Preview: La Vuelta Femenina 2024

The first of three Grand Tours on the 2024 Women’s World Tour, La Vuelta Femenina can confidently lay claim to the ‘Grand Tour’ title following its revamp in 2023. This second edition of the newly minted Spanish stage race, sponsored by Carrefour.es, adds an extra stage to expand to eight stages, bringing it in line with the Giro Donne (which shortens from nine stages to eight in 2024) and the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. It’s equable in distance too – La Vuelta Femenina covers 882.5km in total distance, an increase of over 140km over last year’s race – and following a thrilling inaugural edition in 2023, the status will surely follow.

Beginning in Valencia with a team time trial, travelling north through the Pyrenees and finishing in and around the capital city of Madrid, the women’s peloton face a number of varied, challenging stages, including three summit finishes. Annemiek van Vleuten was victorious in 2023, and following her retirement, a new victor will be crowned in Spain. If last year’s edition was anything to go by, it will be another gripping encounter from start to finish.

The race takes place from Sunday 28th April to Sunday 5th May.

 

The Route

Stage 1 – Valencia-Valencia (16km – Team Time Trial)

In true Vuelta tradition, the race opens with a team time trial, where unity and coordination must meet power and speed – with the optimum amount of risk-taking involved. While the pan-flat profile and relative lack of technicality suggests a simple prospect for the women, teams must remain focused in order to avoid mistakes. The time gaps following this stage are likely to be negligible, should everything go according to plan, but the first woman across the line from the fastest team will have the honour of wearing the race’s first leader’s jersey.

 

Stage 2 – Buñol-Moncofa (118.5km, Hilly)

Stage 2 presents the first proper challenge of the race, and will invite early attacks with an undulating profile offering opportunities for the breakaway. There’s just one categorised climb en route, the third category Puerto de L’Oronet, and with almost 40km remaining on the stage after the climb has been dealt with – almost all downhill – teams with sprint ambitions will hope to reel in any escapees and bring about a fast finish.

 

Stage 3 – Lucena/Llucena-Teruel (130.5km, Medium Mountains)

Heading slightly further north within the province of Castellón, like stage 2, stage 3 features just one category 3 climb, however it presents a much more ominous profile on paper. With a short unclassified climb coming just a couple of kilometres into the stage, followed by a steep descent, there will likely be fierce competition to become part of the day’s early break, as from just over 20km in, it’s almost all uphill, either false flat or true climbing. The ascent itself is the Alto Fuente de Rubielos, and at 6.1km in length at an average pitch of 6.2%, this will be enough to divide the bunch. After that, riders who have been dropped face a chase up two further unclassified climbs to catch any attackers, before a 15km descent to the finish line.

 

Stage 4 – Molina de Aragón-Zaragoza (142.5km, Flat)

The peloton works its way northwards once more, crossing over into the Aragón region. Where stage 3 was almost all uphill stage 4 is the opposite, being nearly all downhill. Despite its relative length, stage 4 is likely to be ridden at a fast pace, and the likelihood of success for any escapees looks almost zero, as the race heads for an almost nailed-on bunch sprint. The main challenge could be crosswinds in the Moncayo area, so the riders will have to be alert for potential echelons.

 

Stage 5 – Huesca-Jaca (114km, Mountain)

The first mountain stage of the race begins in the province of Aragón and transitions to the Pyrenees as the peloton heads yet further north and east. With over 1,800m of altitude gain the stage will be a serious test of the legs, and will offer the contenders for the general classification the opportunity to strike an early blow. With 15km of uncategorised climbing beginning just 10km into the stage, there’s likely to be a big battle to get into the break, and from there, a period of calm will precede the two main challenges of the day. Both category 2, the long, gradual slog up to the monastery at San Juan de la Peña (18.5km at 3% average gradient) will begin to tire the riders, before the final test – the Alto del Fuerte de Rapitán. A short, sharp leg-snapper – 3.7km at steady gradient averaging out at 7.2% average, this summit finish will sort the riders into order ahead of the remaining stages.

 

Stage 6 – Tarazona-La Laguna Negra, Vinuesa (132.5km, Mountain)

A second consecutive mountain stage taking place in the Pyrenees, stage 6 begins in the town of Tarazona and once again, it’s a day that features almost no descending, beginning with 30km uphill that will make it a difficult day right from the flag drop. It’s a long day too, so the peloton will likely settle in and conserve energy during the long, flat ride through the Castile and León province heading towards the day’s final and decisive challenge – a climb up to La Laguna Negra. At 6.5km in length, the 6.8% gradient will tire the legs of the riders and once again, the strongest GC riders will come to the fore.

