How the race finished
Marlen Reusser (SD Worx) rode away to a solo victory to take the overall honours in Itzulia Women 2023. Teammate Demi Vollering, who won the first two stages, had to hand over the leader’s jersey to her teammate, but held on to second overall. Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//Sram Racing) rounded out the podium.
Full results are available below.
How it happened
The three day stage race in the Basque Country followed closely after the tightly contested Vuelta, in which the battle between Annemiek van Vleuten left Demi Vollering heartbroken and ready to make her mark. With Vollering arriving in Itzulia the defending champion, after winning all three stages last year, she was keen to make her mark from the outset.
Stage One took place on rain-soaked roads in the Basque Country, with the peloton racing over a category three climb mid-race followed by a Category two before the descent to the finish. A number of riders were keen to get up the road before the first climb, but were reeled back by the bunch, with Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx) leading the peloton over the top of the first QOM climb. Once on the flatlands again, olympic champion Anna Kiesenhofer (Israel-Premier Tech-Roland) attacked, and was joined by Aurela Nerlo (Massi-Tactic). The pair grew their advantage out to a little over a minute with 35 minutes to race, but with the most significant climb of the day approaching, the peloton once again reeled them back in.
At the foot of the climb, around 13 kilometres from the finish line, Marlen Reusser set a strong pace and Demi Vollering, who wanted to leave nothing to chance, launched from her wheel. Kasia Niewiadoma was the only rider to react and follow, but less than a kilometre later, had to ease off the pace. She dropped back to join the chasing duo, Annemiek van Vleuten and Vollering’s teammate, Marlen Reusser. Vollering continued to ride away, unmatched. Over the summit the chasing trio were joined by Olivia Baril (UAE-Team-ADQ), who bases herself in San Sebastian and thus knows the twists and turns of the roads well.
Already holding a significant time gap, Vollering kept it safe on the descent. Water streamed across the roads and Vollering took opportunities to shake some blood and warmth into her hands. The trio behind continued to chase, although Reusser took the opportunity to sit on before sprinting away from Niewiadoma and van Vleuten before the finish, resulting in a 1-2 for Team SD Worx.
On paper, Stage Two could have offered opportunity for the punchy sprinters in the bunch, with rolling terrain crossing a few category three climbs and a number of uncategorised rises between Gastiez and Amurrio. A few teams had an eye on this stage for their fast finishers, but the GC riders had other ideas.
In the opening part of the race, under blue skies, no breakaway was allowed to form. Every attempt was reeled in. Over the summit of La Tejera (5.5km at 4.4%), Niamh Fisher-Black took the maximum points ahead of Pauliena Rooijakkers (Canyon SRAM) and Vollering. After the descent, the trio of Silvia Magri (Israel Premier Tech Roland), Giorgia Vettorello (Bepink) and Maria Novolodskaia (LifePlus Wahoo) clipped off the front. They established a small gap of around thirty seconds on the main peloton, but were reeled back in just before the top of the next categorised climb. Another pair attacked, but Fisher-Black reeled them back in, taking further QOM points over the top.
Through the false flat sections, both Canyon//Sram Racing and SD Worx were aggressive, with multiple riders launching attacks. Nothing stuck. Within the final 20km, Claire Steels was finally able to find some space, setting off solo while the teams in the peloton looked on. Then, on the final climb, Vollering hit the front as the road pitched up over 13%. Kasia Niewiadoma came around with Liane Lippert on her wheel, but quickly found herself solo. Steels survived over the summit, and was joined by Niewiadoma and Vollering. Shortly after, Lippert and Olivia Baril bridged the gap, and then the group swelled again.
Van Vleuten found herself leading out under the flamme rouge, and then Reusser came to the front. Almost taking a wrong turn, Reusser lost some speed, leaving Soraya Paladin on the front earlier than she had intended to be. Seeing no other option, the Italian launched her sprint, but couldn’t quite hold her speed long enough to stop a racing Vollering from coming past her. Reusser once again got herself up on the podium for SD Worx, crossing the line in third.
Stage Three was a different tactical game, as riders worked to consolidate their GC positions and looked for opportunities to find time. Although Demi Vollering held a commanding lead in the overall classification, and by this stage had won 5/5 of all Itzulia women stages in history, the gaps between the second and fifth placed riders amounted to just fifteen seconds. It was all to play for.
With three categorised climbs to contend with, but a relatively long flat section following the last of the climbs, how the race would play out was anyone’s guess. Things got interesting early on, when a strong group of ten riders got off the front, including Blanka Vas (SD Worx), young rider’s jersey wearer Ella Wyllie (LifePlus-Wahoo), Elizabeth Stannard (Israel-Premier Tech Roland), Pauliena Rooijakkers (Canyon SRAM), Sheyla Gutiérrez (Movistar), Veronica Ewers (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB), Usoa Ostolaza (Laboral Kutxa Fundación Euskadi), Kathrin Hammes (EF Education) and the FDJ-SUEZ pair of Loes Adegeest and Marie Le Net.
A chasing group of five riders formed, but hovered in no-mans land between the two groups as the leaders hit the foot of the famous Jaizkibel climb. Vollering and the other GC riders hit the slopes hard, and the peloton shrunk significantly in size. Despite the pressure behind, the leaders stayed clear over the top, and Blanka Vas (SD Worx) picked up the QOM points to try to block Rooijakkers from stealing the jersey from Vollering. The group of favourites worked their way across to the break at the base of the next climb, and by then it was a very reduced peloton leading the race.
On the final climb up to Mendizorrotz, Vollering hit the front as she had done on the first stage. Her acceleration immediately put a few riders in trouble, but it wasn’t until van Vleuten launched over the top that the pair found themselves solo at the head of the race. With a significant buffer on GC, Vollering simply had to sit on Van Vleuten’s wheel.
The pair were alone over the summit, but on the descent Reusser, Niewiadoma and Baril chased them down. As they made contact, Niewiadoma immediately tried to attack over the top, but Reusser closed on her. Van Vleuten also attacked, Niewiadoma tried again, and Vollering also put in a move of her own. But the second time Reusser launched it stuck, and she found a small gap that no one was prepared to close.
With 12 km remaining, Reusser settled into TT mode, sweeping up the bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint and powering on towards the line. Her gap crept up slowly at first, and then suddenly approached a minute, then grew. Behind her, Vollering sat on any attempts to bridge across, and disrupted the chase, ultimately handing her opportunity to win the overall classification to her teammate.
With Reusser out of the picture, the four chasing began to look at each other. Van Vleuten and Baril were within seconds of one another, and with a well-timed move, either of them could also have the possibility of knocking Niewiadoma off the podium. They almost looked at each other for too long though, as the FDJ-Suez duo, Evita Muzic and Marta Cavalli, who had been chasing together since the climb, came back into the mix in the final kilometre. Ultimately, when the sprint was launched Vollering was fastest, and Baril outsprinted Muzic for third.
With the intermediate and finish line points, Reusser took home the green jersey alongside the yellow one. Vollering did enough on the last climb of the day to take home the QOM jersey. Wyllie consolidated her lead in the young rider’s classification by finishing alongside Vas, after both spent the day in the break.
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