Preview: La Vuelta Femenina

While the men’s peloton must traditionally wait until August to do battle across the rugged terrain of Spain, the women’s version of the race has shifted forward on the calendar this season and becomes the first of the three Grand Tours in the 2023 Women’s World Tour.

Undergoing a revamp, the race has changed its name and expanded its horizons, extending from five stages to seven. With this overhaul, the race will hope to be considered alongside the Giro Donne and Tour de France Femmes this year in terms of status, and with a variety of stage types to test the skills of the peloton, it’s the first year in which the race can truly be considered a tour of Spain, beginning down on the south-east coast on the Costa Blanca, and travelling all the way to Asturias in the north.

With that will come logistical challenges. 912 kilometres separate the start and finish points of La Vuelta, with a significant amount of travelling on the cards for the riders as they traverse the country. The total amount of kilometres the women’s peloton will cover is 740.5.

The race takes place from Monday 1st May to Sunday 7th May.

 

The Route

Stage 1 – Torrevieja – Torrevieja (14.5km)

Following on from the men’s 2022 Vuelta, and in something of a Vuelta tradition, the first challenge for the women is a team time trial. Covering a distance of 14.5km around the coastal town of Torrevieja, the tourist destination will provide a glorious backdrop for the opening day’s racing, which will offer well-disciplined teams an early opportunity to steal a march on the general classification. It reflects the route taken by the men’s peloton in 2019, though the women will hope to avoid similar freak occurrences that saw the Jumbo-Visma team crash out that year after a burst paddling pool saw water flood the streets and turn conditions treacherous.

The day’s profile is flat, with a small rise at around 11km, heading back down to a flat finish. The stronger teams such as Trek-Segafredo, SD Worx and Movistar will see this as an opportunity to claim valuable advantages, with the first rider over the line from the fastest team becoming the first race leader.

 

 

Stage 2 – Orihuela – Pilar de la Horadada (105.8km)

A flat stage follows, and with it the first of a trio of opportunities for the sprinters. Heading slightly north, the day begins in the town of Orihuela, and features some twists and turns through local towns as it gets underway. While the first 50km of the day is almost completely flat, the second half of the profile is much bumpier. There is an intermediate sprint in San Miguel de Salinas where those interested in the green points jersey will test their legs, before the day’s only categorised climb, the Puerto de San Miguel de Salinas, will decide the first wearer of the polka dot Queen of the Mountains jersey.

The climb is a slow, steady rise of 7.6km at 1.2% and should not present any problems for the peloton – this one is likely to end in a bunch sprint.

 

 

Stage 3 – Elche de la Sierra – La Roda (157.8km)

The riders will have to negotiate a lengthy transfer to the start of Stage 3, in Elche de la Sierra. A transition stage, and the longest of the entire tour, the province of Albacete plays host to the riders who will have to be alert for potentially windy conditions which may cause splits in the bunch.

The route works it way downhill for the first 20km before kicking up for another 40km. There is no categorised climbing though, and with almost 70km of flat land to traverse to the finish line, this one could go one of two ways – either a breakaway winner, should the race split, or a second consecutive bunch sprint.

 

 

Stage 4 – Cuenca – Guadalajara (133.1km)

Following another lengthy transfer, the peloton begins stage 4 in the stunning walled city of Cuenca, located in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha. Travelling north-west, the day represents another long transition for the riders as they head for Guadalajara. It’s likely to be a third opportunity in a row for the fast women, if their teams can control the race over some fairly lumpy terrain.

With an intermediate sprint at Tendilla with 27km remaining in the race, followed by a short sharp climb of the category 3 Alto de Horche (4km at 4.9%), there are mountains points on offer before a plateau leads the bunch toward a sharp descent to the finish.

 

 

Stage 5 – La Cabrera – Mirador de Peñas Llanas, Riaza (129.5km)

The final three stages of La Vuelta Femenina take place in the mountains. This is where the general classification battle will come to life, as team leaders test themselves against the peaks of northern Spain, and one another.

