Preview: Itzulia Women 2024

Coming hot on the heels of the first Grand Tour of the year, the women’s peloton stays in Spain for another stage race, just five days after the conclusion of the La Vuelta Femenina. The third edition of Itzulia Women race take places across three stages once again, and will take in the notoriously lumpy terrain of the autonomous community of the Basque Country, delighting its diehard cycling fans along the way. The total distance covered across the three stages in 356.6km, and with a total elevation gain of 4,811m, it presents a daunting prospect for any rider hoping to triumph in the overall standings.

Last year, Marlen Reusser took the overall victory for Team SD Worx. This year, a challenging parcours with very little for the sprinters should see three days of unpredictable racing and close competition, with the general classification unlikely to be decided until the final day.

The race takes place from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th May.

 

The Route

Stage 1 – Vitoria-Gasteiz – Elgoibar (140km)

The first stage of three is the longest and also the easiest, relatively speaking, at least in terms of climbing. The Basque Country’s capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz, plays host to the race on stage one, and the riders will head out from the city in a northerly direction towards the coast.

There are three categorised climbs on the menu for day one, and after 35km of relatively flat racing, the first of them, the Olaeta climb, will provide an excellent launchpad for a breakaway. A kicker of just under 2km at 9% average, the punchy climb will allow a group to escape and from there, a lengthy descent will allow those with a gap to build on it heading to the day’s most difficult challenge, the category 2 Azkarate (4.2km at 7.3%). This climb may allow those with the best legs to kick on for the finish; meanwhile the GC battle is likely to begin in the chasing peloton, with one further ascent to contend with before 14km of false flat rising up to the finish line in Elgoibar.

 

Stage 2 – Basauri – Basauri (104km)

This short stage will provide drama and entertainment in equal measure, as the peloton tackles a comparable amount of climbing to stage one, but over a much shorter distance. Those with GC ambitions will need to remain attentive all day and there may not be as many chances for a strong breakaway group to form.

While two category three climbs in the first half of the stage profile will tire the legs, it’s the formidable Urruztigaina – a 1.6km wall at a daunting average pitch of 12.6% – which will shred the bunch 35km from the finish. From there, a frantic chase back on for anyone who’s lost time, will precede a difficult final 15km featuring a great many ups and downs – it’s no easy task and only those with the strongest legs will prevail.

 

Stage 3 – Donostia – Donostia (114.9km)

 

The final stage of the race is also the toughest. Replicating the former one-day San Sebastian Classic, the parcours will be familiar to cycling fans, covering the famous climbs that still feature in the men’s version of the race. With almost 1,800m of altitude gain, it’s the day that will decide once and for all the overall winner of the race, beginning with the most significant challenge of the race itself, the category 1 Jaizkibel. At 7.9km in length, and with an average gradient of 5.6%, the climb will split the bunch and it will be down to the teams of any riders who are dropped to bring them back again, or risk losing everything. To bring the bunch back together, riders must tackle a third category climb immediately following Jaizkabel, but anyone struggling still has a further obstacle to overcome.

The ascent up to Mendizorrotz is a category 2 climb, and though it averages an already intimidating 7.3% across its 4.1km distance, there are much more fearsome gradients for the peloton to contend with along the central segment of the climb. The Murgil Wall is a true leg-snapper – a 1.8km segment of the climb averages out at 11.3% with pitches of reportedly up to an eye-watering 22% in places. It’s a true rival to La Flèche Wallonne’s Mur de Huy, and will separate the top contenders from the rest. From there they must hang on for 30km to the finish line, time trialling their way back to Donostia across a final, relatively flat section of road in order to determine who will be the successor to Marlen Reusser – or perhaps the Swiss rider will have the grit and determination to repeat her success.

 

Riders to Watch

The peloton of riders who make up the start list at this year’s Itzulia Women is yet to be announced, but it’s likely to feature a great many of the same names that took on La Vuelta Femenina, so looking at the form of the riders there and composition of teams it’s possible to draw some early conclusions. The roster is equally balanced with ten World Tour teams, and ten continental sides.

Team SD Worx-ProTime did not have the spring Classics season they would have hoped for, but La Vuelta gave them the opportunity to take back control in a season that many thought they would dominate the whole of. With Demi Vollering at her stage racing best fresh from her win at the first Grand Tour of the year, and last year’s winner Marlen Reusser back to defend her title, the Dutch side will be in pole position to take victory in the Basque Country, as their rivals falter.

Lidl-Trek rest their key riders Elisa Longo Borghini and Gaia Realini following La Vuelta and bring in the support of off-roaders Shirin van Anrooij and the Holmgren twins Isabella and Ava in support of Amanda Spratt, who looks set to lead the team. Meanwhile Canyon//SRAM persist with their top selection of riders including Kasia Niewiadoma, who will be hoping to bounce back from the illness she suffered prior to La Vuelta, and Ricarda Bauernfeind who rode well in her stead in Spain.

Marta Cavalli and Evita Muzic will lead FDJ-SUEZ, both hoping to have an impact on the race, with Muzic high on confidence following a stage win at La Vuelta, as will Juliette Labous from Team dsm-firmenich PostNL. Fenix-Deceuninck have been lively all season and they will aim to continue their attacking racing with leader Pauliena Rooijakkers, who has looked strong, and Carina Schrempf who is always a danger in a breakaway.

Both Mareille Meijering for Movistar and Mavi Garcia from Liv-Jayco-AlUla will hope to bounce back from setbacks at La Vuelta. Ingvild Gåskjenn has impressed for the Australian team, with four top tens most at La Vuelta most recently, and the Norwegian could be in the mix for a stage win. Meanwhile, Cédrine Kerbaol returns to the Ceratizit-WNT side for the first time since the classics, and could be a dark horse to get a result.

Riders to watch

5 stars Vollering, Niewiadoma

4 stars Reusser, Muzic, Bauernfeind

3 stars Van Anrooij, Meijering, Spratt

2 stars Garcia, Labous

1 star Rooijakkers, Kerbaol

 

Summary

When – Friday 10th to Sunday 12th May

Where – Spain

What – Three day stage race

TV Coverage: Eurosport, Discovery+

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