollering and Elisa Longo Borghini chase.
Kasia Niewiadoma put daylight between herself, Demi Vollering, and Elisa Longo Borghini to win La Flèche Wallonne.

“I think Niewiadoma went in a perfect spot,” Lidl-Trek’s Elisa Longo Borghini said on Wednesday after the race. “She was the strongest today, and to be fair and honest I’m delighted she won. She’s always a fair rider and somebody I have a lot of respect for, and she deserved the win.”

Even the elation that was felt when she won the Gravel World Championships in October paled compared to her winning atop the iconic Mur de Huy, ahead of none other than defending champion and 2023 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift winner Demi Vollering.

Niewiadoma is known for animating the race – any race, really – but we’ve seen a different side of Niewiadoma this year, a more patient more relaxed version of the Polish star.

The shift first started earlier in the season, at Strade Bianche – one of Niewiadoma’s favorite events but one that has eluded her time and time again. In 10 years she has nine top-10 finishes, including four podiums, but never the win, despite a ready willingness to attack and shake up the race.

But this year, when Vollering started attacking with 18 km to go and again with 10 km to go, Niewiadoma followed her and sat on her wheel. She didn’t take the responsibility upon herself as in the past, but let the race’s defending champ do the work. Ultimately the result was the same: as attacks continued to fly to the finish, she was stuck behind the winning move with Vollering, as Lotte Kopecky and Elisa Longo Borghini rode away. It wasn’t going to be her day, and she didn’t hide her devastation at the finish. But she stuck with the plan.

After Strade Bianche, instead of continuing to race at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Gent-Wevelgem, the other races of the spring she normally lines up for, she went to altitude and buckled down. From her social media, it was clear she was spending long hours on the bike but equally taking care of herself and her happiness. She’s a rider who has been vocal in the past concerning the balance of being a professional bike racer and being a human, the importance of happiness in herself off the bike and how that carries into her career.

She next lined up at the Tour of Flanders, nearly a month after Strade Bianche. As the kilometres ticked by it would be hard to miss that we were watching a different Niewiadoma out there. Attacks were still thrown, and the Niewiadoma we all know and love was still there, but when the decisive move happened, she had saved the matches to follow and ride to second.

Now, six and a half weeks later, she’s built upon that growth and landed herself on the top step of the podium.

Demi Vollering congratulates Kasia Niewiadoma on her Fleche Wallonne win. Kasia is laughing and crying at the same time while Vollering pats her on the back.
Vollering was the first to congratulate Niewiadoma after the finish.

Throughout the entire race on Wednesday Niewiadoma never touched the front. When some attacks started to go before the final climb it was her teammate Elise Chabbey who covered them, leaving Niewiadoma to wait for her moment.

In a way, the weather harkens back to her win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda in 2018. That day was also made more dramatic by rain and cold. “The race was super brutal, because as we started it started to rain so hard, and the temperature dropped very low,” Niewiadoma said of Flèche Wallonne. “But that being said, I knew that this was my day, somehow I just felt it, and to be honest the weather conditions were kind of on my side because I always benefit from hard races like this.”

“As a team, we just kept a positive atmosphere, even though we were all shaking from the cold temperatures; everyone was there for each other and my teammates were amazing, taking care of me, bringing warm clothes so I could change and just remain focused on the final.”

A year ago – heck, even two months ago at Setmana Valenciana – it was Niewiadoma who would have been setting the pace up the opening section of the Mur, but on Wednesday she let Vollering do the heavy lifting, and again she waited. Only when the moment was right, as soon as she saw Longo Borghini twitch, did she finally jump.

Kasia Niewiadoma poses for a team picture before the 2023 Tour de France Femmes. She's against a white seamless backdrop, and her gaze is off to her left, with a quiet, contemplative expression and a slight smile.
Niewiadoma before the first stage of the 2023 Tour de France Femmes.

In the opening months of this season, we’ve seen Niewiadoma progress as a rider in real time. All of those attacks she’s attempted over the years were preparing her for the 2024 season, as she’s racing with the patience to put her considerable physical talent to best use. At 29 years old she is the strongest and the most tactically astute she has ever been, which means the collective moment of emotion felt by thousands on Wednesday will not be a one-off.

After the race, Niewiadoma spoke of dreams, of inspiring others with her determination year after year.

“I really hope that with that victory I inspired a lot of people who are pursuing their dreams for so long because I’ve experienced a lot of failures, a lot of second and third places, but I never stopped believing that as a team we could win another race. So I do really hope that that race will inspire people to just keep believing, keep pursuing their dreams, because the reward is always there waiting for us.”

As we move into the rest of the season, with the Tour de France Femmes and hopefully the Olympic road race on her horizon, Niewiadoma has placed herself firmly in the centre of the conversation. After years of work and frustration, Niewiadoma has finally brought all the parts together. La Flèche Wallonne will not be the last time we see her raise her arms this year.

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