by Maris-Soleil Blais

I had a big ride in the breakaway at La Flèche Wallonne, an encouraging sign of progression since my debut in Europe. You couldn’t watch it live because the owner of the race (ASO) didn’t see enough value in the women race to broadcast it. So let me tell you the story.

Marie-Soleil Blais smiling while climbing the Mur de Huy. Photo: Patrice Fouques

In the morning of the race, my director Renato (this one speaks only Italian, very limited English) had repeated a few times “142 Astana nella fuga” mimicking a radio voice, as a way to reinforce his message that he was really hoping to hear my number over the radio, that I make the early brake. The girls played the game too, “Maria, fuga, a tope!” [Marie, in the break, fullgas]. Maybe it helped to visualize it better. But easier said than done.

It was really windy, not usually good for breakaways. The race was hard from the beginning, then in one moment, the peloton regrouped and shifted, allowing me to see the front. That’s when I saw Lauren Stephens from Tibco-SVB going to bridge on 2 or 3 girls just ahead. I trust her judgement, so I went on to bridge as well. It’s now! I don’t remember exactly because I was seeing stars by the time I made it. It was all or nothing.

Astana at the team presentation. Photo: Olga Shekel

My teammates in the peloton asking me if I made it to the breakaway : “Maria……fuga?”. To which I was excited to reply, “Si, si! Yes in the fuga! Waka waka eh eh!!” (an inside joke of me making sound as if they were words from a spanish song). “Bene bene! Maria!” That was a pretty cool moment over the radio.

We quickly got organized and started to build a gap. We lost one rider on the first climb. Oh lord I suffered on this climb, I grit my teeth and pushed through. But there was no second of rest, from there it went full gas! We built a gap of almost 3 minutes in the crazy wind. I was full of lactic acid, nearly cramping in my stomach from too much acid. How the hell can they ride so fast! I was struggling to ingest calories with the high intensity, I knew I would pay the price for this later but hey, I’m in the breakaway of La Flèche Wallonne.

The chase started by the big teams as we approached the final circuit and riders were getting dropped from the fast pace in the peloton, while we were still in the wind. It was brutal. Most of us got caught by the reduced peloton near the top of the second hill. It was false flat, crosswind, single-file, full gas bordure.

Suddenly I go from the pain everywhere in my body to the rush of adrenaline of nearly crashing in that chaos. Cars started to pass us in the descent. It’s not a good sign when cars pass you. Directors drive their cars just aggressively as their riders! It’s insane. I found myself in a small group detached at the bottom and only a few minutes later, just as we enter the famous Mur de Huy, the commissaire decided our race was over. For safety issue, they remove riders quickly after they are dropped.

The Astana team pre-race.

We had to climb the Mur to reach the team parking so we continued but at a more reasonable pace. The crowd was so impressive and they cheered us so loud! As if we were at the front! It was so cool to be able to truly enjoy the moment, happy from my ride and with no regret. Near the top, the crowd was even louder. Spectators started hitting the board on the barrier, hundreds of people clapping and slamming the board so hard. The sound resonated through my body, I felt this wave of energy, of emotion. It’s hard to describe, there’s nothing like this. I struggled to hold off my tears. I wanted to thank every fan for their support.

I arrived at the team parking a bit earlier than I would have liked to, but I used the opportunity to enjoy every picture with fans, to sign every autograph, to smile and converse in French with them. I wish I had 35 more bottles to give.

The rest of the team arrived, everyone pleased with their performance. It was a good day!

Marie-Soleil Blais is a first-year professional with Astana Women’s Team from the Centre-du-Québec. She’s a seven time Quebec champion on the road and track.

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