In previous seasons this time of year would be a bit of a post-Classics lull, as teams, riders and fans recovered from what was hopefully an enthralling few months of one-day events. But after some changes to the Women’s WorldTour calendar La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es will kick off Monday, May 1.
The Spanish stage race, previously known as the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, has traditionally been one of the last WorldTour races of the year. It first appeared on the calendar in 2015 as a one-day sprinter-friendly event around the streets of Madrid before the men’s Vuelta concluded at the same finish line. Over the years the race slowly added stages and by 2022 it was a five-day event with some significant climbing, won by Annemiek van Vleuten, who swept three major stage races with the Giro Donne and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, capped off by a World Road Championship.
This year, the calendar move means La Vuelta Femenina kicks off “stage race season”, and with two additional stages, the week-long event will be the first real test for riders with general classification ambitions. It also promises a fascinating battle for the overall, with returning champion Van Vleuten lining up against her countrywoman Demi Vollering, who just won all three Ardennes Classics in spectacular fashion. Plus, as it always is with stage races, each day promises new opportunities for teams who came out of the spring season wanting.
So without any further rambling, let’s dive into everything you need to know about La Vuelta Femenina from the stage routes, riders to watch, when you should tune in.
[Edit note: we’ve moved the historic/cultural preview to its own companion piece. Want to nerd out about castles, ancient battles, and cheese? Dane Cash has it covered, of course.]
La Vuelta Femenina starts Monday, May 1 and finishes Sunday, May 7th. The back end of the course is where the real general classification battles will take place but every stage has its own opportunities.
There are two main favourites in contention for the overall win, but a handful of other riders are knocking at the door.
Live coverage times vary depending on the day, with the first stage earlier at 12:30 CEST/6:30 ET, stages 2 to 4 start at 15:30 CEST/9:30 ET and the final three stages starting at 14:00 CEST/8:00 ET. Each day is expected to be about two hours of live coverage including podium ceremonies.
This year’s La Vuelta route has a little something for everyone. A team time trial to kick things off, some sprinter-friendly stages, hills for ambitious riders that hope for breakaway success, and two mountain top finishes where the general classification will likely be decided.
Stage 1 (TTT): Monday, May 1 – Torrevieja to Torrevieja (14.5 km)
La Vuelta Femenina starts on Monday with a relatively short team time trial, the only one currently on the Women’s WorldTour calendar (a few stage races haven’t announced their routes yet and the Vargarda WestSweden TTT is cancelled for 2023).
An event that has fallen out of favour in recent years, the team time trial will test the team’s abilities to work as a single unit. The age-old saying “the race can’t be won here, but it can be lost” applies.
It’s a pretty straightforward course for the first stage. The distance is on the shorter side for a TTT at only 14.5 km. For comparison, when the Giro Donne started the 2020 edition with a 16.8 km TTT the race was won by Trek-Segafredo in 20 minutes and five seconds. So expect this first stage to be really quick.
The big teams like Trek-Segafredo and SD Worx will have an advantage here, not only with their equipment but pure power. For teams like FDJ-Suez and Canyon-SRAM, the day will be about limiting losses. Some teams like Team DSM and Jumbo-Visma might get a surprise result while Movistar will not be too concerned about their leader Van Vleuten starting the hilly days with a few seconds lost (more on that later).
Stage 2: Tuesday, May 2 – Orihuela to Pilar de la Horadada (105.8 km)
The second stage is one for the sprinters. While there is a climb within 20 km of the finish, the Category 4 Puerto de San Miguel de Salinas will not do too much damage to the peloton. At 7.6 km but only 1.2% average grade it’s not something that can spit out the sprinters. The descent could play a bigger role in the finale, depending on how technical it is. But it’s more likely we will see the peloton roll in grupo compacto on Tuesday.
Stage 3: Wednesday, May 3 – Elche de la Sierra to La Roda (157.8 km)
At 158 km Stage 3 is the longest in the race. There are no climbs, but the length could lend itself to a breakaway, similar to the stage we saw at the 2020 Giro Donne when Lizzy Banks won the 165 km stage from Assisi to Tivoli.
If it’s not a day for the breakaway it will be another opportunity for the sprinters, and with a few hillier days to come, it may be the last chance for the fast women to get a result.
