Elisa Balsamo won the final stage of the Ceratizit Challenge with a perfectly timed sprint in Madrid on Sunday. Her Valcar Travel and Service team came to the front in strength inside the final kilometre, dominating the road, and when Lorena Wiebes launched early the former junior world champion came off her wheel, crossing the line first.
Wiebes (Sunweb), who had expended a lot of energy trying to take bonus seconds at the plethora of intermediate sprints, held on for second, while Marta Bastianelli (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) took third place.
For the second year running, Lisa Brennauer, who was seventh on the stage, performed a tactical masterpiece, she and her Ceratizit-WNT team intelligently taking bonus seconds whenever possible, and defending the lead she had taken from Saturday’s stage two time trial.
The day was a long, frantic and fascinating tactical battle throughout, the format once again making what is essentially a criterium into a hugely exciting spectacle.
The last race of the women’s season, it was also the final race of the Women’s WorldTour, the individual prize for which was won by Brit Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo). Her three wins earlier in the season ensured her lead was unassailable, and she was absent from the three-day race.
How it happened
The 100.3km race around the centre of Madrid took in 17 laps of a pan flat 5.9km circuit, changed slightly this year to avoid a nearby shopping area.
While on the face of it, a crit through empty Madrid streets might seem no way to finish a three-day stage race, intermediate sprints every other lap had five, two and one bonus seconds awarded for the first three riders on each. With 15, 10 and five seconds available for the top three at the finish, historically the race is characterised by exciting and frantic racing.
What we got was a cagey start, with the Ceratizit-WNT squad of overall leader Lisa Brennauer leading the way. In close attendance though were Sunweb, whose stage one winner Lorena Wiebes was the best sprinter in the race, and were looking for the overall win.
After Wiebes pipped Brennauer in the first intermediate sprint, the race developed into a ding dong battle between the German - the wise old hand, and Wiebes - the young pretender. Next time round Brennauer changed tactics and followed her rival’s wheel to win the second sprint and restore her advantage.
In between the intermediate sprints other teams would take the lead, desperately trying to form a breakaway which Sunweb would close down each time. Of those, Mitchelton-Scott were particularly active, with their former British champion Jess Roberts off the front alone, taking the third intermediate sprint before being caught.
After the fourth intermediate two former time trial world champions, Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) forced a move of six women off the front, and when they were caught Elisa Longo Borghini had a go.
The Italian started the day only 10 seconds down on GC and, as the national road and time trial champion, as well as one of the world’s top riders, certainly had the class to threaten the overall.
With Longo Borghini off the front, the action in the peloton eased, and while Brennauer continued to take bonus seconds, Wiebes seemed unable to, her deficit increasing as each intermediate passed, and it seemed she was keeping her powder dry for the stage win.
With the race entering the closing laps inside the final 15k, other teams appeared at the front and the Italian’s advantage shrunk rapidly and she was caught two kilometres later.
Even in the closing two laps the attacks didn't stop, though by then a bunch sprint was inevitable and, with two kilometres to go Valcar Travel and Service team appeared near the front, before stretching the race under the flamme rouge.
Ceratizit Challenge by la Vuelta: stage three, Madrid - Madrid (100.3km)
1. Elisa Balsamo (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service, in 2-16-49
2. Lorena Wiebes (Ned) Sunweb
3. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Alé-BTC Ljubljana
4. Chiara Consonni (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service
5. Silvia Zanardi (Ita) BePink
6. Barbara Guarischi (Ita) Movistar
7. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit-WNT
8. Sandra Alonso (Esp) Casa Dorada
9. Jelena Erić (Ser) Movistar
10. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, all at same time
Final general classification
1. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit-WNT, in 4-29-21
2. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 12 seconds
3. Lorena Wiebes (Ned) Sunweb, at 13s
4. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 31s
5. Leah Kirchmann (Can) Sunweb, at 42s
6. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott, at 44s
7. Sarah Roy (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 46s
8. Maaike Booogaard (Ned) Alé-BTC Ljubljana, at 52s
9. Alice Barnes (Gbr) Canyon-SRAM, at same time
10. Mieke Kröger (Ger) Hitec Products, at 57s
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