Despite a stage one crash, Annemiek van Vleuten won the four-day Setmana Valenciana Femines on Sunday. The European champion won that opening stage with a margin of 2.06, Spanish champion Mavi García (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) second on the day and hanging on to the same place on GC.
All four stages contained significant climbing, but with the GC decided on the opening day it made for a lopsided race. What was clear though is that, despite a less than illustrious start list, Movistar are looking ominously strong, the victory coming a week after their last stage race victory at Luxembourg’s Festival Elsy Jacobs.
Not only did the Spanish squad take the overall victory and team prize on home roads, their Norwegian climber, Katrine Aaleruud, finished third on GC, while sprinter Sheyla Gutiérrez finished second on stages two and three.
The weekend also saw a welcome return to form for Alice Barnes. She has not bagged a victory since winning the British road and time trial championships in June 2019, and her Canyon-SRAM squad have been similarly barren since stage three of the Boels-Ladies Tour three months later.
The race was the first of a series in Spain, in which Movistar are bound to have more serious competition. SDWorx are set to field world champion Anna van der Breggen at the Emakumeen Nafarroako on Thursday May 13th, the first of four one day races, which are followed by the next round of the Women’s WorldTour, the four day Vuelta a Burgos Feminas beginning on May 20.
How it happened
Four classified climbs on the opening 126km stage set the tone for the race, and after aggressive start Israeli champion Omer Shapira (Canyon-SRAM) and American Heidi Franz (Rally Cycling) headed up the road. On the first two climbs Shapira gained maximum points, setting her on course to winning the climber’s classification at the end of the week.
On the day’s penultimate climb the Canyon-SRAM rider was alone, but was unable to hold on when caught by Annemiek van Vleuten and Spanish champion Mavi García (Alé BTC Ljubljana).
This pairing was redolent of the 2020 Strade Bianche, and the outcome was the same, Van Vleuten, racing in Spain for the first time since joining Movistar, riding her rival off her wheel on the final climb with round 15km to go.
Despite a crash Van Vleuten eventually crossed the line Gandía 2.06 ahead of the Spanish rider, with Movistar team mate Katrin Aaleruud winning the sprint for third place, the day’s podium reflecting that of the final GC.
There were more hills the next day, a 125km stage between Castelló and Vila Real, with two formidable climbs in the middle.
Numerous early attacks saw a small group get away and build a minute’s gap, but the race re-formed and, at the base of the first climb Rally Cycling’s Krista Doebel-Hickok headed up the road alone.
Initially the bunch settled, allowing the American to build a lead approaching four minutes, but he race split, and a group of 34, set about holding the gap steady. However, Doebel-Hickok entered the mostly downhill final 40km of the stage with an advantage of more than 3.30, and the virtual overall lead.
The threat to Van Vleuten’s general classification brought her Movistar squad to the front, and with some assistance from Canyon-SRAM and BikeExchange, the leader was finally caught with five kilometres remaining.
The ensuing bunch kick was impossibly close, Sandra Alonso (Bizkaia-Durango) eventually declared the winner, a fraction ahead of Sheyla Gutiérrez (Movistar).
Inevitably stage three between Sagunt and Valencia was another lumpy day, and a late change extending the route to 120km, though with the closing 50km either downhill or flat a sprint was expected.
Canyon-SRAM’s young German Hannah Ludwig got away and was soon joined by five others with a lead of 1.05 on the peloton. The catch was delayed huge crash which took down about 25 women, though with 35km remaining, the escapees were back in the bunch.
Fifteen kilometres later it was the turn of former Polish champion Małgorzata Jasinska (Burgos).
A Consummate breakaway specialist, Jasinska was allowed her head, even when joined by two others.
Inside the closing five kilometres Jasinksa was solo, but was swept up by Canyon-SRAM with only two kilometres to go. The German team’s effort paid off, Alice Barnes opening her sprint around 300m from the line and holding on for a clear victory.
The last stage was the most exciting, a single escapee getting away early eventually getting a gap early on the 114km between Finestrat and Alacant. Nadine Gill (Bizkaia Durango) built a decent lead, but was chased by BikeExchange’s Slovenian, Uška Žigart.
The pair’s advantage grew to more than four minutes as they crested the last of three classified climbs, before on one of the smaller digs, around 25km out, Žigart dropped Gill and headed on alone.
Žigart was no threat to the general classification and entered the final 5km leading the peloton, led by a frantic Canyon-SRAM, by only one minute. But despite other teams helping the chase Žigart held on to win by only five seconds.
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar, in 13-18-57
2. Mavi García (Esp) Alé-BTC Ljubljana, at 2-16
3. Katrine Aaleruud (Nor) Movistar, at 2-30
4. Debora Silvestri (Ita) Top Girls Fassa Bortolo, at 2-31
5.Noemi Rüegg (Sui) Stade Rochelais Charente Maritime, at 2-31
6. Hannah Ludwig (Ger) BikeExchange, at 2-32
7. Špela Kern (Slo) Massi Tactic, at 2-34
8. Greta Marturano (Ita) Top Girls Fassa Bortolo
9. Letizia Borghesi (Ita) Aromitalia-Basso Bikes-Vaiano
10. Omer Shapira (Isr) Canyon-SRAM, all 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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