Stage 4: Thursday, May 4 – Cuenca to Guadalajara (133.1 km)
If Stage 3 didn’t go to the break Stage 4 is their day, which could make for an interesting fight to get into the move early on. The Category 3 Alto de Horche with 12 km to go may be the only categorized climb on the profile, but the entire day pitches and rolls.
After the leaders get to the top of the final climb it plateaus before descending to the finish. It will make for a brutally fast final 15 km, no matter what the composition of the race is.
The next three stages are mountainous and the race will turn to the general classification hopefuls, more proof that Stage 4 is breakaway-friendly, as GC teams will want to take it “easy” before the mountains.
Stage 5: Friday, May 5 – La Cabrera to Mirador de Peñas Llanas. Riaza (129.2)
The first of two mountain top finishes, Stage 5 will be the first real general classification showdown. Early in the 129.5 km stage, the peloton will race up Puerto de Navafría, an 11.5 km Category 1 ascent averaging 5.8%.
With pitches of 13% near the middle, this first climb is far from insignificant. It comes only 53.7 km into the stage, and there is plenty of road to go, but Van Vleuten is not afraid to launch her race-winning moves early. From the start, teams will need to be on their toes, and it’s unlikely a breakaway will get much freedom with the first climb so early in the stage.
Mirador de Peñas Llanas, the Category 2 ascent that will finish the stage, technically starts with five km to go but gentler climbing starts much earlier from 109.8 km into the stage. The road here starts to pitch upwards, and although there are some slight tips on the profile, the battle for the climbers will start earlier than expected.
Van Vleuten will want to take her first WorldTour victory on Friday, but she will have a few key contenders to defeat in order to cross the line first. A lot of the climbers have only just started to show their strength at the Ardennes, the three one-day races that closed out the Spring Classics.
Riders like Liane Lippert, Demi Vollering, and Mavi García will also have picked Stage 5 as their own.
Stage 6: Saturday, May 6 – Castro-Urdiales to Laredo (106.1 km)
A brief reprieve from the mountains, Stage 6 could be a small group or a breakaway day. With two Category 2 climbs – the second of which is 21.9 km from the finish – the stage offers ample opportunity for aggressive racing.
The first categorized climb, Alto de Fuente de las Varas, is 6.4 km in length with an average of 5.4%; the Puerto de Campo el Hayal is longer at 8.2 km but not as steep at 4.6%.
This could also turn into another general classification fight, similar to the one we saw on Stage 4 of the Giro Donne in 2022 when Van Vleuten turned a slightly hilly stage into the first GC battle. Depending on how the previous stage shakes out, this one is a bit up in the air as far as predictions.
Stage 7: Sunday, May 7 – Pola de Siero to Lagos de Covadonga (93.7 km)
The final stage is also the hardest, with 1,750 meters of elevation gain spaced over two climbs, the second of which is 12.5 km long, the last chance for climbers hoping for a stage win or to move up on GC.
After 36 km of racing the women will race up Collado Moandi, a 12 km long ascent averaging 4.6%. That’s followed by a descent and flat, 31.5 km reprieve before the race hits the base of Lagos de Covadonga.
The base of the climb starts out gradually and slowly builds to sections of 15% roughly 7.5 km in before it kicks again and then flattens 3 km before the top. The climb descends slightly before the finish line, but with the challenging nature of the climb, it’s unlikely more than two riders will come to the line together.
Riders to watch
The general classification, as we’re looking at it now post-Classics, looks like a battle between two riders. In one corner the defending champion, queen of the stage races, the current world champion: Annemiek van Vleuten. In the other corner is a likely future world champion, winner of four Spring Classics including all three Ardennes back-to-back, the protege of the great Anna van der Breggen: Demi Vollering.
It will be one of the most interesting GC fights in a long time and the biggest reason is that no one knows how Van Vleuten will be going. She didn’t have a great spring campaign; for the first time since 2018 she went the whole WWT spring without a victory. But she’s still Van Vleuten, so going into the Vuelta, especially with the hardest stages near the end of the tour, it’s entirely possible her form comes around, especially on the longer climbs.
Next to Van Vleuten, Vollering is looking like she has a near sure-fire stage race victory coming her way. She’s in the best form of her life, as is evident by her recent winning streak. Vollering and Van Vleuten matched up against each other at last year’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and Vollering came away second after some dominant performances by Van Vleuten. But the tables may have truly turned going into this first stage race of the season.
