Dutch rider Sabrina Stultiens took her first professional individual victory since graduating from the under 23 ranks, to win the opening stage of Emakumeen Bira in the Basque County on Saturday.
The 24-year-old escaped a group of three other riders in the final kilometre of the 108km stage, crossing the line 17 seconds ahead of the bunch, led by Lisa Brennauer (Wiggle-High5) and former world road champion Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance).
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Winner, Stultiens had been part of a four-woman break containing the race favourites as they entered the final 10km, but as the gap was eroded the other three began looking to each other to do the work. It was then she made her move, leaving the remaining escapees to be caught as they entered the final 200-metre straight.
The group had gone clear in the testing final 20km, which included an intermediate sprint, with bonus seconds available, up a one kilometre climb with ramps over 15 per cent, and the final classified climb which was only 1.3km at an average of seven per cent.
How it happened
The first of four stages in the Spanish race, having left the start and finish town of Legazpi, the vast majority of the opening 30km were downhill, making for a fast start, the peloton remaining all together and it passed a number of other small towns.
Even when the bunch re-traced their steps, returning through the start for the first of two passes, the bunch stayed resolutely as one, despite the speed. Only on the main climbs did the race break up, with a number of riders being dropped on the first ascent to Aztiria.
It was on the second of three classified climbs that the race finally fell apart, with Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio going clear, while behind Stultiens was distanced slightly. She worked very hard to get back on, however, making the junction just before the final bonus sprint, on which van der Breggen took maximum time.
Following a promising start to her career, which saw her win the U23 European Championships, Stultiens spent much of 2016 on the sidelines with injury and illness, and her return to form has been a slow one.
Last year she was one of the Sunweb squad who won the Team Time Trial World Championships, and this year she has been improving race after race, finishing third in Thursday’s one-day preamble to this event, Durango-Durango.
As well as Stultiens’s own maiden pro success, the victory was the first Women’s WorldTour success for her Waowdeals team this year, and will take the pressure off the team. However, she does not expect to keep the race leader’s jersey after tomorrow.
Stage two is a 26.6km time trial, and is the first opportunity for world champion van Vleuten to show off her rainbow stripes on European soil.
With van der Breggen also a highly talented tester and Stultiens admitting a weakness against the clock, she is likely to drop a good lump of time.
The subsequent two stages are hilly though, and she should be able to at least maintain a top-10 place.
Emakumeen Bira – Stage one, Legazpi – Legazpi (108.1km)
1. Sabrina Stultiens (Ned) Waowdeals in 2-51-24
2. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Wiggle-High5 at 17s
3. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita)
4. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans
5. Elena Cecchini (Ita) Canyon-SRAM
6. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott
7. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) Cervélo-Bigla
8. Dani Rowe (GBr) Waowdeals
9. Lara Vieceli (Ita) Astana Women, all at same time
General Classification after stage one
1. Sabrina Stultiens (Ned) Waowdeals, in 2-51-13
2. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Wiggle High5, at 22s
3. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Cylance, at 24s
4. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) Cervélo-Bigla ,at same time
5. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, at 25s
6. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott, at same time
7. Małgorzata Jasinska (Pol) Movistar, at 27s
8. Elena Cecchini (Ita) Canyon-SRAM, at 28s
9. Dani Rowe (GBr) Waowdeals
10. Lara Vieceli (Ita) Astana Women, all at same time