Dominant Van Vleuten crushes the opposition at Challenge by La Vuelta to take stage three honours and GC lead

The European champion’s long-range attack saw her take three minutes on her opposition to move into first in the overall classification

Annemiek van Vleuten
(Image credit: Getty)

Annemiek van Vleuten took another remarkable solo win on stage three of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta. In so doing the European champion overhauled her general classification deficit and takes the overall lead into the final stage.

The Dutch rider attacked with a group of others around 40km into the 107km stage, dropping her companions one by one until she was alone with around 50km to go.

The lumpy course proved too much for stage one winner Marlen Reusser (Alé-BTC Ljubljana), who began the day with a lead in the overall, of 1-39 on Van Vleuten. Though she made it into a chasing group, they were unable to prevent the gap from growing and she lost a hatful of time, eventually finishing ninth, 3-03 down, though she held on to second place on GC.

The battle for the day’s podium was more interesting than the result. With the win already decided and the peloton more than two minutes behind them, with just over three kilometres remaining the eight-woman group began attacking each other.

After a series of parries, three women fought for the remaining two places, with German Liane Lippert taking second, and Kasia Niewiadoma third, both 2-48 behind the winner.

How it happened

For its third stage, the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta once again started at Estación de Montaña de Manzaneda, the race winding 107.9km west to the finish at Pereiro de Aguiar, near Ourense.

Though they would not return to the ski station, the climbing was not over, with two classified ascents along the way and barely a kilometre of flat. At 15.5km the second and most severe of the climbs, the Alto de A Lama might be a long one but averaging only 3.9 per cent it was unlikely to test would not test the best too much. 

And though the upper ramps over 7 per cent might allow a brave rider to escape, with the top 43km from the finish, and with temperature in the 30s, any move would have to be completely committed.

Attackers were offered opportunities late in the race with a short, steep dig two kilometres from the line, and steepening final 300m, meaning an explosive all-rounder would be favourite for the stage had it come to a sprint.

As has been normal so far this week, there were no early attempts to get away, the Alé-BTC Ljubljana team of overall leader Marlen Reusser protecting her. And while a group of three women got away with just over 20km ridden, they were soon back in the bunch. 

However, with 60km to go Annemiek van Vleuten escaped, attacking at the bottom of a technical descent and taking a lead onto the ensuing climb. The Movistar rider had promised fireworks after winning Friday’s time trial and moving up to third overall, 1-39 down, and took Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Kasia Niewiadoma with her.

While the peloton was well over one minute back, the leading trio was chased by a small group led by Reusser, with Kata Blanka Vas (SDWorx), Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine), Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM), and two DSM riders, Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij.

However, such was Van Vleuten’s pace at the front that first Niewiadoma slipped back, then Longo Borghini joining the chasing group behind, with Van Vleuten soon becoming the virtual overall leader, as the gap expanded to 2-45 with 30km to go. 

Though her lead began to come down, the chase getting as close as 2-20, Van Vleuten responded, extending her lead to over three minutes before she eased into the final. 

The fourth and last stage race will head north, to As Pontes, close to the coast for an undulating 107.4km return leg south-west to finish in Santiago de Compostela ahead of the men’s Vuelta.

Results

Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2021, stage three: Estación de Montaña de Manzaneda - Pereiro de Aguiar (107.9km)

1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 2-41-53
2. Liane Lippert (Ger) DSM at 2-48
3. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM at same time
4. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 2-51
5. Floortje Mckaij (Ned) DSM at 2-55
6. Kata Blanka Vas (Hun) SDWorx at 3-01
7. Elise Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM
8. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope all at same time
9. 3-03
10. Elisa Balsamo (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service at 7-13

General classification after stage 3

1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 6-10-25
2. Marlen Reusser (Sui) Ale2-BTC Ljubljana at 1-34
3. Elise Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM at 3-20
4. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 3-38
5. Liane Lippert (Ger) DSM at 4-07
6. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM at 4-14
7. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 4-35
8. Floortje Mckaij (Ned) DSM at 4-46
9. Kata Blanka Vas (Hun) SDWorx at 5-07
10. Pauliena Rooijakkers (Ned) Liv Racing at 7-30