In the hilly opening stage of the 2021 Ceratizit Challenge by la Vuelta, Marlen Reusser went solo in the final three kilometres, snatching the victory ahead of her companions in the breakaway. Coryn Rivera (Team DSM) took second – afterwards, Reusser said she’d gone solo partly to avoid sprinting against Rivera – and Elise Chabbey (Canyon//SRAM Racing) took third. Reusser now has a twenty-six second lead on Rivera going into tomorrow’s individual time-trial, combining the gap she created and the bonus seconds on the line, and 1’50” over the peloton.
Today’s stage was 118.7km long, running from Estacion de Montana de Manzaneda to A Rua, for a total of 118.7km. The day started with a long descent, the peloton stretching out along the twisting roads. They kept together up until the major climb of the day, which came at sixty kilometres, the category one Alto da Portela – 14.7km, with an average 5.4% gradient.
On the climb, the decisive breakaway formed, with a gap of twenty seconds: Pauliena Rooijakers (Liv Racing), Marlen Reusser (Ale BTC Ljubljana), Elise Chabbey (Canyon//Sram Racing), Lucy Kennedy (Team BikeExchange), and Erica Magnaldi (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling). Soon afterwards, Coryn Rivera (Team DSM) bridged across to join the leaders.
By 50km, once they’d made it over the climb, the leaders had a gap of 1’15”, and was quickly expanding. At 37km, Kennedy and Magnaldi dropped back, leaving it to a group of four to keep up the break for the rest of the day. Behind them, Anna van der Breggen was on the front of the peloton, leading the chase: at 23km, the gap came to just under two minutes, but it never went much lower. The peloton was thinned down by the rolling landscape; though they were over the peak of the main climb of the day, it continued to be hilly, until they began another long descent at twenty kilometres to go.
With six kilometres to go, things started getting a little tense in the breakaway. They had 1’55” over the peloton – the winner would, almost certainly, come from their group. At 5.5km, Chabbey made a brief attempt at attacking, but Rooijakkers quickly controlled it. At 4.3km, Chabbey went again. Reusser gestured at Rivera, encouraging her to take a turn, but Chabbey was already going free, taking advantage, perhaps, of the lapse in co-operation. Reusser, then, took it upon herself to close the gap to Chabbey, putting her head down and powering across, with Rivera and Rooijakkers following her wheel.
Behind them, Movistar lead the peloton, but it could only be harm-reduction, preventing the gap from getting too far. At 2.4km, Chabbey went again, and was caught by Reusser yet again. As Reusser came alongside Chabbey, she just kept going. The other three looked back and forth at each-other. Reusser had been chasing down Chabbey’s attacks – would any of them now chase down Reusser? As they failed to organize a chase, the Olympic time-trial silver medallist disappeared around the corner. Rooijakkers shook her head.
Reusser came in alone to the home straight, focused, crouched low over her bike. She crossed the line and fell to the floor in celebration: behind her, the remains of the breakaway sprinted for the podium, with Rivera taking it just ahead of Chabbey. The peloton finally made it into town, trying to limit the damage as they sprinted for the minor places, with Elisa Balsamo (Valcar Travel & Service) edging out Anna Henderson (Jumbo Visma).
After the race, Reusser revealed that hadn’t had a detailed plan for today’s stage “I’m very tired, and very happy but this was the last thing I expected this morning. I was so tired from the Simac Ladies’ Tour, I was two days in school and yesterday I spent the whole day travelling and I thought that we had a rest day today and it started tomorrow. I had it wrong in my head.”
“I thought that I would do whatever and I would attack from a breakaway. Then I just pedaled a lot and we kept away. Then I felt that the others don’t have that much so I just tried to go, and it worked out. I didn’t want to sprint about Coryn Rivera, so I tried my luck and it worked out. It’s incredible.”
Although she won the time-trial in the Simac Ladies’ Tour with a blistering pace, she said she wasn’t expecting similar success tomorrow, in the uphill time trial: “I will not be the fastest tomorrow. I’m really happy to have won the stage.”
She did, however, have some ambivalence about the win: “It was not my dream to have a leader’s jersey, it’s a lot of work.”