To make matters more interesting Vollering has the strongest team currently in the peloton with SD Worx. Van Vleuten’s Movistar team has added some firepower to their 2023 roster, but it may bite the world champion in the butt, as one of her teammates could also be considered a contender for red.
Vollering’s young teammate Niamh Fisher-Black, who has accumulated five Best Young Rider jerseys since she joined SD Worx in 2021, will probably be up there in the general classification near her leader Vollering. The young Kiwi is getting better and better every year and will be the second-best SD Worx rider on the climbs.
One step below the two Dutchwomen is a handful of potential podium contenders. The best of those is Van Vleuten’s Movistar teammate Liane Lippert. The German national champion finished just behind Vollering at La Flèche Wallonne just a few weeks ago, and her ride to get there was nothing short of incredible. She’s slowly building her ability and this year has been consistently at the top, finishing third at De Brabantse Pijl with a handful of other top 10s throughout the Spring season.
Canyon-SRAM is in a really interesting position. They have three riders who are not favourites to win the overall, but can definitely come close. And if they play their cards right they could make the race really interesting. Firstly is Kasia Niewiadoma, who finished third at last year’s Tour de France Femmes. Next, they have Elise Chabbey who is potentially more of a favourite for a general classification result. The Swiss rider had an impressive spring, finishing fifth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, fourth at De Brabantse Pijl, and ninth at La Flèche Wallonne. Finally, Pauliena Rooijakkers, who has been quiet this spring but put together some great results in 2022 and is a very strong climber. Stages 2, 4, and 7 have Niewiadoma and Chabbey’s names all over them while Rooijakkers could perform on the high mountain stages, especially the finale.
Another slight unknown is Juliette Labous. The French rider on team DSM secured the overall at Vuelta a Burgos Feminas in 2022, beating out Évita Muzic and Demi Vollering by 17 seconds. She backed up the result by winning the only mountaintop finish of last year’s Giro Donne and finishing fourth overall at the Tour de France Femmes. So far in 2023 Labous notched only one top ten at the Tour of Flanders, but could definitely come to La Vuelta with some form.
Trek-Segafredo lines up with one of the most exciting young climbers in the game, Gaia Realini, along with the very experienced Amanda Spratt. Realini was instrumental in Elisa Longo Borghini’s victory at the UAE Tour and with the Italian out due to illness, leadership in the high mountains will be passed on to the young Italian. Spratt, who has had a tough couple of years, is finding her form again at her new team and could surprise with a result either in the general classification or on a stage. She’s been perfecting her breakaway abilities, as we saw at La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Jumbo-Visma has a really interesting GC prospect in Riejanne Markus. The Dutch national champion has developed from a top domestique into a leader in the last two years, winning a stage of the Tour of Norway in 2021 and the Dutch national championships in 2022. This year she targetted the Ardennes one-days and La Vuelta and ended up coming fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Going into La Vuelta, it’s unclear how she will go on the high mountain climbs but she will be one to watch out for on stages 4 and 6.
Although she’s had a quiet spring, Veronica Ewers (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) was one of the breakthrough riders of 2022 and will be a force on the climbs of stages 5 and 7.
Marta Cavalli is another one with a bit of unknown around her. The FDJ-Suez rider would be a rider to watch but has had a tough comeback from a crash at the Tour de France Femmes in 2022, so while she has the ability to perform really well on the climbs of stages 5 and 7, she is still working her way back to the top. Cavalli’s teammate Évita Muzic finished well in the Ardennes and has been slowly building into a leader on FDJ-Suez, she could be considered an outside favourite for a good result on the general classification.
There are only a few stages for the sprinters, so there are fewer fast women than climbers, but one of the most exciting up-and-coming sprinters in the peloton is lining up on Monday.
Charlotte Kool, who has notched two wins already for Team DSM this year, will be eyeing stages 2 and 3. Her main competition is Movistar’s Emma Norsgaard who will return to racing after breaking her collarbone at Strade Bianche in March.
Marianne Vos hasn’t raced a lot this year. She did manage third at Dwars door Vlaanderen and 10th at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, but La Vuelta will be an important building block for the Dutchwoman ahead of the rest of the season. She is a rider to watch for stages 2 and 4, where riders like Kool will be impacted by the climbs before the finish.