 

Stage 7 – San Esteban de Gormaz-Sigüenza (139km, Hilly)

Stage 7 brings the peloton west, into the vicinity of Madrid, for a stage which is relatively flat for the first half, but a lot more challenging in the later stages. The first half of the route heads east to Almazán and should be relatively free of difficulty, but once the road turns south to head for Sigüenza, the intensity ramps up as the terrain becomes distinctly more lumpy. With so few sprint opportunities at the race, those teams with fast finishers will be keen to restrain the breakaway and try to make it over the hills with the bunch intact, however, it may not be a day for the pure sprinters, as the last 500m features pitches of 8-10%, which should draw out the puncheurs to battle for the stage victory.

 

Stage 8 – Distrito Telefónica-Valdesquí, Comunidad de Madrid (89.5km, Mountain)

A day to truly test the legs, the Queen stage of the race is short but fearsome, packing a daunting 2,187m of elevation into less than 90km. It will decide the general classification once and for all, crowning the successor to Annemiek van Vleuten as the riders take on one uncategorised climb, followed by two category one climbs, in a day that sees just the first 12km of its distance ridden on the flat. The challenges take place in the Sierra de Guadarrama, north of capital city Madrid. The first is the Puerto de la Morcuera, a 9.1km test with an average gradient of 6.8%, and the final summit finish is the ascent up to the Valdesquí ski resort. This climb is longer at 16.2km and will separate the bunch along its slopes, and though the average gradient is 4.4%, it gets steadily more difficult, with five of the last seven kilometres of the climb averaging 6%. It is atop this peak that the winner of the 2024 Vuelta Femenina will be crowned.

 

Riders to Watch

While she hasn’t shown her best form yet this season, there’s no doubt that with the first Grand Tour of season on the horizon, Dutch champion Demi Vollering will be readying her legs to try and go one better than her second place finish on GC in 2023. She will be ably assisted by Lotte Kopecky and a strong SD Worx-ProTime team.

Lidl-Trek scored a stage win in the 2023 edition through diminutive climber Gaia Realini, and given the amount of elevation on the menu, Realini may be in pole position to lead the team in 2024. She will likely share leadership initially with Elisa Longo Borghini though. The Italian champion has been in scintillating form so far this season and with a couple of Classics wins under her belt, she will look to add the Vuelta Femenina on her debut at the updated version of the race.

Canyon//SRAM bring a broad range of riders capable of taking on the general classification. Kasia Niewiadoma is in excellent form and her confidence will be high following a win at La Flèche Wallonne. Ricarda Bauernfeind is a strong outside shout for the GC title. The German climber won a stage at the 2023 Tour de France, announcing herself on the international stage with an impressive long-range solo victory. The team also name Neve Bradbury on the start list; the Kiwi native showed strong form early in the season and will hope to maintain that level in Spain.

Returning from a long period on the sidelines, Movistar’s Liane Lippert returns to the fold in Spain having recovered from injury. The German represents the Spanish team’s greatest hope for a successor to Annemiek van Vleuten and her absence has been noticeable in the spring Classics. While it may take time for her to return to the kind of form that saw her take a stage win the 2023 Tour de France Femmes, she will be keen to be competitive as the week progresses.

FDJ-SUEZ have yet to confirm their full line-up, but with Liège–Bastogne–Liège winner Grace Brown in top form and Evita Muzic riding at a high level, they are definitely ones for the front-runners to keep an eye on. Team dsm-firmenich PostNL bring a varied team to target both sprint stages and GC, with Charlotte Kool the top sprinter currently on the start list and Juliette Labous proving herself to have good legs in the Ardennes classics.

EF Education Cannondale have started the season strongly, and with the likes of Kim Cadzow – who impressed at Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Kristen Faulkner, a strong stage racer and excellent climber, and Clara Koppenberg, the team have options for every kind of finish, as well as the general classification.

Another team hoping to defy expectations and take on the bigger teams will be AG Insurance-Soudal. With the experience of Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, and the talent of Sarah Gigante, the Belgian side will be ones to keep a close eye on as the race progresses.

 

Riders to watch

5 stars Demi Vollering, Elisa Longo Borghini

4 stars Gaia Realini, Kasia Niewiadoma, Kristen Faulkner

3 stars Grace Brown, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Mavi Garcia

2 stars Sarah Gigante, Neve Bradbury, Liane Lippert

1 star Ricarda Bauernfeind, Juliette Labous, Evita Muzic

 

Summary

When – Sunday 28th April to Sunday 5th May

Where – Spain

What – Grand Tour

TV Coverage: Eurosport, Discovery+

More news

Share this post