The first WorldTour stage race on the women’s calendar kicked off Monday in Torrevieja with a 14.5 km team time trial. After just over 18 minutes of full-on racing, Jumbo-Visma came away with the victory, while a few general classification hopefuls already found themselves with critical time to make up.
Canyon-SRAM, and former world champion Chloe Dygert, were only one second slower than the Dutch team, narrowly missing out on their first WorldTour victory of 2023, and two of their potential GC contenders, Kasia Niewiadoma and Elise Chabbey, finished with limited time lost putting them in excellent position ahead of the rest of the race. But the German team’s star climber Pauliena Rooijakkers lost 36 seconds to the Jumbo duo of Anna Henderson, who wears red ahead of stage 2, and team leader Riejanne Markus.
Canyon-SRAM didn’t have the Spring they had hoped, but started La Vuelta on the front foot, gaining time on key rivals even if one of the cards they could play is already out of contention.
The three seconds between Trek-Segafredo’s duo of Gaia Realini and Amanda Spratt and defending Vuelta champion Annemiek van Vleuten shouldn’t make too much of a difference when it comes to the final three stages, but that depends wholly on how the Dutchwoman is climbing in the high mountains. Realini, in particular, will benefit from any seconds won throughout the race.
Demi Vollering lost only two seconds to her top rival Van Vleuten. More surprisingly, her SD Worx teammate Niamh Fisher-Black, who has won multiple Best Young Rider jerseys since joining the Dutch team, lost an additional five seconds. The team stated before the race that Vollering and Fisher-Black were co-leaders for the race.
A few teams with riders who can’t quite afford to lose crucial seconds found themselves on the back foot after the first stage. That includes Team FDJ-Suez, who finished sixth behind SD Worx. The French team lost 25 seconds to Jumbo-Visma, which could definitely impact the GC hopes of leaders Èvita Muzic and Marta Cavalli. Jayco-AlUla’s leader Kristen Faulkner lost just over half a minute and is in a similar position. As is Silvia Persico of UAE Team ADQ. The Italian, who was one of the revelations of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in 2022, finds herself down 41 seconds on Henderson and Markus.
Spanish climber Mavi García lost 42 seconds to the winners, which means she will start the climbs half a minute down on Van Vleuten. And the strong American climber Veronica Ewers lost 48 seconds, leaving her with a lot of ground to make up.
While stages 5 and 7 look like opportunities for the race to break apart, we’ve seen riders hang on to Van Vleuten on long climbs already this year at Setmana Ciclista-Volta Comunitat Valenciana in February. On that occasion, Spratt and AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step’s Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, who is not participating in La Vuelta, were able to match the Tour de France Femmes champion and eventually out-sprint her on the Queen Stage. So while a few seconds lost in the TTT may seem inconsequential, the race for red could come down to only a few seconds.
Stage 2 from Orihuela to Pilar de la Horadada is on the shorter side, only 105.8 km, and includes one category 4 climb within 20 km of the finish. The stage looks like a sprinter-friendly finish, as the 7.6 km climb isn’t steep enough at only 1.2% to shell the fast women. But Jumbo-Visma, who started the race with Marianne Vos, may want to carry their victory into the second stage and set up the Dutchwoman for a stage win by putting pressure on the rest of the sprinters.
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