The fourth stage of La Vuelta Femenina was deceptively hard. In typical women’s cycling fashion, the stage claimed only one categorized climb while it was actually up and down all day. General classification favourites like Demi Vollering, Annemiek van Vleuten, and Liane Lippert tried their hand in the latter parts of the stage, but in the end, a reduced bunch sprinted into Guadalajara where Marianne Vos took her second stage win in a row.
While it wasn’t a GC contender who took the stage, there was a lot of action from the Category 3 climb to the finish. There is a lot to unpack, so here are some of our observations from the stage and what it might mean for the race.
Your favourite GC riders can’t wait to get to the mountains
The Category 3 climb that started with about 15 km to go saw many of the pre-race favourites emerge after a quiet couple of sprint stages. Right away Movistar took control of the pace, and the reasoning was made clear as soon as the race crested the climb and Van Vleuten attacked.
Van Vleuten’s move with 11.5 km to the finish was marked immediately by Vollering, who was not about to let her top rival get any space. Close behind Vollering the Spanish national champion, Mavi García, followed.
The three were kept on a tight leash and brought back within a kilometre and the move was countered by Van Vleuten’s teammate Lippert. The German national champion was joined by SD Worx’s Niamh Fisher-Black, another potential GC prospect.
Interestingly, when Lippert’s attack was brought back Van Vleuten tried again. For a team with two incredibly strong climbers, it was a bit surprising to see them going for a transitional stage; perhaps they want to get back as many seconds as they can even before the climbs.
With 6.2 km to go, after an attack from Canyon-SRAM’s Riarda Bauernfeind, Lippert took advantage of a slight rise to make a move, and sensing danger, Vollering was quick to jump on the German champ. So close to the finish, it was a very dangerous move, but as soon as Demi pulled through Lippert sat back, unwilling to work with the Dutchwoman.
As the race approached the final three kilometres, after failed moves by Chloe Dygert and Marlen Reusser, the riders turned their attention to a sprint finish, but for a good 10 km, the stage was almost a general classification day.
Marianne Vos is back
Vos started her season late after she underwent pelvic artery surgery in February, and as a result didn’t win any of the spring one-days, understandably. She still managed to finish third at Dwars door Vlaanderen and 10th at Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift, but it was a quiet spring for the former world champion with only five race days.
After four stages and three victories in Spain, the G.O.A.T. is back. She looked comfortable and calm while the GC favourites were playing in the finale and was perfectly positioned to outsprint Emma Norsgaard of Movistar to take Stage 4.
Within minutes of the race finishing Vos could be seen taking pictures with a young fan before handing her a bottle from her bike; always the people’s champion.
The race will move into the mountains on Stage 5 and Vos will likely say goodbye to the red jersey but she’s had a good three-day run in it and continues to lead by 13 seconds over Dygert.
Canyon-SRAM is out for blood
After a disappointing Spring campaign where Canyon-SRAM’s top results were third at both Ronde van Drenthe and Gent-Wevelgem with Maike van der Duin the German team is clearly out for blood. They have been ever-present at the front of La Vuelta so far and made sure they had riders following moves or making their own throughout the race.
Kasia Niewiadoma was always right where she needed to be, as was Elise Chabbey who took the Category 3 climb and goes into the fifth stage leading the Mountains Classification. Ricarda Bauerfeind and Agnieszka Skalniak-Sójka were also impressive, with the Polish rider bridging to a move before the climb and Bauerfeind attacking when the action was on.
The most active member of the team in the first four stages has been American Chloe Dygert, who due to injury and illness has next to no European racing experience, or experience with her team of three years. Dygert again tried to get away in the final three kilometres of the fourth stage, as she was only 13 seconds away from wearing the red jersey and once again she almost had it. She finished the stage eighth, so she hasn’t finished outside the top ten the whole week.
As the mountains loom the attention will turn to Niewiadoma and Chabbey, the two general classification prospects for the German team.
The Movistar Annemiek van Vleuten / Liane Lippert duo is going to get interesting
Since she started to dominate women’s cycling in 2017/2018 Van Vleuten has been the undisputed leader when a race hits the mountains. As part of the Mitchelton-Scott program from 2017-2020, she won the Giro Donne twice, almost three times if not for a crash on Stage 7 in 2020. She’s won world championships, Classics, you name it. Only rarely is her leadership challenged. When she moved to Movistar it was even less of a question, until now.
The world champion had possibly one of the worst spring seasons she’s had in recent memory, walking away without a single victory. From the outside, it looks like the peloton, which continues to grow professionally, is catching up to the Dutchwoman.
After she announced her plans to retire after the 2023 season, the Spanish team picked up Lippert, the 25-year-old German national champion who had been racing for the Team DSM organization since 2017. Over the years Lippert has grown into a fierce competitor, and especially in 2022 she emerged as a general classification contender when she finished second overall behind Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig at the Tour of Scandinavia.
Since joining Movistar Lippert has shown her strength in the hills, with a second place at La Flèche Wallonne behind Vollering. Before the start of La Vuelta, she looked like she was riding better than her more experienced teammate, and the questions started to circulate, will Movistar give their German rider some freedom?
Stage 4 saw both riders on the move trying to get away from the peloton. Neither was successful, but it was interesting to see them working off each other. Stage 5 is the first real general classification test, with two major climbs and a handful of other uncategorized ascents. Puerto de Navafría, the first major climb, is midway through the stage. The 11.5 km ascent averages 5.8% and is a breeding ground for the classic long-range Van Vleuten move.
The second climb, a Category 2, is where the race finishes atop Mirador de Peñas Llanas and at this point, both could be in the mix. Perhaps both fans and Movistar will have a clearer picture of who they will ride for in the final two days because right now it’s a bit up in the air.