Spring saved, chapter closed – Grace Brown finally has her Liège win

After two runner-up finishes, and after a frustrating Classics campaign, the Aussie has the victory she was after.

Brown after her career-best victory.

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 22.04.2024 Photography by
Kristof Ramon
More from Matt +

It was shaping up as Grace Brown’s second disappointing Classics campaign in a row. Last year, sixth at Amstel Gold Race was the high water mark in a spring that left her without “any result to really write home about”.

In 2024, 27th in the same Dutch one-day was looking like the best it was going to get. She’d had some good moments, but ultimately nothing that would allow her to call the spring a success. “I really want to give more for FDJ-Suez than I’ve showed so far this season,” she wrote after that Amstel finish. “Let’s see if I can put a few more puzzle pieces together in the remaining Ardennes classics.”

On Sunday afternoon, at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, the 31-year-old Aussie more than put those puzzle pieces together. With one result, at the last possible opportunity, she turned her 2024 spring around spectacularly and gave her team something to take from a largely joyless Classics campaign.

Brown beats the favourites to take the biggest win of her career.

On a frigid day in eastern Belgium, Brown got up the road in a group of eight that coalesced behind lone leader – and Brown’s fellow Aussie – Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal). Gigante had hit the front solo with more than 130 km to race then led alone until she was caught by the Brown group with 62 km to go.

Brown was one of just three riders left in the lead group over the fearsome Côte de la Redoute with 34 km go, and she was still there over the final climb with around 13 km to go. She was also there when the favourites jumped across inside the final 10 km; the likes of Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek), Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime), and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM). 

Brown survived a stack of attacks from those favourites, and even managed to avoid crashing after an overshot corner with 6.8 km remaining saw her lock her front brake. Brown got back to the lead group just inside 5 km to go then survived a bunch more attacks, putting her right in the mix for the six-up sprint in Liège.

When Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini led into that sprint, Brown had to come from a long way back and close a gap that Kim Cadzow (EF Education-Cannondale) had let open. But close the gap Brown did, before sitting down again ever so briefly, then resuming her sprint inside the final 100 metres. She hit the front in the nick of time, beating out the in-form Longo Borghini and the fast-finishing Vollering to take the biggest win of her career.

Brown’s victory is a significant one for a bunch of reasons. For starters, it’s her first win since taking her fourth Aussie ITT title back in early January and her first in Europe since last August. It’s also a victory that concludes a story she started writing almost four years ago.

In the COVID-delayed 2020 edition of Liège – her first participation – Brown soloed in to take second place behind lone leader Lizzie Deignan. Deignan had attacked with 30 km to go, Brown from the chase group with 14 km to go, and the Aussie got within just nine seconds of the Brit by the finish line.

It was Brown’s biggest result in Europe at the time, in one of the biggest one-day races on the calendar, and confirmed her considerable talent as a rider – particularly when away solo.

When Brown next returned to the race in 2022, she was again best of the rest. She attacked solo late, with only the world’s best rider, Annemiek van Vleuten, able to catch and pass her. In the sprint that decided the minor placings, Brown outsprinted Vollering, Longo Borghini, and others, to again take second. It was another impressive result, but again not the podium step she was after.

This past Sunday though, Brown finally ascended to that top step, after a courageous ride in the breakaway, and after measuring her effort expertly over four and a half hours of solid racing.

“There’s something special about this race that brings out the best in me,” Brown wrote on Instagram later. “I really can’t describe how big this feels right now!! It’s been a difficult spring, but today puts it all behind.”

There’s another reason this victory is significant for Brown. The Aussie has made no secret of the fact that her biggest goal of this season is the individual time trial at the Paris Olympics. Brown was fourth in Tokyo in 2021 and, with silver medals in the two Worlds ITTs she’s raced since, she will start the Paris ITT as one of the top favourites. This win in Liège – this should be a shot of confidence as Brown closes out her Spring Classics campaign, and starts building towards Paris.

Whatever happens there, though, she’ll always have the 2024 Liège. And if we want to peddle in superstition for a moment: what if Liège is just the first of several races she’s able to win after multiple runner-up finishes? Winning an Aussie road title after three runner-up finishes, while very satisfying, mightn’t mean as much as winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but winning a Worlds time trial might …

What did you think of this story?