Vuelta Victory Hopes For van Vleuten

The Movistar Team is aiming for the title at the new Spanish Grand Tour, La Vuelta Femenina, from May 1st. The Telefónica-backed squad brings Annemiek van Vleuten, winner of the Challenge by La Vuelta in 2021-2022, to the revamped seven-day event and her eye is on the podium’s top spot.

“The first Grand Tour of 2023 is for them – the women!” The Movistar Team announced proudly on Thursday when unveiling the seven riders that will make their lineup for the first edition of La Vuelta Femenina under its current format.

The Blues, under the sports direction of Jorge Sanz and Jürgen Roelandts plus Sebastián Unzué as team manager, will take to the start at Torrevieja’s with World Champion Annemiek van Vleuten as its biggest name. The roster is completed by German champion Liane Lippert; Dane Emma Norsgaard, back after her Strade Bianche injury; Spaniard Lourdes Oyarbide; Floortje Mackaij (NED), Aude Biannic (FRA) and Paula Patiño (COL).

The route’s decisive points will surely be the opening team time trial (14.5km) and three mountainous routes: Friday 5th’s stage five, over Navafría (Cat-1) and the Mirador de Peñas Llanas (Cat-2); the Cantabrian route on Saturday 6th, taking on Fuente las Varas (Cat-2) and Campo Layal (Cat-2); and the decisive Lagos de Covadonga (Sunday 7th), preceded by the Collado Moandi (Cat-2).

Winner of the last two editions of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, Annemiek van Vleuten is undoubtedly the favourite to win La Vuelta Femenina by

The Movistar Team rider has had a “disappointing” season so far, as she has failed to win a UCI race by the end of April for the first time since 2015. However, her outstanding stage race prowess makes her the woman to watch in May.

Van Vleuten is deemed by some as the greatest woman cyclist of all time, in close contest with fellow Dutch Marianne Vos. A four-time road World Champion, twice in the road race and twice in ITT, her extraordinary endurance and her climbing abilities have enabled her to win the toughest races in the world. Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Strade Bianche, Tour of Flanders, La Course by Le Tour de France – each of them, twice.

2022 was her best season to date – the dream one. Van Vleuten made stage races her focus and she landed on the top level of the podium in all three equivalents to the men’s Grand Tours. The Dutchwoman won the Giro Donne, Le Tour Femmes and the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta – all of them by storm, with a remarkable margin on the runner-ups. To top it off, she claimed her fourth rainbow jersey in the Road Race of the Wollongong Worlds following a heart and elbow-breaking crash on the Mixed Relay TTT. The sport of cycling has hardly witnessed a season of such triumph in its centenary history.

2023, though, has begun on a completely different note for Van Vleuten. She hasn’t astonished her competitors and is yet to claim her first victory of the season. The last time she hadn’t won a race by May 1st, the starting date of La Vuelta Femenina by, was back in 2015. The Spanish stage race is an ideal occasion for her to turn her season around.

“My year has so far been a bit disappointing,” said Annemiek van Vleuten. “It has not been my best season, as I have had some bad luck with flat tyres, crashes… But I enjoy racing with my heart even if I cannot race how I wanted. I could feel in La Flèche Wallonne that my body is growing into shape. I had a good race and was able to put a good attack. I take confidence from that and I won’t look back to what happened before.”

Van Vleuten won the last two editions of La Vuelta Femenina by’ previous iteration, the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta. In 2021, she took the leader jersey in the mountain time trial up to the Cabeza de Manzaneda ski station, to later crush her rivals with a long-range attack on the way to Pereiro de Aguiar. Last year, she put a similar move in the hilly stage in Colindres, riding solo for 28 kilometres after a devastating attack up the Alto de la Fuente de las Varas – a climb she will again face on May 6th, in the stage to Laredo. “I’m really happy that we come back there, because it’s a beautiful region,” she said. “I love Cantabria also because my boyfriend is from there, so this make the region very special to me.”

Even if the journey through Cantabria looks like an excellent chance for some GC battle, as does the uphill finish to Mirador de Peñas Llanas in Riaza and the starting Team Time Trial in Torrevieja, Van Vleuten knows that the final stage to Lagos de Covadonga could well be the decider of La Vuelta Femenina by She is very happy indeed that this iconic climb has been included in the programme.

“It’s really good that they added Lagos de Covadonga to the course,” said Van Vleuten. “It is important to have climbs with a name in order to give more impact to the races. People in the Netherlands got excited when they learnt that we were riding to Lagos de Covadonga. I really think this marquee names add something to the event. That’s a really good step!”

From May 1st, Van Vleuten will be leading Movistar Team’s bid for victory on the squad’s home race. Even if her season has not been what she expected so far, she is a woman to watch. Does she want to win this race? – “Of course. Every race I start I want to win,” she concludes with determination.

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