It was victory for Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing) in her first race back on the women’s WorldTour, after crashing on the track in Tokyo. She beat Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) in a sprint finish to take the final stage of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta. Leah Thomas (Movistar) made a valiant attempt for a solo win, but was caught, agonizingly, at the very last moment.
The general classification standings are unchanged from yesterday, with Annemiek van Vleuten in first, taking the overall victory, Marlen Reusser in second, 1’34” down, and Elise Chabbey in third, 3’12” down.
The stage ran 107.4km from As Pontes to the grandeur of Santiago de Compostela: undulating, but not as hilly as the previous days. It was a fast race right from the beginning. Early on, Movistar split the bunch in two, with the peloton quickly fracturing and reducing. There were early attacks from Riejanne Markus (Jumbo Visma), Alison Jackson (Liv Racing) and Elise Chabbey (Canyon // SRAM Racing), but none of them stuck.
At 60km, a very strong breakaway went free, with ten riders including Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx). By 54km, they had a two minute gap, but it steadily decreased, until they barely had an advantage over the peloton, with 37km to go.
Four riders went clear from the break, none of whom posed a threat to the general classification: Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx), Leah Thomas (Movistar), Shirin Van Anrooij (Trek Segafredo), and Alena Amialiusik (Canyon//SRAM Racing). Together, they gained just over a minute on the peloton.
The peloton, however, started to make a concerted effort to reel them back in. Riejanne Markus took up the position of driving forward the peloton, as their gap began to tumble. Alison Jackson (Liv Jackson) was up the front, putting the work in for their sprinter, Lotte Kopecky.
The gap was rapidly reducing as they chased, even as the four leaders worked together, with only 28” at 11km to go. Leah Thomas (Movistar) took a last shot, attacking on an uphill and speeding off. Annemiek van Vleuten appeared in the second wheel of the peloton, aiding her teammate by running interference with the chase.
Liv Racing, with Alison Jackson and Pauliena Rooijakkers, were trying to pull forward, but Thomas’ gap was rapidly expanding: with 7.1km to go, Thomas had thirty seconds on the original breakaway, and almost a minute on the peloton. The three riders behind her were co-operating, but couldn’t get her back: at 3.5km, they were caught and absorbed back into the peloton.
With three kilometres to go, as she came into a technical finish, with a final kick uphill, she had twenty five seconds. The peloton were bearing down hard behind. Liv Racing were chasing, with Lotte Kopecky in position; Elisa Longo Borghini was brought up to the front by Trek-Segafredo. Everything was aligning for a sprint, but Thomas was making a last ditch effort; she had under twenty seconds with two kilometres to go. The narrow roads could perhaps favour her as a solo rider, but the strength of Alison Jackson, followed by Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo), meant that the chase was powering forward.
Thomas had ten seconds, with 600m to go. There was a final sharp uphill: Thomas put everything into those last steep inclines. The hope wasn’t extinguished until the final moment: at 300m, she looked back, and still clung on. But at the very last corner, she was overwhelmed by the speed of the sprinters, as Lotte Kopecky and Elisa Longo Borghini hurtled past her on either side.
Kopecky sat on Longo Borghini’s wheel as the two came into the final stretch alone, and then, at the very last moment, passed her, and took the victory. She also slipped into first in the points classification, with Longo Borghini second and Marlen Reusser third.
After the stage, Kopecky said: “I knew that this finish suited me.”
“In the beginning it was really hard to get in the breakaway, but then there was a big group, and we had Sofia Bertizollo in there, and she’s very fast, so we put everything on her, but then the group also split and we managed to catch the front group.”
Annemiek van Vleuten, overall victor, said: “It was a nice stage; I don’t feel it was a crazy one, it was just that lots of teams were going for the stage win, including my own team, who also went on the attack. Normally, on a day like this, you would go and just defend the jersey, but considering the differences in the GC were so big, I encouraged the girls to go for the stage, and Leah really did well to join that break and fight until the end. It was an exciting stage, it’s nice to have had this shown on TV, that this kind of racing is seen.”