While she is not a sprinter-type EF Education-TIBCO-SVB’s Georgia Williams would be an interesting rider to get in the mix on the fast finishes. The Kiwi finished second and third on two stages of the Santos Tour Down Under in January.
Other riders you should know
Finally, there are the stage hunters: strong riders who don’t neatly fit the GC archetype but could factor on any given day that’s not a sprint. The top one that comes to mind is Kristen Faulkner. The Jayco-AlUla rider won a stage of the Giro Donne in 2022 after a fantastic breakaway. In fact, she found herself out front of the race multiple times and finally pulled off a WorldTour victory on stage 9. The American has performed well, narrowing losing out on the overall at the Tour de Suisse in 2022 and finishing third at Strade Bianche earlier in the season, before she was disqualified for wearing a glucose monitoring device. Were the hills a little shorter she would be in contention for the general classification, and perhaps she still is, but she definitely will be in the running for a stage or two.
Silvia Persico will likely land somewhere in the top 10 of the general classification and could find herself on the podium of some of the hilly stages. The Italian was a standout rider of the 2022 season after finishing fifth overall at the Tour de France Femmes. So far this season she won De Brabantse Pijl and finished in the top 10 of La Flèche Wallonne, Amstel Gold Race, Tour of Flanders, and Trofeo Alfredo Binda as well as third overall at the UAE Tour.
Gent-Wevelgem winner Marlen Reusser, a teammate of Vollering, will be both a strong support rider for SD Worx leader but also a potential stage winner. SD Worx demonstrated in the spring that they were willing to pass leadership around, which resulted in Reusser’s solo victory in Belgium. A strong time trialist, Reusser will be an asset in the TTT and could use her power for some fun attacks, as she did on the first stage of the 2021 edition of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.
After taking 2022 off to have her second child, Lizzie Deignan is another rider who could potentially go for a stage. She’s easing back into racing and only returned in April to race La Flèche Wallonne, but stage races are often raced differently, so if she was to try to go for a stage she would be looking at stages 2, 3 and 4.
Mavi García is another rider who would possibly be a contender for the general classification, but in the past has struggled to retain form over the week-long races. She also lacks a solid team to support her, Liv Racing TeqFind has been rebuilding a bit and although they have some strong riders, they haven’t put together a team to rival SD Worx or Trek-Segafredo. But with the massive climbs on stage 7, and her climbing ability, she is one to watch for a stage result in the latter half of the race.
Escape Collective Star Ratings
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Vollering, Van Vleuten
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Lippert, Realini
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Labous, Chabbey, Niewiadoma, Persico
⭐️⭐️: Spratt, Ewers, Rooijakkers, Fisher-Black, Markus
⭐️: Faulker, García, Reusser, Cavalli, Muzic
Conversations with the Wheel Talk Podcast
Note that this conversation took place before a finalized start list and before the announcement that Elisa Longo Borghini was out of the race due to an “aggressive stomach bug” (her words).
Abby Mickey: Alright so it seems like the biggest conversation going into La Vuelta is Demi vs. Van Vleuten.
Matt de Neef: I’m surprised Vollering is racing. You’d think she’d have a rest post-Ardennes, but here we are!
Gracie Elvin: Definitely, but my question is are the climbs long enough for AvV?
Matt: The final stage has two climbs of about 12km long, which I think maybe should be long enough to make a difference.
Abby: Looking at the course I actually feel like AvV will come good near the end and take it. She will be fresher than Demi like you just said, Matt.
Gracie: Maybe! AvV seems to lack the power that Demi has at the moment.
Abby: True but that’s in short punchy climbs, these long ones suit her even when she’s not at her best.
Gracie: No matter what, it’s going to rattle either one of them before the Tour de France Femmes. Even though it’s WWT it seems like a dress rehearsal for the Tour in some ways.
Matt: Definitely. I wonder if both will race the Giro too. Surely not?
Abby: I was just about to say something along those lines, Matt. I wonder how the Vuelta’s new dates will impact the turnout for the Giro.
Gracie: Yeah, and is AvV going for the triple again?
Abby: Would be surprised if she wasn’t.
