By Owen Rogers published
Giorgia Bronzini signed off her 16-year career in perfect style on Sunday, winning the second stage of the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta. The 35-year-old made her way into a winning 19-woman breakaway mid-way through the 100.3km race, winning the final sprint.
Former world time trial champion Ellen van Dijk won the general classification of the two day event, the bulk of her advantage coming from the opening team time trial stage. There, her Sunweb team put 18 seconds into Wiggle-High5, their nearest rivals, ensuring the team dominated the general classification, with Coryn Rivera second.
Wiggle High5’s Audrey Cordon-Ragot bagged third after an intelligent and aggressive ride.
How it happened
Having begun in 2015 as a one day criterium style event on the closing day of La Vuelta, this was the first time the Madrid Challenge had expanded to two days.
The format was unusual though, starting with a team time trial on the outskirts of the city in Boadilla Del Monte. The 14km course was tough, 28º temperatures combining with a cobbled start and tight technical opening half through the town’s streets, before finishing with some short steep inclines.
Team Sunweb are hoping to defend their team time trial world championship crown next week, and not only took their A-team to Spain, but were strong and well drilled, finishing 18 seconds ahead of Wiggle-High5, who bagged their best result of the year in the discipline.
Though Mitchelton-Scott were lacking two of their main powerhouse riders in Annnemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt, their third place was disappointing, finishing 46 seconds down.
This more or less put paid to their general classification chances going into the second day. Instead they planned to ride for Jolien D’hoore, who was hoping to take a third consecutive win on the same course the men’s peloton would parade around later that evening.
The women’s event was far from a parade however. The race consisted of 17 laps of the 5.9km circuit, with seven intermediate sprints each with five, two and one seconds awarded to the first three across the line. The top three on the stage were awarded with 15, 10 and five seconds respectively, making for a maximum of 50 bonus seconds available on the day.
This made for an interesting dynamic and while Mitchelton-Scott weren’t interested in GC, Wiggle-High5 - the majority of whose riders started the day only 18 seconds behind - had other ideas and were aggressive from the off.
Despite the attentions of Team Sunweb, Frenchwoman Cordon-Ragot bagged points in a number of the sprints, putting her in a strong position for the overall.
With around 40 of the 100.3km remaining a huge group of 19 riders escaped the peloton after one of the intermediate sprints. They soon built a lead of over one minute, while behind Alé Cipollini, working for sprinter Chloe Hosking, chased.
In the break Sunweb had huge strength in the form of Van Dijk and Lucinda Brand, but Cordon-Ragot continued to accrue time with the help of her Wiggle-High5 team mate Elisa Longo Borghini.
As the gap came below 30 seconds with two laps to go, Wiggle-High5 began to work in the bunch, hoping to take the win with Kirsten Wild. However, it soon became apparent the catch would not be made, and Bronzini crossed the line at the front of affairs as she has so many times in her career.
Beating Marianne Vos on both occasions, Bronzini is a double road world champion, one of the most successful riders in the bunch, and one of the most popular to boot. Many of her rivals were pleased to have been beaten by her.
Celebrating with a beer in the Madrid sunshine, with one more victory to add to her previous 63 was the prefect way to head to her second career, as directeur sportif with the new Trek Factory Racing team to start next year.
Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta final general classification
1. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Sunweb in 2-35-03
2. Coryn Rivera (USA) Sunweb at 11 seconds
3. Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Fra) at 15 seconds
4. Leah Kirchmann (Can) at 18 seconds
5. Liane Lippert (Ger) Sunweb at 24 seconds
6. Emilia Fahlin (Swe) Wiggle-High5 at 29 seconds
7. Kirsten Wild (Ned) Wiggle-High5 at 36 seconds
8. Sarah Roy (Aus) Mitchelton Scott at 41 seconds
9. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Wiggle-High5 at 42 seconds
10. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Wiggle-High5 at same time.
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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