Annemiek van Vleuten put on a climbing masterclass at the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta on Thursday, winning the second stage and taking the overall lead.
The Movistar rider led an attack on the day’s penultimate climb dragging out out four rivals. Over the next two kilometres she almost systematically dropped them, one by one. In the space of just over four kilometres Van Vleuten put had not only stamped her authority on the race, but humbled the peloton’s other best climbers.
Despite some obvious descending issues at the Giro Donne earlier this summer, Van Vleuten was able to maintain her gap on the downhills, even increasing it on the flat eight kilometre run in to the line.
In the end she won the stage by 2-17, with Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) putting in a powerful sprint to take second ahead of Liane Lippert (DSM).
Finishing 10th, Anna Shackley (SDWorx) was the best placed British rider, taking her best WorldTour result.
Van Vleuten will take a lead of 1-55 into Friday’s third stage. It's another hilly one, finishing at the top of a climb, but such was the Dutchwoman’s superiority on Thursday she is unlikely to be challenged and seems set to take the overall win.
Should she manage to hold on she will have won the Giro Donne, Tour de France and what is the women’s version of the Vuelta in the space of 10 weeks.
How it happened
Though only the second day of the five, Thursday’s stage was the one where the race could be won. Indeed, such is the week’s parcours it was perhaps the stage where those with overall ambitions needed to make the difference.
Starting up in Spain’s northern coast, in the town of Colindres, where the day also finished, the route headed south, into the Cantabrian Mountains tackling five classified climbs through the 105.9km. While two of those came early on, not only were the final three entirely in the route’s second half, they were the hardest, each with ramps over 11%.
And with the final ascent averaging 8% over its 3.2km, and topping out just 14km from the finish line fireworks were guaranteed.
Those fireworks began nearly as soon as the opening climb arrived, a group of five heading up the the road on the Alto Fuente Las Varas. Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo), Sarah Roy (Canyon-SRAM), Maike Coljé (Massi Tactic), Polish breakaway artist Marta Lach (Ceratizit-WNT) and Brit Sophie Wright (UAE ADQ) built a small gap before Brand and Roy forged on alone.
While Wright slipped back, Lack and Coljé battled on, but while they almost got back to the front, Brand and Roy were too strong, building a lead of more than two minutes with 60km remaining. That gap extended to 3-45 as they completed the flattish middle 25km and headed onto the Campo Layal climb.
As the climb kicked up overall leader Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) suffered a minor crash, and was escorted back to the bunch by world champion Elisa Balsamo, getting back on just as the peloton crested the climb, the leaders’ advantage down to 1-20.
On the flat before the penultimate climb last year’s winner, Annemiek van Vleuten sent her Movistar team to the front and the deficit to the leaders began to drop fast. Half way up the climb, with 30km to go the leaders were caught by a much reduced peloton which Van Vleuten attacked.
Almost instantly she had dragged a grip of five off the front, the Dutch rider on the front pushing the pace. Longo Borghini, Demi Vollering (SDWorx), Mavi García (UAE ADQ), and Liane Lippert (DSM) on her wheel, the rest of the bunch in bits and bobs down the road.
Just over three kilometres from the top German champion Lippert was dropped, García soon followed suit, and just after a gap opened to Longo Borghini Van Vleuten attacked again, finally distancing her compatriot, Vollering, and riding on alone.
At the top of the climb Van Vleuten had a lead of more than 40 seconds on Vollering and 1-03 over Longo Borghini and Lippert who worked together in pursuit. On the descent she increased her advantage and began the final climb 1-06 ahead of the trio of Vollering, Longo Borghini and Lippert.
Just under 15km from the line, as she crested the final climb Van Vleuten led by 1-41 and the race was won.
Friday’s 96.4km third stage is another hilly one, but while the day’s main ascent is 16km long, its average gradient of only 3.4% is unlikely to provide too many opportunities to split the race.
Result Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, stage two: Colanders - Colindres (105.9km)
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 2-56-30
2. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 2-16
3. Liane Lippert (Ger) DSM
4. Demi Vollering (SDWorx) all at same time
5. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope at 2-50
6. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM
7. Silvia Persico (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service
8. Elisa Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM
9. Juliette Labous (Fra) DSM
10. Anna Shackley (GBr) SDWorx all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 3-20-16
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. Brodie Chapman (Aus) FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope at 3-32
10. Elisa Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM at 3-34
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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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