Annemiek van Vleuten once again showed she is the world’s best stage racer, winning the Ceratizit Challenge for the second consecutive time.
Her victory came on the back of an imperious climbing and descending show on the race’s second stage to Colindres. There she overhauled a 25 second deficit from the opening day team time trial, building a lead approaching two minutes which she defended to Madrid.
The win comes on the back of those at the Tour de France Femmes aves Zwift and the Giro Donne, the Movistar rider bagging the women’s version of all three women’s ‘grand tours’ within 10 weeks of each other.
The stage itself was won by Elisa Balsamo, the world champion winning in Madrid for the second time. Perfectly placed by her Trek-Segafredo team mates she was able to sit on the wheels after team mate and compatriot Elisa Longo Borghini launched an attack with 500m to go.
As others chased Longo Borghini they inadvertently led out Balsamo, who won the sprint by about five bike lengths, kissing her rainbow jersey as she raced in it for the final time.
Lotte Kopecky (SDWorx) was second with Marta Bastianelli (UAE ADQ).
That the organiser televised only the final 32km was a huge disappointment. Previous days’ coverage didn’t start until well after the men’s Vuelta stage had finished, but with Sunday’s concluding stage starting before the men, and, with a good chance of aggressive racing throughout, organisers seemed to have missed a trick by not screening the race in its entirety.
The lack of visual coverage and the near total absence of race updates on the organiser’s social media channels meant the early part of the stage was held in an information vacuum.
Next year’s race will be extended to seven stages, and with the race moving to the start of May there will be no overlap with the men’s event, so perhaps organisers more comprehensively show their race to the world.
How it happened
For its final stage the race returned to where it all began on 2015, the centre of Madrid for 16 and-a-half laps of an almost flat city circuit, totalling 95.7km.
While the format on its own might not be expected to create exciting racing, the presence of three two and one second bonus seconds on laps eight, 10, 12 and 14 historically makes for frantic, aggressive racing.
Sure enough, on the first lap home rider Sandra Alonso (Ceratizit-WNT) made a move off the front, the team clearly honouring their sponsor’s backing of the race. She was soon joined by Sara Poidevin (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Nina Buijsman (Human Powered Health) and Carlijn Achtereekte (Jumbo-Visma) and they set about gaining a lead.
Starting the day in 46th place overall, 22-34 behind the Van Vleuten’s overall lead, Alonso was the best placed of the breakaway, so they were quickly allowed to build a lead of around one minute. That grew slowly to 1-35 at the end of the sixth lap and it seemed the bonus sprints might not affect the race after all.
The leaders eventually shared all of those sprints among themselves, the bunch still around a minute back one lap later. However, before the second bonus sprint the gap began to drop significantly, and they crossed the line after 10 laps only 35 seconds back, though they were not ready to bring them back just yet, allowing them to dangle within touching distance.
The breakaway were still out front with four laps remaining, though by then only 25 seconds ahead, Van Vleuten lingering at the back of the race, avoiding the bustle of the bunch and the crashes that almost inevitably happened.
With two laps to go the battle for the combativity jersey became heated up, Buijsman attacking the break and taking Alonso with her, but they were caught with just over nine kilometres remaining. Instantly Sara Martín (Movistar) and Niamh Fisher-Black (SDWorx) attacked hoping to ease the pressure on their sprinters, but they too were caught, the pace lifting.
BikeExchange-Jayco led the bunch across the line to begin the final lap, but the race was far from settled, attacks heading up the road. However, SDWorx took control, their Swiss powerhouse Marlen Reusser setting an infernal pace as the sprinter’s teams repositioned themselves again.
In the final lap all the sprinters’ teams were present at or near the front, Movistar led around the final hairpin turn, but when Long Borghini launched her all or nothing love 500m from the line the day was Trek-Segafredo’s.
Result Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, stage five: Madrid - Madrid (95.7km)
1. Elisa Balsamo (Ita) Trek-Segafredo in 2-21-37
2. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) SDWorx
3. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) UAE ADQ
4. Megan Jastrab (USA) DSM
5. Sofia Bertizzolo (Ita) UAE ADQ
6. Maria Giulia Confalionieri (Ita) Ceratizit-WNT
7. Tereza Neumanová (CZE) Liv-Xstra
8. Alex Manly (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco
9. Julie Leth (Den) UNO-X
10. Vittoria Guazzini (Ita) FDJ-SUEZ_Futuroscope all at same time
Final general classification
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 12-21-46
2. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 1-44
3. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx at 2-11
4. Liane Lippert (Ger) DSM at 2-34
5. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ-SUEX-Futuroscope at 2-43
6. Ane Santesteban (Esp) BikeExchange-Jayco at 3-03
7. Anna Shackley (GBR) SDWorx at 3-07
8. Elisa Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM at 3-29
9. Juliette Labous (Fra) DSM at 3-35
10. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM at 3-38
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