Annemiek van Vleuten followed up her scintillating Olympic performances by taking the win at Clásica San Sebastián on Saturday.
The newly crowned Olympic time trial champion attacked what remained of the peloton on the steepest sections of the final climb, reaching the top alone, before then powering over the final eight kilometres to the victory.
Behind her another Tokyo Olympian, Ruth Winder battled to get back on terms, but the Trek-Segafredo rider was held at arm’s length, crossing the line alone, some 36 seconds down. Meanwhile, Tatiana Guderzo (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) finished third, leading a small group home.
After the confusion and hesitancy of the Olympic road race, this was the women’s sport back to its aggressive and swashbuckling best, with a number of breakaways and attacks throughout.
The whole peloton knew they needed to use their heads as well as their legs to take on Van Vleuten and a late breakaway of six riders was close to doing the job, with four of its members finishing in the top 10.
Winder’s team-mate Audrey Cordon-Ragot was perhaps the most aggressive, getting in an early break, as well as the late escape which she attacked with 11km remaining at the foot of that final climb. Indeed she was the last woman standing when Van Vleuten launched her stinging attack.
How it happened
In its second edition, this year’s race should not have happened as it had been due to be replaced by a four-day stage race in the hills of the Basque Country instead. However, when the pandemic caused the cancellation of the multi-day event to be held in May, organisers decided to reprise the one-dayer to run alongside the men’s race.
Typically for the Basque Country, rain greeted the peloton as they rolled out along the seafront in San Sebastián for the 139.8km race, which would take on a constantly undulating parcours including four classified climbs.
The historic signature ascent of the Jaizkibel came in the second half, but it was the final climb of Murgil Bidea which was likely to be decisive. Though only 2.1km it averages 10 per cent with ramps of 19 percent, and those in lead at the top, which is only eight kilometres from the line, were likely to compete for the win.
Early on in the race 21-year-old Italian Giorgia Vettorello (Top Girls Fassa Bortolo), who was the breakaway artist of the recent Giro Donne, made a move, building a lead approaching one minute over the first climb at Aia.
On the descent though she was caught by nine others, forming a group of 10 at the front. However, with three from Movistar and two from Trek-Segafredo present off the front they were never allowed too much space and were caught ahead of the Jaizkibel.
Around halfway up the climb three more women escaped, Evita Muzic (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope), Pauliena Rooijakkers (Liv Racing) and local rider Ane Santesteban (BikeExchange) cresting the climb with a lead of around 40 seconds.
As the gap came down they were joined by Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo) and Canadian Olivia Baril (Massi Tactic) the five build a lead of 1.30 on a peloton of about 35 riders, with AléBTC Ljubljana’s Tatiana Guderzo catching them on the penultimate climb, with 33km remaining.
With no representation in the leading group and recently crowned Olympic time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten among their squad, local team Movistar were forced to the front to take on the chase.
Crossing the finish line for the first time, with 17.5km to go the six leaders still had just over one minute lead, but that continued to be eroded as the final climb approached.
At the bottom Cordon-Ragot launched her bid, but though she maintained a steady pace she could not counter Van Vleuten who had been perfectly placed by her team-mates.
Clásica San Sebastián 2021: San Sebastián to San Sebastián (139.8km)
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar, in 3-53-37
2. Ruth Winder (USA) Trek-Segafredo, at 36 seconds
3. Tatiana Guderzo (Ita) Alé BTC Ljubljana, at 1-35
4. Sabrina Stultiens (Ned) Liv Cycling
5. Évita Muzic (Fra) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope
6. Brodie Chapman (Aus) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine, all at same time
7. Pauliena Rooijakkers (Ned) Liv Racing, at 1-38
8. Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Fra) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-52
9. Erica Magnaldi (Ita) Ceratizit-WNT
10. Ellen Van Dijk (Ned) Trek-Segaredo, both at same time
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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.
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