By Owen Rogers
The Vuelta Burgos finished in exciting style on Sunday, with the world champion Anna van der Breggen taking the stage and overall victory on the fearsome climb to Lagunas de Neila.
The world champion entered the final kilometre with only Annemiek van Vleuten for company. The SDWorx rider led the way, stuck tight to the barrier, and forcing Van Vleuten to take the long way round when she opened her sprint. That gave Van der Breggen time to react.
In the end, Van Vleuten was unable to get past, finishing second, though at the same time. Van der Breggen’s team-mate Demi Vollering finished third, 20 seconds down.
Van der Breggen started the day three seconds ahead of Van Vleuten and her stage win handed her the general classification by the same margin.
The leading group had caught the remnants of a huge, 30-woman breakaway only two kilometres ahead of the finish at the top of the Lagunas de Neila climb, with Vollering initially leading the way. When she was dropped Van der Breggen went to the front.
Though it did not reduce the spectacle, that the pair would be fighting for the general classification here was somewhat predictable. They are the sport’s two dominant riders, certainly in the mountains and in stage races, and it is the second time in a week we have seen them sprinting head-to-head.
Last week the pair were alone in the final kilometre at Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria where Van der Breggen, in her last season before retirement, took another win.
Indeed head to head battles between the two are not common, Though Van Vleuten memorably won the 2018 La Course, catching and passing her rival 100m from the line, until last week we had only seen the pair alone in the final, sprinting for the win on three other occasions.
While Van Vleuten won stage one of the 2014 Lotto Belgium Tour, Van der Breggen won both other races; stage 9 of the 2019 Giro Rosa and stage 5 of the 2017 Boels Ladies Tour.
However, it must be noted Van Vleuten has had her fair share of success, she has more victories than Van der Breggen, but in recent years has tended to go long to gain her greatest successes, getting a gap and holding it.
How it happened
With only two classified climbs as opposed to the three on the other stages, the fourth and final stage from Quintanar to Lagunas de Neila might have been seen as the easiest. However, at 121.6km, not only was it the longest day, but the final climb to the finish was of a kind rarely seen in the women’s sport.
The stage concluded at the top of the climb to Lagunas de Neila, and with 11.9km uphill at an average gradient of 6.3 per cent, it made for a tough day out, where only the best climbers would triumph.
The first breakaway of the day went clear with around 25km done, three women gaining a small advantage before being brought back by the pack, and another solo move went away. She was also caught as the rampant peloton was well ahead of the fastest schedule, and it was only when the bunch split after 70km, that a break was established.
Consisting of 30 women it was a huge breakaway, and they soon built a lead of over one minute, and while none of them were in the top 10 on GC, some big names and accomplished climbers were in there.
Most notable among the climbers in that 30 woman group were Pauliena Rooijakkers (Liv Racing), Omer Shapira (Canyon-SRAM), Clara Koppenburg (Rally Cycling), Eider Merino (AR Monex), Katrine Aaleruud (Movistar), Tayler Wiles (Trek-Segafredo) and Scotswoman Anna Shackley (SDWorx) most of whom had team-mates with them.
Also with a team-mate, and perhaps most dangerous to the GC, was former Australian champion Amanda Spratt (Bike Exchange), who has mountain stages at the Giro Rosa on her considerable palmarès and began the day only 32 seconds behind overall leader Niamh Fisher-Black (SDWorx).
The 30 women entered the final 35km with a lead on the peloton of 1.40, but 15km later it was coming down and they eventually split as they passed the third category Alto del Collado de Vilviestre, leaving only 14 women in the leading group as they began the final arduous climb to the line.
The climb took its toll, though and that leading group of 14 shattered leaving only Spratt, Aaleruud, Koppenburg and Shackley at the front as the gradient ramped up over 10%.
Behind, with SDWorx working for Fisher-Black, the gap was coming down, allowing those dropped from the break to be absorbed and Shackley to sit on in the leading group. However, the Scot was dropped with 2.5km remaining.
Soon after Spratt went the same way, but the gap to what had been the peloton and was now a chasing group of seven, including four from SDWorx, was shrinking fast. The chasing group also splintered, eventually leaving Anna van der Breggen, Demi Vollering (both SDWorx) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) as the race entered the final kilometre and the mountain’s steepest section.
The leaders were finally caught with 750m to go and it became a battle of the Dutch women, with Van der Breggen taking the honours, but with compatriots filling each of the three places behind her.
Vuelta a Burgos Feminas, stage four, Quntanar de la Sierra - Lagunas de Neila (121.6km)
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) SDWorx in 3-24-15
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar, at same time
3. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx at 20 seconds
4. Pauliena Rooijakkers (Ned) Liv Racing at 35s
5. Clara Koppenburg (Ger) Rally Cycling at 37s
6. Katrine Aaleruud (Nor) Movistar at 51s
7. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, at 1-04
8. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) SDworx, at 1-06
9. Grace Brown (Aus) BikeExchange, at 1-09
10. Amanda Spratt (Aus) BikeExchange, at 1-17
Final general classification
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) SDWorx, in 11-23-55
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar, at 3 seconds
3. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx at 23s
4. Clara Koppenburg (Ger) Rally, at 59s
5. Katrine Aaleruud (Nor) Movistar, at 1-02
6. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, at 1-04
7. Grace Brown (Aus) BikeExchange, at 1-07
8. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) SDWorx, at 1-09
9. Pauliena Rooijakkers (Ned) Liv Racing, at same time
10. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM, at 1-25
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