Silvia Persico takes Ceratizit Challenge stage victory after a tense aggressive final

Olympic champion Anna Kiesenhofer comes close to pulling off a repeat of her Tokyo triumph with a long solo break

Silvia Persico won the fourth stage of the Ceratizit Challenge in Segovia on Saturday. The Valcar Travel and Service rider was part of an eight woman group which contested the short climb to the finish line in the city’s centre, coming to the front in the final 50m to take her first WorldTour victory.

Demi Vollering (SDWorx) finished a close second, with Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) third.

The winning move was kicked off by German champion Liane Lippert (DSM). As what remained of the peloton took the final, 180º turn into the closing 600m metres she opened her sprint, shredding what remained of the group.

Through the narrow city gates she still led, but overall leader Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) moved through to the front before Longo Borghini launched her long range sprint. However, it was not to be, her compatriot Persico coming over the top for victory.

The day was notable for the extraordinary performance of Olympic champion Anna Kiesenhofer (Soltec). The Austrian, riding her first ever WorldTour stage race, attacked from the gun and built a huge lead on the peloton as she did in Tokyo. 

However, in contrast to the Olympics she was caught - though only with 1,100m of the 160km stage remaining.

The Austrian has raced very few UCI events since her triumph in Tokyo, and the Ceratizit Challenge was her first WorldTour race since then. Indeed, should she finish Sunday’s final stage in Madrid it will be the first top tier race she has ever completed.

Van Vleuten retained her overall lead and goes into the final stage with a lead of 1-51 on Longo Borghini.

Sunday’s fifth day is almost guaranteed to end in a bunch kick. The 95.7km race tackles 16 and-a-half laps of a near flat 5.8km circuit in the centre of Madrid, after which Van Vleuten is likely to claim a remarkable triple crown of the Giro Donne, Tour de France Femmes and the Challenge by La Vuelta.

How it happened 

By far the longest stage of the five, the fourth day started in Palencia and finished 160.4km later in Segovia. Almost 55km longer than the next longest stage, the peloton also rode a 17km neutral roll out making for a long day in the saddle.

While the opening part of the profile resembled the crenelations of a medieval castle, the route smoothed out, though dragged very gently upward until a section of gravel and an uphill finish, the line coming at the top of the day’s only classified climb.

That climb was only 3.7%, but a couple of hundred metres at 7% was likely to challenge the pure sprinters.

In aggressive mood as she was in the two previous road stages, Anna Kiesenhofer (Soltec) attacked the moment the flag dropped. No doubt hoping to replicate her Olympic gold winning ride in Tokyo, she quickly had a lead of 30 seconds, soon that expanding to over a minute.

With the Austrian’s advantage growing Nina Buijsman (Human Powered Health) attacked an already fractured peloton. The Dutchwoman made little impact though, getting 1-30 ahead of the peloton by which time Kiesenhofer’s lead was 5-30. 

She started the day 7-14 behind overall leader Van Vleuten, and as the stage finally entered its closing 90km Kiesenhofer’s advantage had grown to a massive 9-30 and the chance of another upset for the Austrian seemed possible.

Despite the suffering a minor crash KIesenhofer maintained her lead, and the game of brinkmanship in the bunch finally saw Movistar take to the front, even Van Vleuten taking her turn and beginning to chip away at the deficit.

By the time she entered the final 50km Kiesenhofer’s lead was down to seven minutes and Van Vleuten was back in the virtual race lead, though the Austrian’s chance of a stage win remained, causing other teams to come to the front.

With 30km remaining her lead was below five minutes, but it wasn’t dropping fast, even with Canyon-SRAM, FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope and DSM among the teams assisting Movistar at the front. Ten kilometres later she had lost another 90 seconds and success seemed less certain, especially with the tough finish.

Victory for the Austrian was less certain with 10km to go, her lead onto the gravel sector down to 1-35 and losing a further 50 seconds before she was back on tarmac, just 1700m later.

A smaller peloton emerged from the gravel though plenty of teams had sufficient riders to contribute on the front, but still Kiesenhofer took 28 seconds into the final 2.5km and the final climb to the line.

On that ascent SDWorx came to the front, their Hungarian champion Blanka Vas lifting the pace and catching Kiesenhofer just 1100m from the line and the race was set to be decided on the climb to the line.

Result Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, stage four: Palencia - Segovia from - to (160.4km)

1. Silvia Persico (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service in 4-11-01
2. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo 
4. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) SDWorx 
5. Liane Lippert (Ger) DSM
6. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar all at same time
7. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope at 04 sec
8. Anouska Koster (Ned) Jumbo-Visma at 06 sec
9. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM at 11 sec
10. MAvi García (Esp) UAE-ADQ

General classification after stage four

1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 10-00-02
2. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 1-51
3. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx at 2-18
4. Liane Lippert (Ger) DSM at 2-41
5. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ-SUEX-Futuroscope at 2-50
6. Ane Santesteban (Esp) BikeExchange-Jayco at 3-03
7. Anna Shackley (GBR) SDWorx at 3-14
8. Juliette Labous (Fra) DSM at 3-35
9. Elisa Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM at 3-36
10. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM at 3-45

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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.