A peloton of women race along Spanish roads.

Niewiadoma and Realini leave La Vuelta ahead of sixth stage

Two of the big GC hopefuls are leaving the race with three stages remaining. One due to illness, the other a crash during Stage 5.

Gaia breifly wore the red leader’s jersey after the team won the opening stage TTT.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 03.05.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos, La Vuelta Femenina
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With a week to go to the first “Grand Tour” of the year, it looked like the General Classification at La Vuelta España Femenina would be hotly contested, but after just one hilly stage, two favourites are packing their bags to head home, both for different reasons.

Gaia Realini, who suffered a crash during stage 5, and Kasia Niewiadoma, who came into the race under the weather are both DNS (Did Not Start) ahead of stage 6. The pair were slated to challenge Demi Vollering on the tough, hilly stages, but sadly that battle will have to wait.

After winning La Flèche Wallonne in April, Niewiadoma came into La Vuelta as a top tier favourite. Her performance on the Mur de Huy challenged Vollering’s climbing prowess and made a strong case that Niewiadoma could win the red jersey. Already before the first stage team time trial it was clear things were not ideal in the Canyon-SRAM camp, as Neve Bradbury left the race before it began due to illness. The team was already starting one rider short of a seven-rider team but went on to finish fourth in the TTT with only five riders, only eight seconds behind the winner Lidl-Trek.

Niewiadoma caught a bug after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and although the Polish rider was hoping she would be able to shake it before La Vuelta, there wasn’t enough time for her health to bounce back. It was clear on Stage 5 when she was dropped on the early slopes of the 3.4 km final climb to the finish by riders she out-climbed in Belgium just weeks ago.

Kasia Niewiadoma at La Vuelta Femenina 2024.

“I made a decision to come to the race not feeling 100% healthy hoping my body would find a way to full recovery,” Niewiadoma wrote on her Instagram. “Knowing I was in a good shape somehow made it impossible for me to think I could just skip this week of racing, this time [the] body won and I had to forget personal ambitions.”

Fortunately for Niewiadoma’s team, Ricarda Bauernfeind was able to finish sixth on the hilltop. The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift stage winner now sits 12th overall, 2:52 down on Vollering, with three stages remaining.

As for Realini, the Italian went down on the descent after the first Category 2 climb of Stage 5. The live coverage did not pick up how she fell but she could be seen on the roadside, visibly distraught. Her teammate Brodie Chapman turned around and climbed back to Realini, while the young Italian struggled to get to her bike a few meters down the road. Chapman could be heard telling Realini to “sit, sit”.

Once the team car got to Realini they got her a new bike and sent her off with Chapman to try to get back into the race. She would eventually finish over seven minutes down. In addition to the time lost in the crosswinds of Stage 4, the additional time loss put Realini over nine minutes back in the general classification ahead of Stage 6.

“Unfortunately, Gaia Realini will not start Stage 6 after her crash yesterday,” Lidl-Trek said on social media. “Gaia is suffering from pain in her chest and right elbow, as well as a minor concussion. She will go to hospital this morning, accompanied by the team doctor for further checks.”

Discourse surfaced after the race concerning Realini’s continuation after the crash, and when asked about the team’s concussion protocol a spokesperson for the team said there was no team staff there at the time of the incident to check Realini.

“We do have a concussion protocol called Headcheck which was performed post-race and this morning and actually there were no symptoms other than a very mild headache,” the team said. “I can’t comment on if she was checked enough at the site of the crash.” In 2020, the UCI governing body approved a specific protocol for checking crashed riders for concussion symptoms.

Lidl-Trek has Elisa Longo Borghini sitting second overall, 31 seconds behind Vollering ahead of Stage 6, but their focus was on Realini at this race. She wore the leader’s jersey briefly after the opening TTT, but Monday would be her only day in red. The American team also lost Ellen van Dijk prior to Stage 4 due to a crash in the TTT.

Both Niewiadoma and Realini were well out of the GC conversation ahead of the sixth stage and will be back to fight for another leader’s jersey soon. Niewiadoma, third overall at the Tour de France Femmes in both 2022 and 2023, has been open about her targets for the season. Realini is aiming for the Giro d’Italia where she finished third overall last year.

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