Moments that made La Vuelta Femenina

From the crosswinds of Stage 3 to Realini's first WorldTour win to Vollering outclimbing the world champion, it was an incredible week of racing in Spain.

Demi Vollering attacks during stage 5 of La Vuelta Femenina (Cor Vos © 2023)

On Sunday the women’s peloton battled up Lagos de Covadonga with Demi Vollering taking the stage and Annemiek van Vleuten narrowly holding on to the final red jersey. The entire week was chock-full of exciting moments, both those that were a long time coming or seemingly came out of nowhere.

Jumbo-Visma surprises in Stage 1 team time trial

Ahead of the first stage, all eyes were on SD Worx, Trek-Segafredo, and Canyon-SRAM. Three of the strongest teams on paper with a history of strong results in the TTT, but it was the Dutch team of Jumbo-Visma that walked away with the first red jersey.

Anna Henderson, Marianne Vos, Riejanne Markus, and Amber Kraak rode across the line one second faster than Canyon-SRAM and nine seconds faster than Trek-Segafredo.

After a bit of a disappointing spring campaign, it was a notable result for the team, and the beginning of an incredible week for Vos in particular.

Chloe Dygert makes her 2023 WT debut

It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for the 2019 time trial world champion. Dygert looked to be at the top of her game when she crashed over a barrier at the 2020 World Championships in Imola. The road back was a long one, with a few other hiccups along the way. Despite signing a four-year contract with Canyon-SRAM in 2021 Dygert had only raced with her European team once at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2022.

Her return to racing was anything but casual. She tried for a late-race move in the first three roads stages of the race, most notably on Stage 2 when she attacked with just under 600 meters to go.

In both the second and third stages Dygert finished third, pretty impressive for a rider who has never raced a European stage race and only raced in Europe once in the last two years.

The team ended up making the call to pull Dygert ahead of Stage 6 with director Magnus Backstedt saying that after five hard stages she would now turn her attention to future races.

Crosswinds define Stage 3

If you’re going for the general classification you can never relax. And Trek-Segafredo’s Gaia Realini learned it the hard way on Stage 3. The flat stage was plagued by crosswinds and the young Italian, who impressed on the climbs in the final stages, lost the race when she was caught out.

The entire team came back to help her after their other climber, Amanda Spratt, suffered a poorly timed puncture but the American team couldn’t bridge the gap to put Realini back into contention.

Had they been able to reel in the front group the finale up Lagos de Covadonga would have been even more interesting, which is saying something. But Realini can still be immensely proud of her third place overall and her first WT stage win on Stage 6 when she was the only rider to hold on to Van Vleuten’s move.

Vos is still the G.O.A.T.

A late start to the season and surgery on her pelvic artery isn’t slowing Marianne Vos down at all. The Dutchwoman took two stage victories and held the lead for three stages. In the end, she won the points classification, a result she is quite accustomed to after 17 years of racing.

Vos’s next race participation is unknown, but we will hopefully see the G.O.A.T. contesting the yellow jersey in France in July.

Demi Vollering can climb

Vollering played the first four stages of the race safe, only hitting the wind in some doomed late-race moves on Stage 4 and during the crosswind chaos of Stage 3. Her first of two stage victories atop Mirador de Peñas Llanas was also the first time Van Vleuten showed signs of weakness.

While Vollering lost the overall in the end, after Van Vleuten’s Stage 6 attack, the SD Worx rider proved she is a danger to the world champion’s long-running stage race dominance.

Controversy was the name of the game on Stage 6

The sixth stage would have been notable for Van Vleuten’s long-range attack and Realini’s first WT stage win had it not been for the controversy that swirled after the finish. Movistar and SD Worx management both made passive-aggressive statements about the other, fueling the discourse around the Spanish team’s tactics.

Apparently, while Vollering and some of her teammates stopped for a nature break 30 km into the stage Movistar went to the front and drilled the pace. Some said the move was fair and premeditated, that they knew a crosswind section was coming and had planned for the move before the red jersey stopped.

Regardless of which side is right, it was the day that lost Vollering the red jersey. Prior to Stage 5, it would have been unsurprising if Van Vleuten had won the race on the final climb, something she has done countless times in the past, but since the world champion couldn’t contest Vollering’s climbing abilities it should come as no surprise that she picked Stage 6 as her moment to shine.

It was also an impressive showing from the young Italian Realini, who marked herself as a favourite for stage races to come.

It’s not just Van Vleuten’s game anymore

The only way Vollering was going to take the overall was if she could distance Van Vleuten on the final climb, and with a little help from her friend Realini, she was able to drop the red jersey. The two made the final stage hard for the race leader, and wouldn’t it be interesting to know what was going through Van Vleuten’s head at the moment she couldn’t hold the wheel.

For years if a race included climbing it was bound to end up in the hands of Van Vleuten. She has been nearly unbeatable on climbs since she came out of the woodwork in 2016 and matched Mara Abbott in the Olympic road race. The only rider to come close was Anna van der Breggen, but without the former world champion in the peloton, Van Vleuten rode away with the Giro Donne, Tour de France Femmes and Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta in 2022.

Vollering was close but couldn’t compete last year in the mountains, but this year the tables have turned. Not only was Vollering able to best Van Vleuten in both mountain-top stages, but Realini is also a terrifying prospect for the upcoming Giro Donne, FDJ-Suez’s Évita Muzic held on for a long time as did Ricarda Bauerfeind of Canyon-SRAM.

The peloton is stepping up when it comes to the mountains and the real winners are the fans.

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