Matt: The SD Worx site suggests Demi is doing La Vuelta, Itzulia Women, Vuelta a Burgos, Tour de Suisse and Dutch Championships and a stint at altitude before TDFF, so no Giro at the moment.
Abby: If she wants to peak for the Tour I am not surprised Demi’s skipping the Giro. The other big question around AvV is Lippert …
Gracie: Yep I was also wondering about that! I’m still a bit bummed for Lippert not to have had better support in the classics because now it’s for sure all in for AvV in the tours.
Matt: Hopefully Lippert might get an opportunity or two on the lumpier stages in the middle of the Vuelta, but who really knows?
Gracie: Yeah hopefully they can work off each other.
Abby: If they can’t it will play into Demi’s hands and any other potential GC contenders.
Matt: I’m really curious to see who Trek brings. We don’t have a full startlist yet (because why would we need that two days out 😜) but Elisa Longo Borghini was second overall last year and is coming into good form, and then there’s Gaia Realini …
Gracie: And Spratt is coming good too, maybe not to win but awesome support for Longo Borghini and Realini.
Abby: Realini is super interesting! I want to see her against AvV on the big climbs on Stage 7!
Gracie: Me too!
Matt: Yep, plus Deignan is on the startlist. Gonna be a strong team.
Abby: I’m curious how DSM will transfer their Classics success to stage racing. Labous was really good last year and it seems like the team is getting along really well.
Matt: Plus Charlotte Kool for the sprint stages early in the race.
Gracie: Yep and your pick in (Esmée) Peperkamp is also a good thing to note. She looks great this year so far.
Matt: We need to talk about Chloe Dygert: first stage race with Canyon-SRAM after signing in 2021!
Gracie: Yep, we do!
Matt: I have zero idea what impact she’s going to have.
Gracie: And unknown as a support rider?
Abby: Canyon-SRAM had such a weird spring. And actually, we forgot to mention on the pod they have a new director in Magnus Backstedt. I think he could really transform the team. Chloe is such a huge unknown. Her form, how she is with the team. the last time she raced with them was Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and last year she didn’t do anything with the team.
Matt: Maybe Chloe is there for the stage 1 TTT, to drag the team around.
Abby: That’s what she does on the track 😂.
Matt: Haha yep! A good TTT there will put Niewiadoma/Rooijakkers in a good spot, but it’s all just going to come down to the final day surely.
Abby: We’ve barely seen Rooijakkers this year but she was so strong on the climbs last year.
Matt: But maybe this is how Canyon-SRAM gets that elusive win, at WWT level no less.
Gracie: I am definitely keen to see how Rooijakkers goes. She was great in some races in the last two years.
Matt: Yeah, I can see her climbing with the best on the two uphill finishes; it’ll just be a question of her GC standing by the time they get there I guess.
Gracie: I think it will go a long way to have not done many spring races. It was a tough spring so being fresher now will be a big advantage!
Matt: Good call!
Abby: Definitely. Alright, it’s time for picks!
Wheel Talk Podcast picks
The picks below are in order, no repeats allowed. For this stage race, we picked both the general classification and one rider whose name we think you should know.
Abby: GC: Demi Vollering. RYSK (rider you should know): Esmée Peperkamp
Gracie: GC: Annemiek van Vleuten. RYSK: Ricarda Bauernfeind
Matt: Gaia Realini for both!
Tilda Price: GC: Mavi García. RYSK: Elise Uijen
Loren Rowney: GC: Liane Lippert. RYSK: Agnieszka Skalniak-Sójka
When to tune in
As there are only two hours of live coverage, including the pre-show recap of the stage so far and the podium ceremony, it is advised viewers tune in as soon as the coverage starts. Obviously, the race takes place during the week, so if you’re going to pick only a couple of stages to watch stages 4 – 7 are the ones you shouldn’t miss.
As mentioned above start times for coverage vary depending on the day. The TTT on Monday starts earlier at 12:30 CEST/6:30 ET, while stages 2 to 4 start at 15:30 CEST/9:30 ET. The final three stages start at 14:00 CEST/8:00 ET.
In Europe and UK you can watch on GCN+, while those in Canada will want to watch FloBikes and viewers in the USA will want to tune into Peacock. For Australian viewers coverage can be found on SBS.
(Looking for Dane Cash’s cultural preview? It’s right here)
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