Words by Amy Jones | Photo SWpix.com
Following a long hiatus after Liège-Bastogne-Liège the Women’s World Tour will resume this Thursday with four days of racing at the Vuelta a Burgos Féminas.
The past month, however, has not been without action, the peloton has been in and around the Basque region of Spain since last week and a series of one-day races have already brought fireworks.
The two back-to-back Navarra classics — Emakumeen Nafarroako and Navarra Women’s Elite Classics — were held last Thursday and Friday. They were followed by Gran Premio Ciudad de Eibar on Sunday with Tuesday’s Durango – Durango Emakumeen Saria being the final test before Burgos.
Although not quite WorldTour level, these races have certainly drawn a WorldTour crowd, so what have the series of 1.1 events revealed about what might come from Burgos?
Annemiek van Vleuten is still strong but the rest of the peloton are stronger than ever
Last year, Annemiek van Vleuten comfortably won the two Navarra Classics as well as Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria on a streak that saw her go unbeaten for her first four races back after lockdown. She came to Navarra this year with the same tricks up her sleeve, having won the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana 2.1 race by pulling off a textbook solo win on stage one.
This year, the level at the race was higher and the European Champion could only manage one victory, in Emakumeen Nafarroako — and by a slender margin with Demi Vollering hot on her heels.
Even in a new team — which often comes with teething problems — van Vleuten is looking as strong as ever, but her best efforts are no longer reaping the same rewards thanks to the ever-increasing depth of the peloton.
The Dutchwoman is the only rider to have started all eight days of racing this month and is riding as aggressively as ever. In fact, if it wasn’t the former World Champion in question there would be concern over her fatigue levels come Thursday.
A post-Classics break never hurts
Everyone needs a holiday, even Elisa Longo Borghini. The Italian national champion had a stellar spring, taking the win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and two podiums at Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege — the latter being the last time she pinned on a number before Emakumeen Nafarroako.
Ever consistent, she carried on where she left off, taking a third-place finish in that race despite having taken — as she said in a press release from the team — a “holiday” beforehand. “I was here to build up my form again,” she said. The foundations seem to be pretty sturdy already.
Elsewhere, Anna van der Breggen and Kasia Niewiadoma also returned after a post-classics break, whether or not they considered it a holiday remains to be seen but, however they spent their time, it was certainly productive.
Van der Breggen sat out the two Navarra classics but came out swinging at GP Eibar to take a solo victory. In Durango-Durango Emakumeen Sauria she had company in the form of Van Vleuten but that didn’t stop her holding off her compatriot on the line.
Niewiadoma, for her part, was looking fearsome at Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria for a rider who hasn’t raced in almost a month. “I don’t feel very often satisfied from my performance during a race, but today I feel good about it. I didn’t have the best preparation, yet I can still be up there in the front,” she said on Tuesday. Now she’s warmed up she’ll undoubtedly be itching to let rip on the climbs at Burgos.
SD Worx still have the numbers
A squad with a front row made up of Anna van der Breggen, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Demi Vollering backed up by Karol-Ann Canuel, Niamh Fisher Black, and Anna Shackley is a formidable adversary for the other WorldTour teams to face.
Fisher Black and Shackley have stepped into their roles so seamlessly that, even without the experience of Chantal van den Broek Blaak and Christine Majerus, SD Worx have the best hand to play.
Trek-Segafredo are the most likely challengers when it comes to numerical advantage but they’re down a key player in the form of Lizzie Deignan — can they outfox SD Worx and pull it off for Elisa Longo Borghini?
Canyon//SRAM need a win
No rider in the women’s peloton right now has the ability to single-handedly pull back a breakaway like Elise Chabbey. The Swiss national champion — who is also a qualified doctor — is never far from the front working for her team, she is clinical in her determination whatever the job at hand. If there’s no breakaway to pull back, then she’ll make one, and if she can’t make one she’ll keep trying.
Despite Chabbey’s — and the rest of the squad’s — herculean efforts the team still haven’t managed to net a big win so far this season. Alice Barnes came through in a sprint at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana but a WorldTour victory eludes them still.
In the absence of team leader Niewiadoma, Giro Rosa young rider winner Mikayla Harvey has been sniffing around a podium although she hasn’t been able to finish the job just yet. However, with Niewiadoma back in action on a climber’s course the team’s efforts might finally pay off.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is looking good
Any rider who can spend 10km away solo and then — right after getting caught — spend the remaining 10km of the race bridging to a two-up move containing Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen is a rider on form. The only question is, will she be able to recover from that huge effort before Thursday?
No Visma, No Vos
Jumbo-Visma women’s team have not travelled to Spain for this racing block, instead opting for a team training camp in Germany ahead of racing the 2.Pro Internationale LOTTO Thüringen Ladies Tour starting on the 25th. Team leader Marianne Vos will therefore relinquish her second place in the UCI WWT overall standings— at least until La Course on the 27th June.
It’s not a huge surprise to see a team predominantly built around Vos — who doesn’t usually race these events — sitting them out, especially given their smaller ride roster.
Stage 1 – 20/05/21
Villadiego – Sargentes de La Lora 100km. Two categorised climbs and an uphill finish
Stage 2 – 21/05/21
Pedrosa de Valdeporres – Villarcayo 97km. A rolling stage with two categorised climbs.
Stage 3 – 22/05/21
Medina de Pomar – Ojo Guareña 115.4km. Two categorised climbs including up to the finish at Ojo Guareña.
Stage 4 – 23/05/21
Quintanar de la Sierra – Lagunas de Neila 121.6km. The best has been saved until last with a finish on the HC climb to Lagunas de Neila.