Taking place just a few days after the conclusion of La Vuelta Femenina, Itzulia Women serves as a natural progression for many of the riders of the Women’s World Tour, who will stay on in the northern region of Spain to continue on to this race.
It’s just the second edition of Itzulia Women, which takes place across three stages in the Basque Country, known for its fanatical cycling community. The race was developed from the one day San Sebastian classic, the route of which forms the final stage of the race. 8 WWT teams are joined by 12 Continental teams, including 5 Spanish teams who will be hoping to impress on home soil.
The race takes place from Friday 12th to Sunday 14th May.
Stage 1 – Friday 12th May – Etxebarria – Markina-Xemein (122.2km)
A day of rolling terrain typical of the Basque region begins in the town of Etxebarria, and works its way up towards the coast, before heading round in a loop to cross the finish line in Markina-Xemein for the first time after 75km. This loop includes the first climb of the race, a category 3 test that is likely to split the bunch with GC contenders potentially keen to exert their authority early in such a short race.
From there, another loop takes the riders to the second climb of the day. The Urkaregi is a more challenging ascent, 5.8km in length with an average pitch of 4.6%, and what remains of the peloton will likely be thinned further as the climbers rise to the fore. Just 8km of descent stand between the front runners and the finish line after that, where a solo breakaway rider may take victory, or if not, a reduced bunch sprint will be on the cards.
Stage 2 – Saturday 13th May – Vitoria-Gasteiz – Amurrio (133.2km)
The central stage of the trio is the longest, and unsurprisingly another day of ups and downs, though arguably the easiest in terms of categorised climbing. Setting off from the capital of the Basque region, Vitoria-Gasteiz, the route heads west, taking in an early category 3 climb, before turning north. The route undulates as it moves north before descending into Amurrio for the first passage of the finish line, and an intermediate sprint. From there, a second loop takes the riders further north and around back to Amurrio once again, via a second categorised climb.
With 31km still to ride after the climb, this stage is the most likely to end in a bunch sprint; however, the GC teams are likely to put pressure on the bunch and it may come down to a reduced group to fight for the win.
Stage 3 – Sunday 14th May – Donostia – Donostia (114.8km)
The final stage of the weekend is the shortest, but also the toughest in terms of altitude gained, with three categorised climbs standing between the peloton and the Itzulia Women’s GC title. Designed to replicate the San Sebastian Classic one day race, the route takes in all of its key climbs, beginning with the toughest: the category 1 Jaizkibel – a 7.9km slog at an average gradient of 5.6% that will separate the true GC contenders from the rest.
With so far left still to ride after the first ascent of the day, the bunch may regroup in the following kilometres, but with a category 3 climb breaking up the chase it could be a day that sees the peloton spread out across the coastal roads of northern Spain, as the race heads to its conclusion.
The final challenge of the three days is a daunting one. Though the ascent into Mendizorrotz is classified second category, and at 4.1km averages out at 7.3%, it’s the central segment of the climb, the Murgil Wall, that will break the legs and offer the opportunity for the strongest to pull clear. At its most intimidating, a 1.8km segment of the wall averages a painful 11.3%, and with pitches of up to 19% in places, it will appeal to the likes of Demi Vollering, who proved on the Mur de Huy at La Flèche Wallonne Femmes that she is capable of digging in on such punishing gradients.
The wall is not the end of the story though: from there, almost 30km remains, in which anyone who was strong enough to open out a gap on the climb will have to time trial their way to victory, both on the stage, and possibly for the overall classification too.
Riders to Watch
20 teams with six riders each will line up for the start of the race in the Basque Country, including eight WWT teams. Defending champion Demi Vollering arrives at the race with a lot of mileage in her legs following an historical Ardennes triple and a week at the Vuelta. Despite this, she’ll still be the favourite for the overall victory in a season that is defining her as the latest greatest rider of the women’s peloton.
Annemiek van Vleuten will also remain in Spain following the Vuelta where, depending on the outcome of the race, she will be keen to exact some revenge and get a win or two under her belt in her final season. Movistar also have the incredibly consistent Liane Lippert among their ranks; she too could be a threat for the overall victory.
Without the likes of Trek-Segafredo to challenge, it may be considered by some to be a two-horse race between Vollering and Van Vleuten, but FDJ-SUEZ will once again lead with Marta Cavalli as she builds back to her best form, and she could be a thorn in the side of the favourites if she has the legs. Canyon//SRAM bring a strong all-round team with Kasia Niewiadoma, Elise Chabbey and Soraya Paladin all capable of causing an upset in the hilly terrain of the Basque Country.
Outsiders in with a chance of a stage win include FDJ-SUEZ’s Evita Muzic, who recently scored an impressive 5th place at La Flèche Wallonne Femmes, Team Jumbo-Visma’s Karlijn Swinkels, and EF Education-TIBCO-SBV’s Veronica Ewers.
While there are a number of standout riders in terms of the overall classification, there are also plenty of opportunities for riders with a lower profile to have their day, as possible breakaway winners, or perhaps with an impressive final placing on general classification. Here are a few to watch out for.
UAE Team Emirates’ Eleonora Gasparini performed well at the recent Festival Elsy Jacobs and is strong over both hilly and flat terrain. Young Brit Josie Nelson from Team Co-op Hitec Products achieved an impressive fourth place earlier in the year at the Cadel Evans Road Race, and could feature if she is feeling good. Ceratizit-WNT’s Nina Berton has won QOM classifications twice so far this year, suggesting she is one to watch in a breakaway, and when it comes to the GC, Israel-Premier Tech-Roland’s leader Claire Steels has an outside chance of success – she is a strong climber and recently won the reVolta Spanish one day race, along with scoring a top ten spot at Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
Riders to watch (GC)
5-stars Demi Vollering
4-stars Annemiek van Vleuten
3-stars Kasia Niewiadoma, Liane Lippert
2-stars Marta Cavalli, Marlen Reusser
1-star Claire Steels,
When – Friday 12th – Sunday 14th May
Where – Basque Country, Spain
What – 3-day stage race
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