Australian Grace Brown won the third stage of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta with a clever sprint from a two woman group.
The FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope rider attacked with Elisa Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) inside the final 10km of the 96km stage, the two holding off a chasing group of more than 20 women.
Despite the chasers closing in, Brown forced the Swiss rider to the front with 700m to go , then refused to come through. Stranded, Chabbey opened her sprint 300m out, but the Australian came over the top in the final few metres to take the win.
Having been distanced earlier in the race, world champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) led the chasing group of around 25 women home to take third, just eight seconds behind the winner.
The stage was a remarkable display of day long attacking, aggressive racing, making for a hugely entertaining race, though only the final 40km were televised. Annemiek van Vleuten and her Movistar team were the protagonists in chief, and the Dutch rider held on to her overall lead of 1-55 with two stages remaining.
How it happened
After Annemiek van Vleuten took control of the race with a stunning display of climbing on stage two, the Ceratizit Challenge stayed in the Cantabrian Mountains for another hilly day.
However, while the the long climb which dominated the profile made the day look extremely challenging, the 16km ascent of Hoces de Bárcena averaged only 3.4% was not the greatest challenge for what is now an almost completely professional women’s peloton.
Some steeper digs towards the top of that climb could prove decisive, and a lumpy run to line in Aguilar de Campoo offered some opportunities for the brave.
However, a race is decided by the riders and the peloton were aggressive from the gun. But despite numerous attacks throughout the opening 20km, a complete peloton made it over the day’s other classified climb, Alto de Hijas.
Riding her first WorldTour race since winning Olympic gold in Tokyo, Anna Kiesenhofer (Soltec) tried her luck getting away after the descent. Though the Austrian was unsuccessful, others continued to try forming a breakaway, with the Movistar squad of overall leader particularly aggressive.
Clearly looking to set something up for Van Vleuten later in the race, at some stage the Spanish team tried to get every one of their riders away, but nothing would stick. Even two huge groups could not capitalise on a 20 second advantage, and brief lull saw the entire bunch lead onto the Hoces de Bárcena.
Here, at last a selection was made, Van Vleuten’s Movistar squad leading the peloton up the climb at such a pace the group were whittled away, leaving only around 30 women at the front.
But the attacking did not stop. After losing time on stage two, Spanish champion Mavi García (UAE ADQ) headed up the road around five kilometres from the top of the climb, but the smaller group would not settle and her advantage never exceeded 15 seconds.
After SDWorx did much of the pace setting on the climb, Van Vleuten accelerated hard on the steepest slopes near the top, bringing García back and briefly splitting the group. Though around 20 re-formed, they remained aggressive until, with 25km to go newly crowned Commonwealth time trial champion, Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope) attacked, quickly gaining the biggest lead of the day.
With the Australian’s lead at 35 seconds, Jumbo-Visma rider Amber Kraak set off in pursuit, the Dutch rider eventually reaching the front while SDWorx, who had four women in the chasing group, including Tour of Flanders winner Lotte Kopecky set about bringing them back.
However, by the time the two leaders were caught the work done by Demi Vollering had dropped team mate Kopecky, along with another punchy sprinter, world champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo).
Sensing opportunity for her team mate Arlenis Sierra, race leader Van Vleuten headed to the front, resumed her familiar predator mode, upped the pace and conclusively distanced the chasing sprinters.
However, when she backed off the attacking resumed, García among those heading up the road, before Brown and Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) got away, quickly building a lead. Meanwhile, behind, Kopecky’s group got back on and the chase resumed, though the two leaders had a lead of 32 seconds with only six kilometres remaining.
With much of the final five kilometres downhill, even a concerted chase was unable to drag the two leaders back, and they took 25 seconds into the final 1500m.
Result Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, stage three: Camargo - Aguilar de Campoo (96.4km)
1. Grace Brown (Aus) FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope in 2-28-37
2. Elise Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM at same time
3. Elisa Balsamo (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 08 sec
4. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) SDWorx
5. Arlenis Sierra (Cub) Movistar
6. Alex Manly (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco
7. Silvia Persico (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service
8. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM
9. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
10. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar all at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 5-49-01
2. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 1-55
3. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx at 2-24
4. Ane Santesteban (Esp) BikeExchange-Jayco at 2-41
5. Liane Lippert (Ger) DSM at same time
6. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ-SUEX-Futuroscope at 2-46
7. Anna Shackley (GBR) SDWorx at 2-58
8. Juliette Labous (Fra) DSM at 3-19
9. Elisa Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM at 3-20
10. Brodie Chapman (Aus) FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope at 3-32
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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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