The profile of the 158-kilometer La Vuelta Femenina stage from Elche de la Sierra to La Roda didn’t suggest an eventful day for the overall classification, but the weather had other ideas. Trek-Segafredo, and a few other teams with GC hopes, saw their aspirations go up the road as crosswinds blew the peloton apart. The American team took the worst of it, with its best riders – Amanda Spratt and Gaia Realini – finishing more than two and a half minutes behind.
The race had only covered 62 km when the first echelons started to form. Almost immediately Trek-Segafredo’s Italian leader Realini found herself on the back foot. Over the next 43 km, the race continued to split, with the group at the front fluctuating between 50 and 25 riders driven by Team DSM and SD Worx.
Unfortunately, Spratt, who had initially been in the first group, suffered a poorly timed puncture to end up with Realini.
I want to thank my teammates 💙— Amanda Spratt OLY (@AmandaSpratt) May 3, 2023
Today I punctured at the front of the first group at the WORST moment in the crosswinds. My team fought so hard for 90kms and I couldn’t be more grateful or proud of each of them. The Vuelta is long and we will keep fighting 💪🏻 #LaVueltaFeminina https://t.co/JJv4wF6WsN
In an attempt to salvage their general classification, Trek-Segafredo made the risky call to send Lizzie Deignan, the only rider from the American team left in the front group, back to help Realini and Spratt chase.
Ultimately, even with the entire team pulling and with help from Jayco-AlUla, whose leader Kristen Faulkner also missed the split, the group continued to lose time to the front of the race.
Most of the pre-race favourites were present in the front group. Demi Vollering of SD Worx looked calm and collected all day, as did Jumbo-Visma’s Riejanne Markus and red jersey wearer Marianne Vos. Canyon-SRAM continued to show its strength with Chloe Dygert, Elise Chabbey and Kasia Niewiadoma. Interestingly, defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten had a moment where she looked like she would lose contact with the front group but she was able to hang on.
As the race approached the finish Team DSM set up their sprinter Charlotte Kool to challenge Vos, but it was the red jersey who crossed the line first, gaining a few more bonus seconds in the process.
Thanks to bonus seconds picked up throughout the stage Vos further extended her lead over Dygert to 13 seconds. Vos’s teammate Markus remained third overall 14 seconds down. But the big story was Trek’s awful day.
Realini and Spratt came across 2:41 down, with Deignan – who had done a lot of work in the chase – a further :27 back. All three plummeted down the overall standings and, with the time lost, their general classification fight is almost certainly over. Both Realini and Spratt are strong climbers, but to take on Vollering and Van Vleuten for the overall they needed to go into the final three stages with limited time lost.
It remains to be seen how the team will readjust their tactics. With such a big gap, we could see a more aggressive Trek-Segafredo in the coming days, including sending any of the three into moves in an attempt to take a stage.
Realini and Spratt weren’t the only general classification favourites to find themselves out of the conversation. Faulkner finished with the same group and sits just over three and a half minutes down. FDJ-Suez’s Évita Muzic is down two minutes and 19 seconds, with her teammate Marta Cavalli down three minutes 28 seconds.
Two others who would have hoped to take part in the red jersey competition, Ane Santesteban of Jayco-AlUla and UAE Team ADQ’s Silvia Persico will start stage 4 two minutes and 25 seconds and two minutes 35 seconds down, respectively.
The fourth stage is the hilliest of the race so far, with a Category 3 climb 12 km from the finish, and it looks like a great day for a breakaway. And with many riders out of the GC fight after Stage 3 we could see some big names try to take advantage on the final climb. The day also includes some non-categorized climbing that will accumulate to make the stage harder than it appears on paper.
Perhaps we will see Spratt jump up the road, as we did at La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège recently.