Travelling near the capital Madrid, the riders face an undulating parcours on stage 5, with two major climbs to contend with. The first 40km of the route are almost all uphill, before the most significant ascent of the race so far begins, at 42.2km. The Puerto de Navafria is a first category climb, 11.5km in length and with a challenging average gradient of 5.9%. It’s guaranteed to split the bunch, with the strongest climbers rising to the fore, though with around 37km of descending to follow, they may well come back together once again.

The first summit finish of the race is the Mirador de Peñas Llanas in Riaza. A category two challenge, it will decide the stage winner and set up the GC going into the final two stages.

 

 

Stage 6 – Castro-Urdiales – Laredo (106.1km)

The longest transfer of the race – from central to northern Spain – faces the peloton before today’s stage. As a result, the organisers have planned a relatively short stage, with the first half almost completely flat aside from a couple of bumps allowing the peloton the chance to regroup prepare for a more explosive second half.

Beginning at 57.6km, two category climbs stand between the riders and the finish: the Alto de Fuente de las Varas (6.4km at 5.4%) followed almost immediately by the Puerto de Campo el Hayal (8.2km at 4.6%). The two climbs are separated by an intermediate sprint in San Miguel de Aras, and once they’ve been tackled, the bunch head downhill into the picturesque town of Laredo on the Cantabrian coast, where the most likely outcome is a sprint from a reduced bunch.

 

 

Stage 7 – Pola de Siero – Lagos de Covadonga (93.7km)

The Queen stage of the race will almost certainly see the overall winner crowned on the summit finish of the formidable Lagos de Covadonga climb. Though the stage is short on paper, it will be one of the toughest challenges to face the women’s peloton and is guaranteed to significantly divide the field. Beginning with around 35km of false flat downhill, the riders will hope to conserve their energy for the first test of the day, the category 2 Collado Moandi (12.5km at 4.6%). It’s a challenging climb in its own right but it’s nothing compared to what faces them around 30km later.

The especial category Lagos de Covadonga featured in a thrilling battle in the 2021 men’s Vuelta. Set against a stunning backdrop, the climb is 12.5km long and sets a punishing average gradient of 6.9%, with pitches of up to 16% which will require steely determination and even steelier legs to overcome.

 

 

Riders to Watch

After a scintillating Spring, the women’s peloton shifts gears to return to stage racing. While form in the classics is not always a great indicator of form across longer forms of the sport, we can certainly draw some conclusions, particularly from the most recent block in the Ardennes, where the climbing legs of the peloton were tested in earnest for the first time.

Though an official start list was unavailable at the time of writing, there are some assumptions that can be made regarding participation, not least that the Spanish champion Mavi Garcia, riding for Liv Racing-TeqFind as of 2023, will be hoping to perform well at her home race. Garcia performed well at last year’s Giro Donne and will likely be looking forward to the mountain stages where she will hope to mount a serious GC challenge.

SD Worx have played a blinder, winning a stunning 12 one-day races so far this season with their leader, Demi Vollering, in intimating form, able to handle the rigours of the repeated climbs of Amstel Gold Race and the punishing gradients of the Mur de Huy with equal composure.

In 2023, Movistar have one more shot at GC dominance with Annemiek van Vleuten before the veteran passes the baton to the next generation. Her form has not been quite at the levels we have come to expect from her so far this season, but with her main goals being the Grand Tours and World Championships, expect her to arrive in Spain in peak condition.

Trek-Segafredo have a brilliant team ethic, so much so that whoever they bring could pose a threat whether it be from a break or in the overall standings. But with Lizzie Deignan just returning from maternity leave and Elisa Longo Borghini yet to show her best form after a bout of covid it’s not yet clear who they will be riding for or how they will stack up against the top riders.

Marianne Vos will ride for Team Jumbo-Visma in the hope she can rediscover her best form following pelvic surgery, and Canyon//SRAM, FDJ-SUEZ, and Team Jayco-Alula are all likely to field strong teams capable of challenging in both the GC and for stage wins.

 

Summary

When – Monday 1st May – Sunday 7th May

Where – Spain

What – 7-day Grand Tour

‘Watch the Femmes’ TV Coverage: Eurosport, GCN

 

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