Shivering in front of the cameras during her post-race interview, bottom lip quivering, Itzulia Women stage 1 winner Demi Vollering could have done with a hot chocolate and down head-to-toe suit. The Dutch rider went clear of the peloton at the base of the final climb, Urkaregi, and it seemed it was as much to keep warm as for tactical reasons.
Canyon-SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma was quick to follow but couldn’t keep the pace set by Vollering and ultimately rode to the finish with Vollering’s teammate Marlen Reusser before the Swiss rider outsprinted her at the line. Annemiek van Vleuten followed a few seconds behind on a raw, wet day that took its toll on the pack.
The weather played a major role in the day’s action, with crashes taking their toll on the peloton before the race even reached the final ascent. By the time the race concluded 16 riders had DNF’d, including FDJ-Suez’s Gladys Verhulst.
The weather wasn’t the only cause. On the descent off the day’s first climb, the Gontzagaraigane, a police car accompanying an ambulance reportedly entered the closed course heading the opposite direction, and hit several riders head on, including Eider Merino, Petra Zsankó, Letizia Brufani, and Lana Eberle. All were taken to hospital with various injuries. According to El Correo, the pack had already split apart (likely due to weather) which caused confusion about whether the race had passed and it was safe to allow vehicles on course.
“I was really cold, I think the whole bunch was really cold,” Vollering said at the finish. “In the climbs I actually felt good but the rest of it was very wet and cold. The weather was a big battle itself. I hope the coming days will be a bit dryer but I think it will stay like this so I hope we stay healthy.”
Unfortunately for the race leader, and everyone else, the coming days don’t look any better with a high of 16°C and an 85% chance of rain in the stage 2 finish town of Amurrio. Donostia, where the final stage starts and finishes, is expecting a high of 17°C and another day of 85% precipitation according to Accuweather.
“It makes it hard for the whole peloton to stay kind of calm-ish,” Niewiadoma said of the weather’s effect on racing. “Everyone wants to be at the front, everyone wants to avoid being in the crashes. It’s quite crazy in the peloton [but] for me and my team it was nice we were able to stay in the front and avoid the hecticness.”
The technical nature of the course will heighten the tension in the peloton if the weather does stay poor. Both of the remaining stages feature steep climbs and technical descents, perfect for Niewiadoma in any scenario, but especially if they’re wet. But most of the peloton will be wary of aggressive descending in pouring rain. Vollering could be seen shaking out her hands to regain a bit of feeling on the descent to the finish in Markina-Xemein; not exactly ideal if you’ve got some corners coming up.
That may make Niewiadoma the biggest possible threat to Vollering, if she can thaw out. “I wish I was able to stay with Demi [but] I felt like coming to the climb I was kind of frozen,” Niewiadoma said. “For the fact that I wasn’t feeling the best at first I’m pretty stoked to be third. I really like tomorrow’s stage; I think that stage suits me best.”
In the coming days, should the weather continue, expect to see a few DNSs on the results. There are a few important races to come, and the Giro Donne is only six weeks away. Getting sick at this stage would impact preparation for the Italian tour, or participation in Vuelta a Burgos on May 18, RideLondon on May 26 and the Tour de Suisse Women on June 17. Riders may decide a non-start is a smarter decision than racing for hours in the freezing rain.
Last year’s Itzulia delivered Vollering three stage wins, but the SD Worx rider doesn’t think she will repeat the feat.
“It will be really difficult to do as good as last year but for sure I will try my best to make it a really nice race again,” Vollering said before the media let her hopefully finally get something warm to drink and some dry socks.